Research Inquiry: What is that bench by DirtFish? It looks important!

Dr. Richard Burke Memorial

Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co

Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co mill and town.

Where DirtFish is located in Snoqualmie was once part of the second all electric mill built in the United States. The Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co was formed in 1914 and began operating in 1917. At its peak, the mill and associated mill town included 250 homes, a hotel, community center, 50-bed hospital, barber shop, grade school, boarding house for single men and eight bunkhouses built for Japanese workers.

By the 1950s, Weyerhaeuser could see the industry beginning to wind down and with the post WWII boom, most people had their own transportation, so workers living in a mill town was no longer as vital. The houses at Snoqualmie Falls were in need of expensive maintenance, and mill workers, who rented from the company, wanted the chance to own their own homes. Many of the houses were moved across a temporary bridge on the Snoqualmie River to create the Williams Addition to Snoqualmie in 1958.

By 1960, Snoqualmie’s population had stabilized at around 1,200 residents. Weyerhaeuser’s mill operations were still a mainstay of employment, but with the completion of Interstate 90 in the 1970s, more Snoqualmie residents began commuting to jobs outside the city. Over the next 30 years, only about 11 people were added to the city’s rolls each year. In 1989, Weyerhaeuser closed its main mill above Snoqualmie. In 2002, the company announced it was shutting down its Snoqualmie dry kilns and planing plant. The closure, effectively ended the company’s 100-year logging operation in King County.

In June 2010, Snoqualmie Mill Ventures purchased the property and created DirtFish.

Snoqualmie Falls Hospital

“The Mill maintained a large three-story hospital for its employees and their families…There were generally two doctors working at the hospital along with several registered nurses.  The doctor and his family lived in a house near the hospital.  The building was one of the first ones built at the mill at the time the mill community was built.”

“It sat on the highest part of the mill property, above the school.  It was built of white siding and was well equipped for a hospital of that day.”

“The emergency room was on the north end of the first floor.  The women’s ward, which contained at least ten beds, was above it on the second floor.  The men had two wards on the south end of the building, one on the first floor and one on the second floor.”

“The operating room was between the wards on the second floor on the east side of the hall, while the west side of the hall on the second floor consisted of several private rooms.  The kitchen was on the east side on the first floor.”

– Memories of a Milltown by Edna Hebner Crews

Snoqualmie Falls Hospital, under construction, 1920.
Hospital at Snoqualmie Falls Washington. Snoqualmie Valley Museum Collection: PO.159.0011.

Dr. Burke

Dr. Richard Burke was the head surgeon of the hospital. He had a reputation for being a brilliant surgeon.

Dr. Richard Burke, while mayor of North Bend in 1912. Snoqualmie Valley Museum Collection.

“… Dr. Burke was the absolute best surgeon that there was.  And he may have deserved this reputation.  These were the days that doctors worked day and night and drove through all kinds of weather to make home calls and were consequently worshipped.  There was no end to the tales that were told of his feats in the operating room.  And men were pointed out to us who were walking around with metal plates in their heads which Dr. Burke had put in after logging accidents.  Those were the pre-antibiotic days so that his surgeries done with a scalpel and ether were all the more marvelous.  As we walked by the hospital on the way to school we could always tell when a surgery was in progress.  The smell of ether wafted strongly out of the open surgery window down to us.”

Memories of a Milltown by Edna Hebner Crews

“Dr. Richard Burke came in 1908.  His first home and office was … in Snoqualmie.  He made calls on horseback unless taken by some one else via horse and buggy.  Even when cars became plentiful, Dr. Burke traveled the valley on horseback during floods.  Because of poor roads, horses often were more dependable than cars.”

“Trips to Seattle over rough roads, through deep mud, were very agonizing to patients.  A story is told of a man who was shot in the neck during a quarrel on Snoqualmie’s main street.  Dr. Burke got this man into a Ford car belonging to Claude Northern and started for Seattle.  They skidded off the road on the Falls hill.  The rear axle hung up on a stump and saved them for a second try in another car.  Snoqualmie was blessed with the sum of three cars at the time.  Trucks were used for ambulance service and later the hearse was used.  A locomotive was once sent to bring Dr. Burke back to the hospital during a blizzard.  He arrived with icicles hanging from his mustache, but after warming up, proceeded with an emergency operation at two in the morning.”

“The first hospital was started by Dr. Burke in 1910 in the former Joyner residence in North Bend.  This was across the street from Platts’ store {the building now houses medical offices}.  The hospital was moved in 1912 across the railroad track into the old Taylor residence.  It remained there from 1912 to 1921 when Dr. Burke took charge of the Snoqualmie Falls Hospital.  This was the latest addition to the “company town”, and it was located at the top of the hill overlooking the mill. “

“Major surgery was first performed at the old Taylor residence in 1912.  Getting a stretcher case up the stairway was an operation in itself, requiring a strong back and much skill.  Dr. Burke, often impatient with this slow method, simply picked the patients up in his arms and carried them upstairs.  His impatience was lessened somewhat when on an urgent call because a special siren was installed on his car which gave him the right-of-way.  Mrs. Dave Cunningham of North Bend, well describes Dr. Burke:  ‘When I saw Doc Burke going through town on two wheels with the horn tied down . . . . . .I knew someone was hurt.’”

“Dr. Burke was the ‘company’ doctor for the Snoqualmie Falls Beneficial Company, composed of employees of the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company, from 1921 until his death in 1927.  When a young boy, he fought in the Spanish American War and was also a veteran of the First World War.  He never lost his love of adventure and medical practice, with him, has been described as ‘wild and wooley’.  Although Dr. Burke sometimes lived up to the title of ‘wild Irishman’, he is remembered as a kind, chivalrous little doctor who cared for his patients tirelessly, without thought of himself.”

-Our Snoqualmie Community: 1856-1956

First hospital in North Bend on N Bendigo and 2nd. Snoqualmie Valley Museum Collection: PO.668.0003.
Dr Burke’s hospital in old Taylor residence, North Bend. Snoqualmie Valley Museum Collection: PO.028.0043.

Dr. Richard T. Burke was in the upper valley in 1910, but I do not know exactly when he came.  I think he came here from California, as Mrs. Burke one told me the doctor wasn’t afraid of anything; and she often worried about him when he went to see patients ‘in the worst dives of San Francisco.’ ”

Dr. Burke was very well liked, and I often heard it said that Seattle doctors thought he should go to the city, as he was too good a man to be working in the country.

About 1910 Howard Johnson’s Hotel, where the Falls Printing Co. now stands, burned; and two men jumped from a third-floor window.  Dr. Burke was called and said that one of the men, who had a broken hip, should be taken to Seattle.  I had a 1909 EMF and was asked to take him.  We removed the car’s fold-back top and laid the stretcher across the doors.  Dr. Burke and John McLeod went with me.

On reaching Duthie Hill, Dr. Burke and McLeod got out to walk up the hill, but the car stalled half-way up anyway.  Since I had to use both brakes to keep the car from coasting backward, it was up to the doctor or McLeod to crank the car.  Neither had any experience cranking, but after some time they managed to get it started.

The injured man was in considerable pain, and every now and then, the doctor asked me to stop so that he could give him a drink of whiskey.  Dr. Burke remarked that he had never killed a man with whiskey.

It was a bad road to Seattle in those days.  We went to Renton, then along the waterfront on a mile of rough road, then across the Grant Street Bridge to the old Providence Hospital at Fifth and Madison Streets.  We were all very tired when we arrived at midnight.  This was the first patient Dr. Burke took to a Seattle hospital by car.

Mrs. Goldmeyer became very ill while at Goldmeyer Hot Springs.  Dr. Burke went in with others to bring her out.  I heard later that he had done more than his share of carrying the sick woman’s stretcher.  The park trail to the springs in those days was considered to be about 40 miles each way.

I remember seeing Dr. Burke riding his horse through a blizzard over the Meadowbrook fields, with the snow drifted as high as the fence posts.  One time I meet on the old Meadowbrook-North Bend Road.  I was driving a car and he his horse and buggy.  He waved and got down to hold his horse till I drove by.  Not long after, he was driving a car himself.

Dr. Burke told me the following story: A man in North Bend came to him and asked for morphine for his wife.  Dr. Burke told the man that he couldn’t give him morphine without first seeing his wife.  Dr. Burke said that when he examined the woman, he knew right away what her trouble was, and that she needed an operation.

“He spent until two or three o’clock one morning with the husband, going over in his medical books the woman’s ailment and treatment.  He convinced the husband of his diagnosis and the surgery.  The woman recovered; and the husband said, “To think that I have spent over $3,000 and traveled all over the U.S. and consulted many doctors including the Mayo Brothers, and have come to a country doctor in a little town and found help.”  Much later, the daughter of this couple visited Dr. Burke to tell him that her mother was well and working every day and to thank him again for what he had done.

Years ago, Joe Frizelle was seriously injured while topping a tree and taken to the Snoqualmie Falls Hospital.  For some reason, the men carrying the stretcher to the second floor couldn’t manage to get it around the corner of the narrow hospital stairway.  Dr. Burke picked up the injured man and carried him up.  The story was told all over the community.

Money meant very little to Dr. Burke, and he was known for not sending bills.  The late Isa Heady Mahoney, who was a bookkeeper at the hospital, said that once she asked Dr. Burke to come into the office.  When he did, she locked the door and put the key into her pocket, determined to go over a long list of overdue accounts with him.  When she went down the list of names, the doctor swore and said over and over, ‘Mark it paid; they don’t have anything.'”

I once asked Dr. Burke how much I owed him.  He said, ‘What did I do?’I said, ‘You have been to the house several times.’ He said, ‘Oh, send me $10.'”

A friend in Snoqualmie recently told me that years ago, some time after she had had a baby under Dr. Burke’s care, she approached the doctor with her check book in hand and told him she wanted to pay him.  ‘Oh, haven’t I ever sent over a bill?’ he asked.  When she told him he hadn’t, he said, ‘Well, send me $35.”’

-Dio Reinig, Valley Record

Oral tradition at the Museum relays that Dr. Burke died unexpectedly after being shot and was greatly mourned by the community.  The story had been that a woman and girl appeared on his door step with the woman saying the girl was his daughter.  It continued that he was shot but would not reveal the name of the shooter for the honor of a woman.  There were lots of rumors that it might have been a jealous husband as he had a way with the ladies and had delivered most of the babies in the region for almost two decades. That if he had been able to operate on himself he would have survived but the other surgeons were not as good as he was an were unable to save him.  One of his relatives visited the Museum a few years back and related to one of our board members that their family oral tradition is that it had been his wife who had shot him when his former mistress had arrived. 

Though Dr. Burke may have had issues in his personal life, he was still widely respected in the community. So widely respected that the community took up a collection for a bronze memorial to honor him. The maximum donation was set at one dollar so that most people could contribute a full share. The plaque was unveiled at the Snoqualmie Falls hospital in September of 1927 where it remained for many years, until one night it disappeared, stolen, presumably for the value of the bronze. It was a great loss, but happily years later it was quietly returned, anonymously, to the museum.

“After Dr. Burke’s death a plaque of bronze was placed on a seat part way up the steps leading from the road up to the front of the hospital.  A tall fir tree stood beside this monument.  There was a ceremony dedicating the monument one afternoon…”

Memories of a Milltown by Edna Hebner Crews

The original bronze plaque was built into a bench that still remains near DirtFish. The bronze was donated to the Snoqualmie Valley Museum, but stolen before the Museum could secure it, and later returned to the Museum’s possession.