"Of all national assets, archives are the most precious:
they are the gift of one generation to another,
and the extent of our care of them marks the
extent of our civilization." Arthur Doughty.

About Us

My photo
San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States
A society formed in 2009 for the purpose of collecting, preserving, celebrating, and disseminating the maritime history of the San Juan Islands and northern Puget Sound area. Check this log for tales from out-of-print publications as well as from members and friends. There are circa 500, often long entries, on a broad range of maritime topics; there are search aids at the bottom of the log. Please ask for permission to use any photo posted on this site. Thank you.

20 August 2017


McNeil Island Penitentiary
Uncle Sam's New Rehabilitation Colony, 1939.
The civilian families on the island
were removed and the 4,000 acres was for use of the 
penal colony. A new cell block was being erected for the 
prisoners who work the dairy and truck farms that supplied
food for inmates and officers.

Click image to enlarge.
Photo from the archives of the Saltwater People Historical Society©
McNEIL ISLAND Federal Prison
47°12' 27" N
122° 40' 56" W 

Puget Sound, WA. 
McNeil Island when it was named McNeil Island Federal Prison (1904-1981.) It was a corrections center open in 1875, before Washington statehood. 
      The island was named in 1841 by Charles Wilkes during the US Exploring Expedition in honor of Capt. William Henry McNeill of the Hudson Bay Co. McNeill was at Fort Nisqually in 1841 and greeted Wilkes upon arrival in Puget Sound. (The spelling error of the Captain's name was never corrected for the spelling of the Island.)

Fugitive Buel H. Barclay
Back to McNeil Island Federal Prison
Original photo from the S.P.H.S.©

1933-1935: Buel H. Barclay, one of the few men ever to have escaped from McNeil Island Federal Prison by swimming the cold waters of Puget Sound, in 1933. He was recaptured in Seattle in 1935 when he purchased a truck for use in his small crushed rock business. He had been living in Seattle under another name. 


An inmate of McNeil Island Prison takes a squint at the menu
for supper.
 After a hard day's work on one of the projects,
the inmates file into the cafeteria style dining room and take
any seat they choose. They can get "seconds," but they
must eat all the food they take.
Photo dated Nov. 1938.
They've got his number.
But at McNeil Island Prison, Puget Sound, WA,
it was made as inconspicuous as possible, and men
remained men, despite their status as prisoners.
They were always called by their names in workshops,
not by their numbers, to simulate normal working
conditions in a program designed to put them back
into the world ready to go straight and with a job or
craft learned so they can support themselves.
Photo dated 29 Nov. 1938
1942, November: 

Prisoners built and launched a small warcraft.
The Q-86 was the first United States warcraft to be built
by inmates of a penal institution. It was made and launched
by the inmates at McNeil Island Pen, WA.
The 65' craft will be used by the Army. 
Mrs. Paul J. Squier, wife of the warden swung the christening 
bottle of champagne on the bow of the new ship.
Original photo from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
Civilian and Army dignitaries participate in the ceremonies,
McNeil Island Penitentiary, Puget Sound, WA.
Click image to enlarge.

Original photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
Prisoners and guards at McNeil Island Pen.
The Q-86, the new 65' army tug launch was complete,
this day of 14 Nov. 1942.
Preparations were being made to lay the keel for another vessel.
Original photo from the S.P.H.S.©
And then it is back to the cell at night,
where men were locked up. 
There were 14,000 inmates at the
prison when this photo was taken 
in 1963.
Click image to enlarge.
Original from the archives of the
1981: The State of Washington began to lease the facility. 

1984: The island was deeded to the State government.

2011, 1 April: The last remaining island prison in the country accessible only by air and sea was closed.
      Around the time of the closing of the prison, the McNeil Island Historical Society was chartered for the purpose of educating the public about, and preserving the history of McNeil Island.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Archived Log Entries