Newly digitized North West photos link the story to recent headlines


The Seattle Public Library digitized about 800 new images this year, more than doubling the size of its history Northwest Photograph Collection. Completed over nine months, the project was funded by a grant from the Washington State Library and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Part of the library Online Special Collections, the Northwest Photograph Collection is one of 41 publicly available digital collections. The Tacoma Public Library also has special collections available through its North-West Room.

New additions to the Seattle Public Library’s Northwest Collection include photographs — many on postcards — from the Oregon Coast to Alaska. Significant numbers were taken in Washington State between 1900 and 1950.

A selection of the recently digitized photos reflects the long history of regional issues covered by KNKX Public Radio and its contributors, including recent coverage.

Aerial view of the McNeil Island Penitentiary grounds, c. 1920



The Seattle Public Library

This image is part of a series of photos showing views of the McNeil Island jail and prisoners, as well as many boats that traveled between the island and the mainland. (ID: spl_nwp_00899)

KNKX Forgotten prison podcast tells the story of this largely forgotten place and the stories of the inmates, guards and children who grew up on the island. The image above is part of a set of pictures documenting life on McNeil Island in the first half of the 20th century.

McNeil Island Prison opened in 1875 and closed in 2011. The Washington State Special Engagement Center continues to operate on the island and confines sex offenders who have served time prison but who have been judged by the courts as too dangerous to reintegrate into society.

Makah Salmon Fishing Fleet, Neah Bay, Clallam Co., July 2, 1921

A scanned version of a black and white image overlooking Neah Bay.  There are a few roads and a collection of houses in the foreground, behind them on the water are dozens of other fishing boats and on the horizon is an island and to the right of this is a ridge of trees going down to the water.

P. Wischmeyer


The Seattle Public Library

Neah Bay houses along the waterfront with fishing boats congregating in the bay beyond. (ID: spl_nwp_01205)

Fishing continues to be essential to the culture and economy of the Makah Tribal Nation. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the tribe’s fishing industry shut down for six months as safety protocols were worked out. The tribe has also closed its reservation, located in the northwest corner of Washington state, to outsiders. during two years.

The Makah Tribal Nation seeks to restore its tradition of whaling, a central part of traditional Makah culture and a right included in its 1855 treaty with the US government. The tribe voluntarily ended this practice in the 1930s when commercial whaling brought Pacific gray whales to the brink of extinction. When the population rebounded in the 1990s, the Makah sought to revive the tradition and conducted a whaling in 1999.

Now, the Makah tribe is awaiting a decision from NOAA Fisheries on its request to resume hunting with an exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In July, the agency published a new favorite alternative for the seasons and number of whales the tribe would be allowed to hunt. A final decision is expected by the end of June 2023.

Green River Gorge, ca. 1930

A scanned version of a 1930 black and white photo of a river gorge with small to large, water-smoothed rocks and trees lining the cliffs on either side.

Herbert W. Harmon


The Seattle Public Library

Green River Gorge, ca. 1930 (ID: spl_nwp_00615)

The Green River Gorge, near the town of Black Diamond, is a state park conservation area. A tributary of the Duwamish River in southern King County, the Green River provides natural habitat for five species of salmon, including the endangered Chinook. Stretching for 93 miles, it has been diverted over the years for agricultural, industrial and flood control purposes.

Downstream of the gorge, near the town of Auburn, King County officials and Muckleshoot Tribe members met in April to celebrate the restoration of natural habitat on the Green River after the removal of a major dike. The project is a model for at least three other levee removals along the river.

Hyak in Indianola, ca. 1935

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The Seattle Public Library

The Hyak was built by the Kitsap County Transportation Company in 1909 and operated on Puget Sound until scrapped in 1941. (ID: spl_nwp_01185_001)

The steamer Hyak was operating on Puget Sound during the Mosquito Fleet time, providing transportation between Seattle and the communities of Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula. The ship was abandoned in 1941 and a replica of her wheelhouse is on display in Poulsbo, Wash.

Two ships from the time of the Mosquito Fleet still exist: the steamer Virginia V moored on Lake Union and owned by Kitsap Transit CarlisleII. Both have undergone extensive renovations over the past two years.

Water transport is again expanding in the region. Kitsap Transit has expanded its passenger ferry services significantly since voters approved funding in 2016. The City of Des Moines will launch a two-month passenger ferry pilot project in August which will make four trips to Seattle per day, Wednesday through Sunday. And one recent The Washington State Ferry accident highlighted the importance of the state’s ferry system to Vashon Island and nearby communities.

Night view of the Grand Coulee Dam, 31 May 1944

A scanned version of a black and white photograph from 1930 showing a dam lit up at night with low hills beyond and roads, a bridge in the foreground.

J. Boyd Ellis


The Seattle Public Library

Night view of the Grand Coulee Dam. (ID: spl_nwp_01147_001)

Construction of the Grand Coulee Dam began in 1933 and was completed in 1941, three years before this photo was taken. It was built without fish passages and is part of a network of hydroelectric dams that have blocked salmon from the upper Columbia basin for more than 100 years. From this month, $3 million from the State of Washington will go to the United Tribes of the Upper Columbia to study salmon reintroduction.

Hanford Map, 1946

A scanned version of a black and white photograph of an open plain with two chimneys, several buildings and a large pool of black water.  The text on the photo says "Atomic Bomb Plan - Hew - Processing Area.  Photo by Robley L. Johnson"

Robley L Johnson


The Seattle Public Library

The Hanford site was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project. The plutonium produced at the plant was used in the first atomic bomb, used in Nagasaki. Throughout its history, the Hanford site has released harmful radioactive materials into the surrounding atmosphere and into the Columbia River. (ID: spl_nwp_00486)

Operational from 1943 to 1987, the Hanford site produced plutonium for US nuclear weapons. Located outside of Richland, Washington along the Columbia River, the site is part of the traditional homelands of the Yakama Nation. At its peak, 51,000 employees worked in government facilities, many of whom were unaware of the site’s purpose.

Cleanup of the site began in 1989 and continues today. Aging infrastructure and the threat of radioactive and hazardous waste prompted Washington Governor Jay Inslee to call for more federal funds to support cleanup efforts. It is estimated that the cleanup could take 42 to 156 years, if completed.

Gallery: Lummi Stommish Water Festival, 1949

In 1946, the first Lummi Stommish Water Festival was held to celebrate Lummi veterans of World War II. Held on the Lummi reservation near Bellingham, the activities included canoe races, salmon baking, dancing and the selection of a festival princess, according to the Seattle Public Library. These images are part of a series of pictures of the 1949 festival.

The Lummi Nation uses legal and cultural means to defend salmon and their habitat. Five years after net pen collapse hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon released into Puget Sound, Lummi Nation awarded damages in a trial who also demanded compensation for cultural losses.

Earlier this year, the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers organized a totem journey as part of a decades-long effort calling for the removal of dams on the Lower Snake River. The main sculpted totem pole for the tour depicts a 16-foot killer whale carrying a baby on its snout and is inspired by the true story of Tahlequah, an endangered southern resident orca who miscarried in 2018.

Recent reports found that removing dams might be necessary to help salmon, but replacing electricity and business benefits would cost billions.


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