McNeil Island

Status: Watch List

Year Listed: 2011

Ezra Meeker first settled on McNeil Island in 1853, establishing an agricultural and logging community. The land claim was sold and exchanged hands several times over the next couple of decades when, in 1870, 27 acres were donated to allow for the establishment of a territorial prison, which opened in 1875. Officially becoming a federal prison in the early 1900s, the facility became a Washington State prison in 1981 under the jurisdiction of the State Department of Corrections (DOC). Facing tremendous budget shortfalls, the state has closed the general prison facility on the island. The multi-agency jurisdictional responsibilities include DOC, the Department of Fish & Wildlife (whose interests include retaining the island as a wildlife preserve), and the Department of Social & Health Services (which currently operates the Special Commitment Center constructed in the 1990s). Complicating matters are deed restrictions put in place when the federal government turned the property over to the state in the 1980s. In the meantime, over fifty structures related to the operation of the prison facility remain on site, their future uncertain (a handful of residences are already slated for demolition).