Index slammer place to be when you’ve got to go

Only prisoners of nature now visit the former jail cell at Town Hall


Herald Writer

INDEX — Around here, when nature calls at Town Hall, you get an escort to jail.

But don’t be worried. Be relieved.

That’s because the only bathroom at Town Hall is in what was the town’s only jail cell.

Behind the rusty iron bars is where people do their "business," so to speak.

"I can’t really tell you much about it," said Betty Johnson, the town’s self-proclaimed historian. "All I know is that, when you’ve got to go, that’s where you go."

Resident David Cameron, who keeps the town’s history, said there aren’t many written records that refer to the jail cell.

Johnson, 69, a longtime resident of the town of 140 people, said she can recall when the Town Hall building, jail cell and all, was moved from Fifth Street and Index Avenue to where it is now at Sixth Street and Avenue A.

"It was about 1953," she said. "Town Hall was moved to make room for the (elementary) school to be built. I think it was then that they decided to put a bathroom in Town Hall in the jail cell."

That made the Town Hall a next-door neighbor to her family’s business, the Index General Store, from which she retired in 1976. The store was sold, and is still operating today.

The oldest and longest resident of Index, Wes Smith, now in his 90s, recalls that the jail cell was used long ago for prisoners.

"I came to town in 1917," he said. "Town Hall was already here and was probably built around 1900.

"In those early days this town was roaring because of the timber workers. I’m sure they had to use the jail cell back then when somebody got too out of hand."

Although he can’t recall all the details, Smith said he remembers hearing people talk about a time when a drunk was thrown in the jail cell, probably in the 1920s.

"They forgot to take his belt away from him, and he hung himself in there," Smith said. "It was never used after that."

Today, Index contracts for police services with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, and anyone who needs to go to jail is transported to Everett.

There were times in the 1930s and 1940s when state (patrol) officers would take unruly Sultan residents to a jail there, Smith said.

Smith said he has "used" the jail cell, and doesn’t like being in there, even to go to the bathroom.

"It gives you a real funny feeling, like maybe somebody’s going to lock you in there for good," he said.

The town council, however, wants to keep the windowless room as is: iron grid bars covering the walls and ceiling, a white household toilet, toilet-paper holder connected to a bar, small sink and prisoner-sized mirror. The gated door is attached to a wooden door for privacy.

They’ve decided to add a new handicapped-accessible bathroom to the fire hall next door, to allow the "jail cell bathroom" to remain.

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