Lopez Island Utopian Colony

Lies, Deception, and Meat

Believing that the world was going to end, a preacher moved his followers to Lopez Island, the only place that was going to be saved.

In 1911, a small group of individuals led by Thomas Hampton Gourley left their settlement in Ballard, Washington for Lopez Island. They believed that the world was coming to an end and only Lopez Island would be spared. It was here that he and his followers would set up what would ultimately become a failed Utopia.

Lopez Island had only had about 700 residents in 1911. Gourley was granted permission to build his community on the land of John Sperry. But when they arrived at the site, they found a sign that read, “Holy Rollers Go Away.” Gourley quickly landed and renegotiated a deal with Sperry that would allow them to use his land temporarily. The colonists quickly put up shelters and began searching for a permanent home. The main building was constructed over a lagoon and a cookhouse and shoe repair shop were built nearby. Flat areas were created and homes were built. Much to the colonists' excitement, there was a natural spring that would supply more than enough water for their little community. But they soon found out that the lagoon water was stagnant, and that their spring was contaminated. This led to an outbreak of Typhoid Fever and other illnesses that caused the colony to move to its third and final location on Hunter Bay.

The community survived on bread, vegetables, beef stew with very little beef in it, and macaroni and cheese. Meat was scarce in their community, making the whole wheat bread the most appetizing part of the meal. Meat was scarce because of Gourley’s objection to killing, but also because the community did not have enough land for raising cattle or money to buy meat. Fish and shellfish helped fill their bellies, and members of the colony who worked for others would often ask for meat in place of wages.

The people that lived in the Lopez island community got along well, at first. When a colonist questioned Gourley’s authority at a meeting he was denounced as a servant of the Devil and expelled. Slowly, his followers became disillusioned with Gourley’s leadership.

There were claims that Gourley was living a luxurious lifestyle outside of the colony and was eating meat on his private boat while his followers were living in squalor. Some hungry colonist claimed that the scent of frying bacon wafted over the water when Gourley was preparing his dinner.

Gourley left the colony for the last time on Christmas in 1920. Some claimed he left under the cover of night with his family. Gourley eventually reappeared in Macon, Georgia, preaching the same utopian message. He died in a train wreck in February of 1923. The disillusioned Lopez Island community departed not long after Gourley left, abandoning their failed utopia.

A few of the Lopez Island colony buildings remained for a while. Some were used by rum runners during Prohibition, and squatters used the site as well. The site of the colony was also used by campers. At the Sperry Bay location, a girls camp was erected. And using the foundation of what was the cook house, built a modern hall on the site. At the Hunter Bay location, Lee Wilson, a colonist who was still a believer, returned to the site and built a cabin where he would live with his family until persuaded to live his final days in a more civilized setting. A modern architect erected a summer home where Wilson’s cabin once stood, and another near the site of the old schoolhouse. Now all that remains of the colony are some rotting pilings at the water's edge, an aged cabin, and a fenced-in cemetery.


Barn of the former Colonytif / 5.21 MB Download
The Home of Lee Wilson at Hunter Bay.tif / 6.41 MB Download
The ruined dock and cookhouse at Hunter Baytif / 19.18 MB Download
A View from the Watertif / 19.12 MB Download