Federal Maritime Quarantine Station for Puget Sound opens at Diamond Point in November 1893.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 7/24/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8203

In November 1893, the Federal Marine Quarantine Station for Puget Sound opens at Diamond Point, located at the northeastern tip of Clallam County across Discovery Bay from Port Townsend.  The Quarantine Station provides disinfection services for vessels wishing to enter Puget Sound, and an isolation hospital for passengers found to be suffering from or suspected of carrying infectious disease.  The facility will grow from three to 27 buildings over the course of its 43 operational years.

A "Pest House" for People

Dr. B. S. Conover, previously in charge of quarantine services at the Port Townsend Marine Hospital, was the establishing physician.  After a few months he was succeeded by Dr. William G. Stimpson.

The site of the quarantine station, now Diamond Point but then known as Clallam Point, was part of a military reservation established by President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) in 1866 and dissolved in 1870. The Diamond Point land was then privately owned until 1892, when the federal government purchased 156 acres on which to build the quarantine station.

The Quarantine Hospital was an adjunct of the Port Townsend Marine Hospital.  The Marine Hospital at Port Townsend was founded by Dr. Samuel M. McCurdy (1805-1865) in 1855 to provide medical services to seamen. Isolation facilities were primitive:  Sailors with contagious diseases were isolated in a "pest-house."  James G.  McCurdy describes this isolation facility in By Juan de Fuca's Strait:

"Port Townsend's pest-house was situated in the dense woods about two miles west of town.  Here the unfortunate patient was kept under the care of a volunteer nurse, usually an old sailor, and a doctor visited the sufferer when he could spare the time" (p. 147).

In October 1862 customs collector Victor Smith (1827-1865) moved the Marine Hospital operations from Port Townsend to Port Angeles.  Smith had forcibly removed customs records from Port Townsend to Port Angeles the previous August.  President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) relieved him of his position as customs collector in 1863, but Smith continued to direct the Marine Hospital until 1865 when Dr. George Villars Calhoun assumed the medical directorship.  Calhoun returned Marine Hospital services to Port Townsend the following year.  By 1877 the Marine Hospital, then under the ownership of Dr. Thomas T. Minor (1844-1889), was advertised as the largest hospital north of San Francisco. 

Vessels Bearing Smallpox

The need to inspect incoming passengers, and for facilities to quarantine those with infectious diseases, was demonstrated frequently in the pages of early newspapers.  The October 12, 1868, issue of The (Olympia) Territorial Republican, for example, reported, "It is rumored that the bark Glympse, at Port Discovery, had one death from smallpox, and four other cases on her passage up from San Francisco, and that the disease is now at Seabeck" ("It is rumored..."). 

The following month the same newspaper, attempting to quell public fear, reported, "We learn the rumor of smallpox being prevalent at Port Townsend is without foundation. The only case that has occurred in that town was the one of Capt. Makenzie, who died at Sires Hotel a fortnight hence. The hotel, which was closed to the public for nearly a month, has been entirely purified, cleansed, and refitted" ("We learn the rumor...").

In 1878 Congress passed the National Quarantine Act, which prevented vessels from carrying infectious diseases into any United States Port. 

A report submitted the 50th Congress of the United States Senate in 1888 in support of a quarantine station funding bill that included establishing a facility at or near Port Townsend stated:

"This station is necessary on account of its great distance from San Francisco, and the fact of its being the entrepot to the populous Puget Sound country and the already great and increasing commerce.  With the development of Alaska, and the increasing business of the North Pacific Railway, the necessity for the establishment of this station will increase each year" ("Report To Accompany..."). 

The same report set out a budget to establish a quarantine station at Port Townsend: "Purchase of site: $5,000; Disinfecting machinery: $20,000; Warehouse and wharf: $10,000; Small boats: $500; Annual expenses: $10,000; Hospital building and officers' quarters: $10,000; Total: $55,000."

Congress finally authorized construction funds to build a Quarantine Station near Port Townsend, along with a pavilion-style marine hospital building at Port Townsend, on March 3, 1893.  Diamond Point, convenient to Port Townsend by boat but remote enough to discourage the spread of infection, was the chosen site for the Quarantine Station. 

Until Congress established an isolation hospital at Knappton in 1899 to handle ships entering the Columbia River, the facility at Diamond Point served the entire Oregon-Washington coast, with vessels and passengers found to be infected on inspection at the mouth of the Columbia River forced to travel some 275 miles to Diamond Point for isolation and disinfection.

Development at Diamond Point

Eventually the Diamond Point Quarantine Station included some 27 structures, including the hospital, a detention facility, the surgeon's house, attendants' houses, a wharf, a water storage tank, a small graveyard, and other facilities.  All vessels arriving from foreign ports were required to pass through quarantine.  When deemed necessary, vessels were fumigated with burning pots of sulphur (after 1929 by cyanide gas) in order to kill fleas, rats, lice, and other vermin.  Passengers were inspected for any symptom of infectious diseases such as influenza, cholera, malaria, smallpox, yellow fever, diphtheria, and leprosy.

Marine Hospital services at Port Townsend ended on February 1, 1933, when patients and staff were transported to a new facility on Seattle's Beacon Hill, but quarantine and disinfection services at Diamond Point continued.  In 1936 a new quarantine station opened at Point Hudson in Port Townsend, and the Diamond Point facility ceased operation.  A fire circa 1948 destroyed the hospital building. 

By 1963 the site had been completely redeveloped.  Lucile McDonald reported in The Seattle Times: "With platted lots, 10 new homes, and a circular road looping through Diamond Point, at the northeastern tip of Clallam County, no longer is recognizable as the site of the federal quarantine station for Puget Sound ... Marion Milholland, resident salesman for the Diamond Point Land Company, which has developed the property, lives in the surgeon's house, one of the few remaining public buildings" (January 27, 1963).

In 1989 the United States Quarantine Station Surgeon's House at 101 Discovery Way on Diamond Point was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sources: "It is rumored...," The Territorial Republican, October 12, 1868, p. 2, col. 3; "We Learn the Rumor...," Ibid., November 23, 1868, p. 3, col. 1; "Report To Accompany Bill S. 2493," United States Senate Report No. 732, 50th Congress, 1st Session, Serial Set 2523, March 26, 1888; Marilyn Chase, The Barbary Plague: The Black Death In Victorian San Francisco (New York: Random House, 2003); "Letter From The Secretary of the Treasury," July 9, 1894, Senate Executive Document No. 130, 53rd Congress, 2nd Session, Serial Set 3163; Saddlebags To Scanners: The First 100 Years Of Medicine In Washington State ed. by Nancy M. Rockafellar and James W. Haviland (Seattle: Washington State Medical Association, 1989); Lucile McDonald, "New Life Comes To Quarantine Station At Diamond Point," The Seattle Times, January 27, 1963, p. 4; "Clallam County, Washington" National Register of Historic Places website accessed June 28, 2008 (www.nationalregisterofhistoricplaces.com/); Meribeth Meixner Reed, CAPT, USPHS, "Describing the Life Cycle of U.S. Marine Hospital #17, Port Townsend, Washington, 1855-1933," Military Medicine, April 2005, p. 259-267; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Victor Smith forcibly moves the U.S. Customs Port Of Entry For Washington Territory From Port Townsend to Port Angeles on August 1, 1862" (by Daryl C. McClary), www.historylink.org/ (accessed June 24, 2007); James G. McCurdy, By Juan de Fuca's Strait (Portland: Binfords & Morts, 1937); "Port Townsend Historical Sites," PT Guide website accessed June 29, 2007 (http://www.ptguide.com/); "History Timeline 1592-1985," Jefferson County Historical Society website accessed June 29, 2007 (http://www.jchsmuseum.org/) .

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