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August 21, 2014

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In public ceremony, officials bid farewell to historic Nevada State Prison

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Crowds wait to tour the inside of the old Nevada State Prison in Carson City on Friday, May 18, 2012. The prison was decommissioned after 150 years of continuous operation.

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Former Nevada prison directors Robert Bayer, right, and Howard Skolnik, left, tour the Nevada State Prison in Carson City on Friday, May 18, 2012, after a decommissioning ceremony. The last inmates left months ago, and now the 150-year-old prison is being officially taken out of service.

Nevada State Prison, the country’s second oldest correctional facility west of the Mississippi River and site of colorful Nevada history, officially closed today after 150 years of operation.

The prison was the site of 54 executions, including one by firing squad. It’s also where stone for the Capitol was quarried and where prisoners could (legally) gamble from 1932 to 1967.

“I know today is bittersweet,” said Gov. Brian Sandoval to the large crowd in Carson City, including many corrections officers. “I know many of you come here with mixed emotions.”

Nevada State Prison was established at the site in 1862 under the Nevada Territorial Legislature, two years before Nevada became a state, according to the department.

The Nevada State Prison operated as a maximum security facility until 1989, when Ely State Prison opened.

The state’s license plates are still manufactured at the site by prisoners.

Nevada’s execution chamber is now closed, and the state is looking at alternatives, including Ely State Prison.

In recent years, particularly when the state began facing historic budget shortfalls, prison officials argued to close the prison. They were opposed by Carson City partisans and the state public employee unions.

Former Department of Corrections Director Howard Skolnik said, “The institution outlived its usefulness.” He said inmate, correctional officer and community safety was at risk because of the old design of the prison. It would have cost too much to modernize it.

The last prisoners were moved from the facility in late March. Locals have talked about turning the building into a museum or leasing it out as a location for movie shoots.

As a kid, Ron Allen rode his bike east toward the river and would stop outside the prison to chat with inmates sitting on a 3-foot-high stone fence.

“If we were thirsty, they’d give us water,” said Allen, now 65.

“I’m sad to see it close,” he said. “This is an institution in its own right.”

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