Honoring Our Valley History: Doctor Richard Burke and the Creation of the Snoqualmie Falls Hospital

William Willard Warren Asks for a Hospital for His Employees and Families

Dr. Richard Burke – 1882-1927 – Burke Street in Snoqualmie is named for him

Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company mill manager W. W. Warren had started operating the new state-of-the-art Mill #1 at Snoqualmie Falls in November of 1917. Warren immediately recognized the need for a medical facility for his employees and their families. However, he had to convince other Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company officers of the reasonableness of this expense.

The first known request for this hospital is a letter to George Long at Weyerhaeuser, dated February 2, 1918. These were challenging times for the new operation. Construction was progressing on Mill #2 and the shingle mill — yet many of their capable employees were on their way to France to fight WW I.

To quote Warren:

“Not because we have time to do it now and haven’t plenty of other troubles, but the necessity seems to become more apparent as our operation gets underway that better medical and hospital facilities should be provided than our employees now enjoy.

A series of minor and some quite serious accidents with a rather poor telephone service to North Bend (where the doctor and medical facilities were) has brought this matter quite forcibly to my attention. So, I am wondering if we ought not to give this matter early consideration and get an architect busy on a plan.

I think that we can move Dr. Burke (from his hospital in a house in North Bend) to the mill site. And with the number of men that are going to be employed, there ought never to be a time when at least one doctor is not either at the mill plant or the (logging) camps.”

Warren quickly moved forward with the building of the town of Snoqualmie Falls, which added young growing families to the list of reasons for on-site medical facilities.

Warren sent an even more persistent letter in January of 1920 — a letter that is about as strong as any existing document that he penned to higher management:

“I think we should at once determine just what we are going to do about building a hospital and also some additional cottages on the property that is already cleared above the County Road” (now 396th Drive).

No written record has been found of the opening of the new hospital, and the local newspapers from this time are missing, but other documents and photos in the Museum collection point to the late summer of 1920. Dr. Richard Burke became the doctor in residence.

Accounting details from 1922 show that the new 50-bed hospital (now also provided for patients from North Bend, Snoqualmie, Fall City and beyond) was quite successful and cost a TOTAL of $2,908 per month. Dr. Burke’s salary was $400 of this amount. Note that this was when the standard mill laborer’s daily pay was about $3.

Harold Olsen – First Baby Born in New Hospital

I first published data about the Snoqualmie Falls Hospital in the Snoqualmie Valley Reporter in mid-1993 and immediately received a phone call from the late Shirley Clevin. 

To quote Shirley: “Harold Eric Olsen, my older brother, was born on September 30, 1920, and was the first child born in the Snoqualmie Falls Hospital. The hospital sent my father, Emil, out to get the powder and other baby things because the hospital was not yet stocked for maternity. When Brother Richard was born, my parents didn’t name him after the doctor — but Dr. Burke thought so and was very honored — so he never billed them for delivering my brother.”

More on Dr. Burke from Edna Hebner Crews

Edna Hebner Crews spent her early years in the town of Snoqualmie Falls and shared detailed memories of her childhood in Memories of a Milltown, a 150-page book published by and available for purchase from the Snoqualmie Valley Museum. To quote Edna, “The mill maintained a large three-story hospital for its employees and their families. The doctor and his family lived in a (mill) house near the hospital. (The hospital) sat on the highest part of the mill property, above the school and was well equipped for a hospital of that day.”

“Dr. Burke was the first doctor at the hospital…….. We were always told (as children) that some things were the best in the world. For example, we were told that Dr. Burke was the absolute best surgeon that there was — and he may have deserved this reputation. 

These were the days when doctors worked day and night and drove through all kinds of weather to make home calls and were consequently almost worshipped.”

“There were no end to the tales that were told of (Dr. Burke’s) 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.”

Dr. Richard Burke’s Early Life and Education

Dr. Richard Burke was born in Liberty, Indiana, on September 25, 1880. His parents moved the family to Santa Clara, California, in 1882, where he spent his youth. After attending Santa Clara College, he volunteered for the California Heavy Artillery for service in the Philippines, where he received a Congressional medal for bravery under fire. He left the service in 1889 and moved to Seattle to work for the King County Clerk’s office before returning to California in 1903 to complete his medical studies.

Dr. Burke came to the Valley in 1908 and had his first office in Snoqualmie. Burke opened the first official hospital in the Upper Valley in 1912 in the former William Henry Taylor’s (founder of North Bend) home in North Bend and had a solid reputation in the Valley before he moved to the mill town of Snoqualmie Falls and helped open the new fifty-bed Snoqualmie Falls Hospital. From a 1956 article, “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.”  

Dr. Burke on porch of the first hospital in the Upper Valley – in North Bend.  Nurse to his left is Blanche (Knowles) Jackson, who provided Dave Battey with valuable critical detail on the early days in the town of Snoqualmie

The Community Honors Dr. Burke with a Significant Memorial

As noted in a 1956 newspaper article: “When he died in 1927 of a gunshot wound — the community erected a bronze memorial to him on the bank below the hospital.” Years later, the bronze likeness of the good doctor disappeared. 

We thought someone had recycled the brass – but that was not the case. In 1997, we found the brass leaning against the back door of the Museum! 

I immediately took a photo of the brass and, over time, shared it on the internet. Then I received an email from someone who had the presence of mind to match the moss-covered concrete with the newly photographed bronze using photoshop – which you see below.

Bronze and Concrete Memorial to Dr. Burke – Photoshopped by Tim Nyhus

To find the concrete portion of this memorial today, drive up 396th Drive from Reinig Road. 

At the top of the hill, there is a sharp right turn and looking uphill as you begin this turn, you will see the concrete steps. The Snoqualmie Falls Hospital was high on the hill above the memorial, and the Snoqualmie Falls Grade School was just across 396th from the memorial. 

While you visit, ponder that there was a thriving 250-home community supporting a huge lumber and sawmill operation on this property.

[Dave Battey, the Official Historian for the City of Snoqualmie and member of the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society Board]

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  • Thanks for the story. It is very interesting.
    David L Kelley. I was born at that hospital in 1936.

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