In late October 2011, retired Douglas High School teacher Myron Carpenter began an effort to preserve Nevada State Prison after the inmates were moved out.
Eighteen months later, the effort by the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society has made some progress, but not as much as Carpenter would like.
“Something that’s that old and has as much history as it does, should be preserved,” Carpenter said Monday. “It’s the third oldest prison west of the Mississippi. It was the first one to use the gas chamber.”
When Carpenter taught at Douglas High, he would bring his classes to the prison for a tour.
“It’s still haunting to me when I walk through the front door and then through the sally port, I can see the 600 faces of the prisoners.”
The organization has the keys to the prison and can start doing tours when ready.
Carpenter, former president of the organization, said he’s heard from other groups looking for museum space including the Virginia & Truckee Railroad and the Warren Engine Co.
“Imagine three museums with five major highways relatively close,” he said. “We can draw all kinds of tourists. It’s just a question of getting people to come and help. We can make that place into a gold mine with that highway so close. I really believe that. I feel it will be a big boon for the state.”
Carpenter pointed to the popularity of Alcatraz as an example of a successful prison museum.
“Why tear the thing down like they did the roundhouse,” he said.
He also warned that if the prison is abandoned it could become a magnet for the homeless and graffiti artists.
On May 21, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a bill into law that would take a major step forward in preserving the decommissioned Nevada State Prison on Fifth Street in Carson City.
Assembly Bill 356 encourages the development of recommendations to preserve the prison for use as an historical, educational and scientific resource for Nevada.
Further it states that Carson City, any nonprofit organization and any other interested stakeholder are encouraged to work cooperatively with state agencies for that purpose.
The bill also encourages the Nevada State Prison Preservation Society to continue its involvement in developing recommendations to be brought back to the Legislature for consideration.
The society’s goal is to develop a prison museum on the site, which is located along Interstate 580 and could become a tourist attraction.
The society is a Nevada nonprofit corporation with an IRS nonprofit 501(c)3 application pending.
NSP was operated continuously from 1862 — two years before statehood — until 2012.
Former Director of Corrections Glen Whorton said the group is most interested in the oldest part of the prison, which has 100-year-old buildings.
For more information, visit www.nspps.org.