National Archives at Seattle

A New Century

New Years Day 1900 found the people of the Pacific Northwest in the midst of change. Native Americans had been moved onto reservations and their former lands opened to settlement. Two states, Washington and Idaho, finally achieved statehood in 1889 and 1890 respectively. The entire region experienced dramatic increases in population, both through migration from the east and immigration from Europe and Asia. Railroad lines had been completed to the region bringing passengers from the east, but water transportation remained important especially on Puget Sound and the Columbia River. Tensions over immigration from Asia, especially China, had resulted in Congress passing the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 which was not repealed until 1943. Records documenting the Bureau of Immigration’s attempt to enforce this act included photographs of Chinese businesses such as the Lock Doon store in Olympia, Washington. Crime rates increased with the population growth and larger Federal prisons were needed. Three panoramic photographs document the growth of McNeil Island Federal Prison from 1903 to 1937. The major cities of the region, Seattle, Portland, Spokane, Boise and Tacoma, grew significantly. At the same time, the more arid areas of Eastern Washington and Oregon and Southern Idaho remained sparsely populated. The Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 provided federal funding for irrigation projects in the West and eventually led to construction of dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to provide water for irrigation and electricity. With increased irrigation, additional lands were brought under cultivation and a wider variety of crops was produced. In addition to agriculture, the Pacific Northwest economy remained dependent on resource extraction industries such as logging, mining and fishing.

Refer to CaptionMcNeil Island Penitentiary Historic Photos, 1890-1981; Records of the Bureau of Prisons (RG 129)

Established in 1875 on an island at the south end of Puget Sound, McNeil Island Penitentiary received Federal prisoners from throughout the western United States. These panoramic photos taken over the first three decades of the century show the expansion of the prison that was needed as the Pacific Northwest grew. A list of the crimes for which men were incarcerated provides a social history of the century. Unlike other federal penitentiaries around the country, the prison was for many years almost self sustaining. Many wardens lived on the island with their families, a fact reflected by many of the photos taken at the prison. After 107 years of Federal operation, the prison was turned over to the State of Washington. On March 2, 1981, the last Federal prisoners were transported off the island. The following day, the first state prisoners were received.

Refer to CaptionHarbor Defense Decimal Files, 1908-1929; Seattle District Office; Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers (RG 77)

Fort Lawton was constructed on Magnolia Bluff, just north of the city of Seattle, as part of a series of forts constructed along Puget Sound that offered good defensive positions and close proximity to land and sea transportation. In this image, the photographer is looking west from the point of the bluff. Note the four-masted schooners used to transport goods on Puget Sound. Fort Lawton stayed in military hands until its closure in 1970. (ca.1910)

Refer to CaptionIrrigation Reports, 1909-1942; Portland Area Office Irrigation Branch; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (RG 75)

Just after the turn of the century, the Irrigation Division of the Office of Indian Affairs began a series of projects to bring a dependable water supply to many of the western Indian reservations. Irrigation projects such as this artesian well on the Yakima Indian Reservation opened up many acres to agriculture and changed the way land in eastern Washington was farmed both on and off the reservations. (1912)

Refer to CaptionHere the wrapped packages in Lock DoonÂ’s store led to questions as to whether he was running a laundry in addition to his mercantile establishment. (1906) Chinese Exclusion Act Case File RS399; Seattle District; Records of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (RG 85)
Refer to CaptionNote that even after the turn of the 20th century, some of the streets in WashingtonÂ’s capitol city were not paved. (1906) Chinese Exclusion Act Case File RS399; Seattle District; Records of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (RG 85)

Although the first Chinese Exclusion Acts were passed in the late 19th century, strict enforcement of the laws began in earnest after the start of the 20th century. Merchants were one of the exempt classes and were allowed to enter the country. The Bureau of Immigration closely scrutinized the businesses run by the merchants and, often without warning, photographed the interiors and exteriors of businesses in order to verify that the businesses were not hiding activities that could be considered to be labor.