Editor’s note: This part of an ongoing, monthly submission by San Juan Historical Museum staff on the history of the island, as well as happenings at the museum.
Submitted by San Juan Historical Museum
Tucked away on the museum grounds between the new Museum of History and Industry and the Stone House, is one of the most popular buildings for San Juan Historical Museum visitors, especially for the kids: the original San Juan County Jail. The building was originally constructed in 1894, through a county bid won by James Farnsworth and Newton Jones — the latter became one of the sheriffs — with sturdy, stacked two-by-fours in horizontal layers, which was typical of rural jails of the time.
It was used until 1971 when it was condemned by the county health department and declared the “worst jail in the state of Washington.” In 1981, the little, 16-foot by 24-foot jail found a new home at the San Juan Historical Society and Museum. It was given a new foundation, cleaned up and photographs and stories of the various sheriffs, infamous crimes and smuggling stories were pinned to the walls. In 2008, it received a new roof, and a recent award from the San Juan County Historical Preservation Grants Program will provide funds to enhance the old exhibits. The jail’s task force envisions using the “lobby” as an exhibit of the law enforcement and criminal justice folks on the island; the three cells will each house an exhibit of their own: one with stories of smuggling, one with the history of the jail and the courthouse, and one the museum is calling “Crime, Island Style.”
If you have a story, memory or photos of this little jail, forward them to the historical society, by way of the Facebook page, an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or the “Contact Us” page at www.sjmuseum.org. Any photos can be scanned immediately and returned to you the day you bring them. It takes a community, you know!