Unlocking McNeil's Past: The Prison, The Place, The People
January 26 - May 26, 2019

A prison for nearly 136 years, McNeil Island in Washington state was in operation far longer than the betterl-known Alcatraz island prison. When the state’s correctional center on McNeil Island closed in 2011, it was the last prison in the nation only accessible by air or water. 

From its beginnings as a territorial prison through its tenure as a federal and state penitentiary, the story of McNeil illuminates how incarceration in the U.S. has changed over time, as seen through the evolution of the prison facility, itself.

Unlocking McNeil’s Past: The Prison, The Place, The People presents history through accounts from prison staff, inmates, and residents of the island. It explores McNeil’s connections to significant state and national events. It examines the evolution of prison practices through territorial, federal, and state lenses, as well as the physical landscape of the prison itself and how its structure reflected these changes. Stories of early settlement and the unique relationship between the prison and its island community are also shared through this exhibition.

This fascinating exhibition opens January 26, 2019.

Stay tuned for links to the Historical Society's podcast series about McNeil in partnership with, airing in the winter of 2019.