Pen rings in 125th year

Today's ceremony celebrated the historic mark for a facility that originally held 93 inmates.

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WALLA WALLA -- Washington State Penitentiary's employees, friends and families today celebrated a milestone in the institution's long history.

The facility marked its 125th year of service today with a morning ceremony attended by Department of Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner and Dan Pacholke, director of prisons. Other dignitaries included local and state officials as well as five former superintendents of the facility.

"It's grown, it's changed, but it still has the same heart and soul," Warner said about the state's first prison prior to the start of the celebration.

In his remarks, Superintendent Steve Sinclair lauded the officers and staff who make the penitentiary operate. "This spot of dirt on the hill does not define the Washington State Penitentiary," he said. "What makes us are the people who work here."

Historical re-enactor Al Walter, who portrayed the prison's first superintendent, Frank Paine, noted that when construction on the facility began in 1886, Walla Walla was a community of some 6,000 people. He described how the people the community campaigned to have the penitentiary established here to replace a privately-run prison in what was then the town of Seatco, Wash.

"We knew Walla Walla would do a better job than Seatco," he said.

The first inmates, 93 in all, arrived around May of 1887 and the prison has grown continually since then. Sinclair noted the latest development has been the successful fight by a local community task force to have a new expansion added to replace the penitentiary's aging east complex.

Following the ceremony outside the entrance to the prison's West Complex, family and friends of prison officers and employees were taken on tours of the facility and later treated to lunch on the lawn of the east complex.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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