[All photos from Save the Old Atlanta Prison Farm.]
Larger than Piedmont Park, Grant Park and Oakland Cemetery combined, the Old Atlanta Prison Farm is more than 300 acres of green space and lakes on Key Road, about a mile from the Starlight Six Drive-In. So why aren't we all picnicking over there during this long weekend? In short, because it isn't safe. It's littered with debris that has been illegally dumped over the years, with collapsing buildings, graffiti, kudzu, hidden holes and a smattering of asbestos and other nasty toxins. When the roof of one building caught fire in 2009, firefighters allowed it to burn itself out rather than risking lives to save the building. The area is anything but unsalvageable though. It just needs a helping hand. Fortunately, a Save the Old Atlanta Prison Farm movement is working on convincing the city, which owns the land, to turn it into a multi-use public green space.
Nearby Doll's Head Trail at Constitution Lakes has been described as "part wildlife refuge, part hiking trail, part snake pit and part art exhibit" because of the path of found-object art created using trash from the park. If anything, that bizarre exercise in public art proves that the land wouldn't have to be pristine for people to enjoy it and that the whole area could be transformed into a wonderland of hiking and ruin exploration.
Originally a 700-bed minimum security prison opened in 1920, the prison "honor" farm allowed trustworthy inmates to tend crops and livestock to feed themselves and inmates at the main prison — an experiment in rehabilitative incarceration. At the time, the institution stretched all the way to Panthersville Road to the east and took up 1,248 acres. Before the corrective facility was closed in 1983, inmates had built a sawmill, quarry, barracks, dairy barns, retaining walls, wells and other structures still (barely) standing today. AtlantaPrisonFarm.com has a detailed and fascinating history of the place and this video provides more details:
Those involved in the Save the Old Atlanta Prison Farm movement urge people to phone the mayor and DeKalb County commissioners to encourage them to make this place accessible for all of us. You will likely get a trespassing ticket if you wander over there now. You've been warned. Also, as mentioned before, it is dangerous.