The first documented doctor serving the Upper Valley was a Dr. Adams, who came on horseback. He was almost like a circuit rider, galloping through the communities periodically to check his patients.
The most prevalent major medical emergency was childbirth, which rarely rated the luxury of a doctor. Most infants were born at home with the help of a midwife. Midwives were “experienced” neighbors who helped you through. Those from the Upper Valley whose names have been remembered are Grandma Wieting, Grandma Kinsey (Louisa), and Grandma Flint.
“Local” medicine began in 1889, when a Dr. William Ellery Gibson and a Dr. Corson began a practice in Issaquah. Dr. Gibson made calls to Snoqualmie and North Bend on horseback. He removed a man’s eye in his office/operating room in 1890 — with satisfactory results.
Beginning in 1890 and lasting until about 1905, a Dr. Hopkins practiced in Snoqualmie. He was replaced by Dr. Adams, who later moved the practice to North Bend. Dr. Adams had his office in the Boxley home until 1910, when he was bought out by Dr. Richard Burke.
Another doctor, Dr. Richards, moved to Fall City around 1890 and also made calls in Snoqualmie. He treated Otto Reinig in 1891 when Otto was thrown from a buggy. He applied a tin splint, but Otto’s arm swelled within it, causing excruciating pain. Otto telegraphed a Seattle doctor, and went to see him on the train (a seven or eight hour trip) to get relief.
Originally written by David Battey and updated by Cristy Lake
With the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a good time to reflect on the perils to physical well-being that were ever present reality to past generations. Let’s look at a few of the challenges facing some of our early medical practitioners.
In 1891 a Dr. Lee located in North Bend. It was this doctor who operated on Snoqualmie Tribe member and friend of Dio Reinig, who Dio found with mortal stab wounds (name redacted to protect the victim and his family). It was difficult to persuade the doctor to help because of prejudicial rumor that a doctor would be killed if his patient expired, a fate that had befallen a local Native American doctor shortly before. Dr. Lee’s patient lived for about a month after the operation. It was alleged that if the other doctors who were called first had attended the victim he would have survived; but by the time Dr. Lee was called, infection had taken hold.
A Dr. Milliken was brought in during the building of the railroad and the first mill in Snoqualmie in 1889/90. The contractor hired him to care for the men during the construction and he left as soon as it was completed.
A Doctor Bump also arrived about 1890 and stayed in Snoqualmie until 1909. He is mentioned in early Snoqualmie Town Council minutes.
Doctor W. W. Cheney set up practice in Fall City in 1905 and practiced medicine here for sixty-four years. He used a horse and buggy until 1912, when he bought a second-hand Ford with acetylene head lamps. His “circuit” included Tolt, Cherry Valley, Duvall, Snoqualmie, and North Bend. He started using anesthetics in surgery in 1912. Quite an innovation for the Valley!
Dr. Richard Burke, who founded the first hospital, came to the Valley in 1908. His first home/office was in Snoqualmie. His early calls were on horseback unless someone came for him in a buggy. Even after automobiles were available, Dr. Burke often rode horseback during high water — horses being, “more dependable than cars.”
It was Dr. Burke who started the first official hospital in the Upper Valley at the “former Joyner residence of North Bend” in 1910. This hospital moved across the railroad tracks into the old Taylor residence in 1912, and remained there until 1920 or 1921 when Dr. Burke moved to the brand new modern hospital facility built in the town of Snoqualmie Falls on the hill above the mill. This facility was built for the use of Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company (later Weyerhaeuser) employees and their families, but was open to all Valley residents.
So, our first crude Upper Snoqualmie Valley hospital opened 110 years ago and was replaced about ten years later by a modern, up-to-date (for its time) facility .
Around 1890, Dio Reinig tells us, a young man tried to jump off of Snoqualmie Falls in a parachute as part of a tourism promotion stunt. A gust of wind blew him against the rocks. They took him to a Seattle hospital by train, where he died without regaining consciousness. The trip by train to Seattle took seven or eight hours. There were, of course, no reasonable alternatives. The train was the quickest mode of transportation. But then, after the introduction of the automobile, Dio also gives us a graphic picture of the challenges involved in motoring a patient to a Seattle hospital:
In 1909, in Snoqualmie, the Reinig Brother’s Store (now the Coast-to-Coast) burned, along with the Howard Johnson Hotel (a big wooden three-story affair). Two large men jumped from the hotel during the fire and both broke their hips. Doctor Burke called Dio Reinig and asked if he could take one of the men to a hospital in Seattle in his EMF. Dio removed the top from his car, and the man, placed on a stretcher, was strapped crosswise on the tops of the car doors. Doctor Burke and a Mr. McLeod (pronounced McCloud) rode with Dio to help out.
To quote Dio, “It was a bad road in those days. We had to go over the steep Duthie Hill below Fall City, then to Renton and along the water front on a mile of very rough road, then across the Grant Street bridge to the Providence hospital on Fifth and Madison Street.
Before we started up Duthie Hill I asked the doctor and Mr. McLeod to get out and walk up the hill. The engine died about half way up, and as we had no starter in those days, I asked one of the men to crank the engine. Both said they didn’t know a thing about doing that. I did not dare get out of the car as I had to use both brakes to hold it from going back down the hill. After quite some time one of the men helped and we got it started and on up the hill and on our way again.
Our patient was in great pain and every now and then the doctor had me stop while he gave the man a drink of whiskey. He said he had never killed a man yet with whiskey. We arrived at the hospital at midnight, all of us very tired.”
According to Dio, his EMF had a terrible habit of stopping on both hills and railroad crossings. The tires were guaranteed for 3,000 miles, but you were lucky to get 300 on the gravel roads of the day.
Another story begins with this comment: “Trips to Seattle over rough roads, through deep mud, were very agonizing to patients.” A man was shot in the back during a quarrel on Snoqualmie’s main street. Dr. Burke asked for help from Claude Northern this time, and Mr. Northern volunteered his Ford. They didn’t get very far. The Ford skidded off of the road on the Falls’ hill and (luckily) the rear axle hung up on a stump, keeping them from tumbling down the hill. They finished the trip in another Snoqualmie car. Snoqualmie had three automobiles at the time.
A locomotive was once sent to bring Doctor Burke back to the hospital during a blizzard. The good doctor arrived with “icicles hanging from his mustache, but after warming up, proceeded with an emergency operation at two in the morning.”
So there you have it — a short course in early medical transportation in the Valley. Isn’t it comforting to have our modern, fully staffed facility at our doorstep?
Addendum: In January 1948, the Nelems Hospital replaced the 1920 Snoqualmie Falls Hospital reducing down to a 16-bed hospital. Bernice Nelems, a nurse at the former Snoqualmie Falls Hospital, named the facility in honor of her parents and sister. She ran the remote 16-bed medical facility for more than 20 years before financial problems befell it. This facility operated until 1976, when it closed a new Snoqualmie Valley Hospital District was formed to replace the hospital. In 1979 Governor Dixy Lee Ray signed legislation allowing the hospital district to get funding to build a new hospital as the Valley was without one. This new hospital opened in 1983. It was replaced by the current hospital in 2015.