Ornate, iron gates among artifacts in McNeil Island exhibit opening in Tacoma | KNKX

Ornate, iron gates among artifacts in McNeil Island exhibit opening in Tacoma

Jan 25, 2019

When McNeil Island prison was operating, one of the first things you’d see when you arrived were huge, wrought iron gates. They were removed from the island after the prison closed in 2011.

Now, they’re part of an exhibit opening Saturday at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma. 

The gates, which marked the entrance to the administration building at the prison, were constructed by inmates in 1924. Gwen Whiting is the curator of the exhibit, which is called “Unlocking McNeil’s Past: The Prison, The Place, The People.” She says the gates are intricate, with wrought iron roses and native plants.

“They were actually designed by an architect, George Gove, who was responsible for the designing of a number of other notable buildings in the Tacoma area, such as Lincoln High School,” Whiting said.

They’re more than 12 feet tall, more than 8 feet wide and weigh 1,800 pounds. Whiting says the gates tell part of the island prison’s long history. They were commissioned by Warden Finch Archer, who was part of a prison reform movement in the 1920s. Among other things, reformers wanted to bring more beauty and art into prisoner’s lives.

See the gates and all the other artifacts when the museum opens tomorrow. It runs through May 26.

KNKX is producing a podcast about McNeil Island, in partnership with the museum, called Forgotten Prison. Learn more at forgottenprison.org and subscribe now where you get your podcasts. Episode 1 is available now, and the second one drops Tuesday.