From Prison To Pork: How Jack's Bar-B-Que Landed A State Historical Marker

Sep 22, 2016

As he filed through paperwork for his newest spot just west of downtown, Jack Cawthon — namesake of the Jack’s Bar-B-Que chain — noticed something strange about his land deeds: numerous mentions of a prison.

Cawthon learned his newest restaurant on Charlotte Pike sat on the grounds of Tennessee’s first state penitentiary.


The 200 cells were built by the prisoners themselves in 1831 in what’s now known as Midtown. It was replaced a half century later, and now the only evidence is the new state marker installed Wednesday which Cawthon hopes will inform a new generation.


"Millennials today probably don't care much about history as the older, the baby boomers," he says, "but they may come around later on and say 'what happened to all this lost history? Why aren't you telling us this'"


The barbecue entrepreneur went so far as to hang in his restaurant a painting of the old prison that he commissioned. The work includes key figures from its history and an ode to Jack’s Bar-B-Que: three pigs grazing in the front lawn.