Changes to Brushy are expected to increase tourism to Morgan County

After three years, steps are being finalized to turn Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary into a distillery. This transformation is expected to significantly increase tourism to Morgan County.

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Knoxville News Sentinel Article excerpt:

PETROS, Tenn. -- With the myriad detailed planning and groundwork now mostly done, development of a tourist attraction at the site of a once-notorious prison will be moving forward soon.

But Brian May, a principal of the Brushy Mountain Group, wouldn't be pinned down on a timetable for converting the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary into a huge moonshine distillery complete with such attractions as a museum, prison tours, RV park and music festival venue.

"We couldn't do anything until we had ink on paper," said May, one of three Chattanooga developers spearheading the project, which has involved numerous agreements.

May, with a background in advertising and branding, has joined with entrepreneur Pete Waddington and former Chattanooga mayor Jon Kinsey, who redeveloped Knoxville's Market Square, on the project.

After the group was formed, it took 18 months and more than 40 trips to Nashville to get the state's go-ahead to transfer the property to Morgan County. Other details, from utility changeovers to where to place the RV park, are still works in progress.

"We're still working, with thousands of decisions still to be made," Waddington said.

One selection is set in stone -- or rather, an existing concrete pad. The newer lockups for maximum security inmates, which lack historical value, will be razed. A 53-foot-tall moonshine still, with a 4,000-gallon mash cooker, will be placed on those pads.

The four-story prison, with its small cells festooned with the graffiti of bored, desperate men, will remain essentially unchanged. The developers said they've visited numerous other shuttered prisons that are now tourist attractions, and visitors "want to see prisons as close to the way they were" as when in operation, May said.

Morgan County Mayor Don Edwards said residents "want the site preserved. They don't want it to sit up here and rot away." He said the developers "have done everything they said they would do" and have already invested heavily. …