Historic Sugar Land prison made famous in song finally closing its doors

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by Kevin Reece / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on August 3, 2011 at 6:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, Aug 3 at 6:20 PM

SUGAR LAND, Texas—A Sugar Land prison made famous in the 1930’s folk song "Midnight Special" is finally closing its door.

Across the railroad tracks on the north side of Highway 90A, the Central Unit has held Texas inmates since 1909.

Huddy lead Belly Ledbetter, a former inmate, wrote about the train ride from Houston to Sugar Land as a light of hope and salvation.

But lately the town of Sugar Land has grown up around the prison, with housing and shopping centers creeping closer by the year.

The state says closing the prison, the second oldest in Texas, will save the state $25 million a year. Officials plan to make even more by putting the 325 acres up for sale.

It also sits at the south end of the Sugar Land airport.

"The central prison unit has a rail line on the south side of it as well as the airport so it's a perfect location," said Regina Morales, director of Sugar Land Economic Development

City planners hope to turn the site into a business park - one that works well with the airport.

Just a mile away from the prison is the Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land, which used to be the central prison farm, home to inmates since 1939.

The city wanted the historic building saved when the farm went out of operation, so now the space that once held prisoners, holds dinosaur bones.

"It’s a landmark that people knew here in the community and it’s great from a community standpoint to see it repurposed for something everyone can enjoy," said museum director Adrienne Barker.

As for the future of the central unit prison and what function it will hold, that decision will come after its 102-year run comes to a close at the end of August.

City of Sugar Land will begin discussions with the General Land Office in the next 90 days to decide the next step.

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