Summer 2013 Edition Features
FRONT PAGE STORY
A GOOD PLACE TO LIVE
Skaguay Amazes All Who Venture Here
Clean Water, Healthy Community, Modern Facilities
The wonder of the new century will sustain a robust population.
It is not alone as the gateway to the golden interior – a way station on the road to Dawson City – that Skaguay is now becoming known. Nor is she in a position to invite within her gates none but tourists and the ever-welcome “Klondikers.” Standing as she does, as the salt water terminal of the White Pass & Yukon Railway, with newly discovered placer fields of untold richness at her very doors, and with new industries springing up, Skaguay has suddenly acquired a permanency which the passing throng of inward and outgoing Klondikers alone could not give. The rapid developments of the past few months have demonstrated that here on Skaguay bay will be built a large city, the entrepot of a vast territory, under two flags but alike in wealth and formation – Alaska and the Northwest (Yukon) Territory.
Instead of being a mere stopping place – a way station to some, a place to make money to others, Skaguay is now being looked by all as a place to live, a place in which to cast one’s lot, not for a day or year, but for all time. The wise ones easily figure out that as the wealth of the interior is real, not speculative, and with a railroad bringing this treasure to her doors, Skaguay must continue to grow and prosper in direct ratio as this vast interior is developed. The extent of the northwest country, and how little of it has ever been prospected, is not generally appreciated. Its resources and possibilities are as boundless as its area.
“The Gateway to the Interior” is not an empty title when applied to Skaguay, for to be the only practical gateway to such an extent of country is a guarantee of the future greatness of the city.
As an outfitting point for the interior, Skaguay is superior to all others. Situated as they are, in touch with the Klondike, her merchants are better qualified to judge of the needs of that class of trade. The fact that returning Klondikers invariably outfit here should be proof positive of the mistake of outfitting in the lower coast cities.
To those who do not desire to brave the hardships of the interior, yet long for a share of its golden wealth, Skaguay offers many advantages. Good business opportunities are constantly presenting themselves.
To the latter class as well as to the “Klondikers,” Skaguay extends a welcoming hand. With good schools and churches, refined and educated society; with every opportunity for good, legitimate investments, good wages and money plentiful, Skaguay is, and will continue to be, a good place to live.
– W.F. Lokowitz for the 1898 booklet, “Skaguay, Alaska - The Gateway to the Klondike and the Atlin Gold Fields”
HEALTH & SANITARY CONDITIONS
The city is kept clean and is as healthy as attention to sanitary precautions can make it. During Skagway’s first winter there were quite a number of cases of pneumonia and meningitis, resulting from exposure and carelessness in their (stampeders) feverish haste to get their outfits over the summit. With good, pure water, a natural drainage to the sea, and a proper regard for cleanliness, there are no conditions here to make the place more unsanitary than a rapidly growing city would naturally be. The climate is healthy and pleasant during the greater part of the year; and the winter months are not to be dreaded provided a person is properly clothed.
In the construction of the White Pass railroad from Skagway over the pass, from May 26th to late in the fall (1898), there had been constantly employed from 1,000 to 1,700 men, and in all that time there was but one case of illness in the dozen camps – only one man who, owing to sickness, had to be taken to the hospital. Of course, men were injured by accidents while at work during this period of time, but these inabilities were not produced by climatic or weather influences.
Skagway is blessed with two good hospitals, the doors of which are always open to the sick, with or without money. They are known as the Red Cross and Bishop Rowe hospitals. They are comfortable, well managed and with all modern institutions, with the very best of medical attendance and competent nurses. They have proved a “haven of rest” to many a poor unfortunate in their hour of need; and were, doubtless, instrumental in saving the life of many a fortune-hunter, who must have died of exposure and neglect but for the shelter, medical attendance, proper diet and care provided by one or the other of the institutions.
– Directory and Guide, Skagway (1899)
Skagway's Medical History:
A Community Health Profile
Two nurses stand outside one of Skagway’s first medical facilities, the Bishop Rowe Hospital. Skagway Museum
By KATIE EMMETS
Skagway’s health care history, much like the history of the town itself, began during the Klondike Gold Rush and has evolved with economic opportunity.
From three operating hospitals with doctors at the turn of the 20th century to one fully staffed clinic with advanced nurse practitioners at the turn of the 21st century, quality health care has always been provided for those who choose to live in this relatively remote Southeast Alaska coastal town.
GOLD RUSH HOSPITALS
The Skaguay Hospital was founded on February 19, 1898 by a group of townspeople under the Rev. Robert Dickey to meet the emergency of a spinal meningitis epidemic.
Dickey, a Presbyterian minister, was the first clergyman in Skagway, arriving in October 1897. He was instrumental in creating Skagway’s first church, which was also used as a school.
For the hospital, the church purchased Skagway’s largest log cabin, which was about 16-by-24 feet, located on the southwest corner of 12th Avenue and Alaska Street.
The Morning Alaskan reported that the hospital, in the first week it was open, cared for one patient with frozen toes amputated, two cerebral spinal meningitis patients, two pneumonia patients, two patients with grippe, one patient with bronchitis, one patient with influenza and one patient with inflammation of the bowel. The newspaper also stated that the hospital had one death in its first week.
According to The Skagway Story by Howard Clifford, along with one nurse who was hired to treat patients “able assistance came from townsfolk including many of the girls from the dance halls who did yeoman work in caring for the sick through the epidemic.”
Meningitis was unkind to hopeful prospectors and terminated the journey of many.
“So great was the emergency that not even beds were provided,” Clifford wrote. “Patients were attended while lying side by side on the floor. Others died unknown and uncared for in their tents and cabins.”
Dr. Will H. Chase was one of several doctors in Skagway during the epidemic, and he treated as many people as he could. Chase was also one of the first to aid the injured after the Palm Sunday avalanche on the Chilkoot Trail. The slide, which was near Sheep Camp, was the deadliest event of the Klondike Gold Rush killing close to 70 stampeders on their way to Dawson City.
In April 1898 Rev. Peter Rowe, Episcopal Bishop of Alaska, took charge of the hospital after Dickey headed for the Klondike just six months after he arrived.
According to a New York Times story, Rowe wrote about Skagway’s desperate situation and the need for the hospital in a letter that was received by Bishop William Morris Barker in Tacoma on April 15, 1989.
The story was titled “SKAGUAY HOSPITAL IN NEED; Bishop Rowe of Alaska Pleads for Contributions to Enlarge the Building.”
"The emergency hospital is a low cabin 30 feet long and 18 feet wide. One room on the ground floor answers for kitchen and cots; one room above is but half-story or attic. In this room I found 12 cots, and 10 of them were occupied with men in all stages of pneumonia and meningitis,” Rowe wrote. “Last night I was with a young man who died in my arms, from New Brunswick, telling me what to say to his father and mother and sisters. It was most sad, most pitiful. Sickness is going to increase. The appeals to our humanity cannot be ignored. The sick are absolutely friendless, helpless, and without the hospital would simply die by the wayside. We have one woman nurse, two men, and a cook. Skaguay doctors are attending for little or nothing as expenses permit. We must build an addition if only of an inexpensive and temporary character.”
Rowe concluded his letter by writing that he would begin renovations immediately and added that present accommodations were “totally inadequate and unsuitable.”
Rowe spent more than $3,000 improving the log cabin facilities and added on a two-story building. After he took over responsibility for it, the hospital became known as the Bishop Rowe Hospital.
According to Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Historian Karl Gurcke, The hospital closed in 1905, however he said he has maps indicating it may have still been operating as late as 1908.
Gurcke said it was used as a house after it closed and was lived in until it burned down in 1956.
When the idea for a Skagway hospital first took flight, Rev. Dickey created a committee of Union Church members to collect donations, and many Skagway townspeople — including Skagway con man Jefferson R. “Soapy” Smith — contributed to the cause.
According to the Daily Alaskan, Smith was the fourth top contributor with a $25 donation.
At first, the committee did not want to accept his money, but after a debate, Dickey said if Smith wanted to contribute to a good cause, the committee had no right to prevent him.
Smith, famous for a prized package soap pitch amongst other tricks and scams, made his home in Skagway in January 1898, and by July, the town was tired of his cons.
On the evening of July 8, a vigilance committee that called themselves the “Committee of 101” organized a meeting to discuss the expulsion of Smith from Skagway.
Smith showed up and began an argument with Frank H. Reid, one of four guards blocking his way to the wharf.
A shootout on the Juneau Wharf began unexpectedly, and Smith died instantly with a shot to the heart. But Reid, who was shot by Smith in the groin, was taken to the Bishop Rowe Hospital where he died 12 days later.
During the gold rush there were also a number of medical providers, drugstores and medicated bath parlors.
According to Skagway’s 1899 Directory and Guide (above), there were six physicians and surgeons and four dentists during the gold rush, and some of them advertised in the directory.
Constantin Bloch was a dentist of the old school who came from Seattle, while L. S. Keller was thoroughly up-to-date in his dental profession and had his operating room stocked with all modern supplies.
For a brief time there also was a Red Cross Hospital that operated in Skagway during the gold rush.
The White Pass Hospital in 1961 and Dr. P. I Dahl. Courtesy KGRNHP and Dahl Memorial Clinic.
WHITE PASS HOSPITAL AND DR. DAHL
The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway Hospital began in a temporary building on Broadway Street in 1898.
It was used as both a medical facility and a rooming house for railroad construction crews.
According to White Pass historian Carl Mulvihill, other medical tents were staged at various railroad construction camps to aid workers in need of services.
“The first hospital ward and rooming house burned in 1898 and a 30-by-34 foot two-story building was built at 11th (Avenue) and Broadway Street,” Mulvihill wrote. “During this period, the hospital facilities were for employees only, as two other hospitals, the Bishop Rowe Hospital and the Red Cross Hospital were operating in the community.”
After the Klondike Gold Rush ended, the other hospitals closed, and in 1901 the White Pass Hospital constructed a 40-foot, two-story addition to accommodate the larger patient demand. This 12-bed hospital continued to serve the community, White Pass employee or not, till 1967.”
The White Pass hospital, located alongside Pullen Creek at 11th and Broadway, was always staffed with one surgeon and two or three nurses.
Though the hospital had many doctors, Peter Ivarsen Dahl was the longest-serving physician at the hospital. He arrived in December 1925. Before moving to Alaska, Dahl was living in Inwood, Iowa, with his family.
According to his son Robert Dahl’s book, After the Gold Rush: Growing up in Skagway, in the fall of 1925 Dahl read an advertisement for a physician to treat railroad employees in Skagway for a reliable cash salary. With a wife and three young sons to care for, Dahl took the job, and his starting pay was $3,000 a year.
The town’s remote location caused the hospital staff to go above and beyond the call of duty on many occasions.
“Because of the town’s relative isolation, Dad is compelled to deal with emergencies that no general practitioner in an urban setting in the Lower 48 would have to assume,” Robert Dahl wrote. “Even in the summer months, a patient lucky enough to take a boat out the next day would arrive in Seattle in less than five days; in the winter, the patient might have to wait two weeks for the ship to come in, and another five days to reach Seattle.”
Dr. Dahl took on cases that he would have referred to a specialist had he worked in a big-city hospital, but because there was nowhere else to send his patients he did the best he could.
The White Pass & Yukon Route hospital was a large wooden frame building with two stories and six brick chimneys. In his book, Robert Dahl wrote that the hospital was huge in comparison to the nearly 500-person town.
“(The hospital building) is a bit ramshackle-looking, as if it was originally built for some other purposes—hotel, warehouse,” he wrote.
There were examining rooms, a lab/drug supply room, two bathrooms, a surgery room and an office for the doctor. There was also a living room and a kitchen for the live-in nurses.
“Dad’s small office is on the first floor,” Dahl wrote. “Nearby is his ancient x-ray machine, which, he learns too late, shoots its radiation around like a leaky hose. Some years later Dad will discover a persistent growth on his right hand. It’s cancer, of course and he will end up missing a finger.”
During World War II, the Army Medical Services operated the hospital, as there was a shortage of nurses, Mulvihill said.
Mulvihill also added that the White House, now a bed and breakfast, was used as an Army hospital during the war, and an additional army hospital was constructed north of town in Liarsville.
Because of its close proximity to Japan, the military expected a lot of casualties in Alaska, Mulvihill said, however there were none in Skagway that were a direct result of World War II.
In a town that was divided by the racism of that era, Robert Dahl wrote that his dad “won the trust and confidence of whites and Indians alike – young, old and in between.”
Dahl said his father came whenever anyone needed him, day or night, and offered comfort both medicinally and mentally.
“Sometimes people who needed him for hurts that required more than a physician’s usual remedies would turn to him for help in healing their invisible or unmentionable wounds,” Dahl wrote. “Probably more people shared their secrets with him than they did with their priest.”
At 65 years old, P.I. Dahl left Skagway in 1950. By this time, all three of his sons had left Skagway, and his friends were either dying or leaving town.
“When they announced Dad’s imminent retirement and departure, the town virtually went into mourning.” Robert wrote. “The people of Skagway turned their sadness into the greatest public display of affection and esteem that the town had ever witnessed — more, indeed, than most small towns have ever witnessed.”
A week before he left, the town threw a celebration which consisted of a parade made up of every person still living in Skagway whom Dahl delivered during his quarter of a century at the White Pass Hospital.
“They were followed by ‘Dr. Dahl’s Babes’ in order of age, ending with the oldest, who had arrived during his first years,” Robert wrote. “Several of these, in fact, had already been at the head of the parade, carrying their own newly born infants. Each of Dad’s babies crossed the stage to where Dad stood and took his hand in theirs.”
A few years after Dahl left, the railroad stopped funding the hospital and its staff, and the White Pass Hospital closed in August 1967.
“The need for a fully staffed, complete hospital in a small community can no longer be economically justified, especially when two large well-equipped hospitals are within 100 miles, with frequent dependable transportation facilities available,” Mulvihill wrote.
The hospital was torn down to make room for a new facility, which would be named the Dahl Memorial Clinic.
“The residents who still remember Dr. Peter I. Dahl have steadily declined in number, and one day not far off none will remain,” Robert wrote. “Yet the clinic will stand as a memorial to a physician who lived up to the highest standards of his ancient calling and while doing so gained, with his beloved wife, the abiding affection and respect of all who knew them.”
Clayton “Doc” Polley, a beloved Skagway dentist, speaks at the dedication of the row of mountain ash trees planted by the Skagway Garden Club in 1987. Jeff Brady
“Doc” Polley THE DENTIST
Another beloved physician was dentist Clayton Leslie “Doc” Polley, who was born in Massachusetts but grew up in Juneau.
According to an online article written by his daughter-in-law Patty Ann for the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, “Doc” Polley graduated from the North Pacific Dental College in Portland, Ore., and started his first dental practice in LeGrange, Ore., during the height of The Great Depression. After three years of barely scraping by, he decided to head back to Alaska.
He moved to Skagway in 1932 and opened up an office in the Peniel Mission on 6th Avenue.
Polley also served the next-door town of Haines and did United States Army dental work at the Port Chilkoot Barracks.
As an active member of the Skagway community, Polley served as the Skagway School Board president for six years and served three years on the Skagway City Council. During World War II, Polley was captain of the Territorial Guard unit in Skagway.
After moving back to Juneau in 1947, Polley served on the executive Board of the Alaska Tuberculosis Association and American Cancer Society.
He was also a charter member and helped organize the Alaska Dental Society and served as its first elected president. He also was an avid gardener and visited the Garden City often until his death in 1996.
LEFT: A World War II nurse hangs bedsheets outside a Quonset hut.- Dr. Dan Duggan Collection, Skagway Museum
RIGHT: Beds in the Army Hospital across the river. Skagway Museum
WWII & THE SKAGWAY SANITARIUM
Skagway played a vital role in World War II as the major port city for the construction of the Yukon portion of the Alaska Highway.
United States Army troops were stationed in town, and the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway was used to help transport equipment and troops to Carcross and Whitehorse for the highway project. It also was a strategic military communication center.
The military constructed an Army hospital in Liarsville, north of town, but when a statewide epidemic of tuberculosis hit Alaska, the hospital was taken over by the Alaska Department of Health in 1944 to serve as a sanitarium.
According to Must We all Die: Alaska’s Enduring Struggle with Tuberculosis by Robert Fortuine, the hospital sat in a wooded grove and consisted of 17 framed barracks-like buildings sprawled along the bank of the Skagway River about three miles from town.
“Five of the buildings were used as wards, each with 30 beds, plus an administration building, mess hall, recreational hall, various maintenance facilities and quarters for the physician, nurses and attendants,” Fortuine wrote.
Though the hospital had about 150 beds, nursing and attendant staff shortages allowed only 100 beds to be open during the first year.
“The average daily census was 63 patients, but by June 30, 1946, the hospital was at full capacity with a census of 99,” he wrote.
The sanitarium was mainly used to isolate the sick from the well, and because of budget constraints, little more than food and beds were offered to the patients.
Ethel Pederson, a nurse who worked at the sanitarium, remembers that hospital conditions were less than satisfactory.
When strong winds would blow the building would shake and the windows and doors would become lose in their frames, she said in an interview for the book. She also said the air was so dry that staff had to use coffee cans filled with water to set on the radiators as humidifiers.
“Of distinct sight, smell and taste was the old canned butter more like cheese than mutter, dehydrated potatoes and eggs and powdered milk,” she was quoted as saying. “Our meat was mostly reindeer, so old and tough we felt sure it must be Santa’s first team and refrozen since their demise in antiquity.”
In February 1947, a little over two years after it opened, the Sanitarium was abandoned because of high operating costs.
Portraits of the Rasmusons hanging in the health center that bears their names, and the bronzed shoes of Carlin "Buckwheat" Donahue who walked and paddled across the continent to raise money for the new facility which opened in 2011. Katie Emmets
DAHL MEMORIAL CLINIC AND THE E.A. AND JENNY RASMUSON COMMUNITY HEALTH CENTER
The original Dahl Memorial Clinic opened in 1968 on the grounds where the White Pass Hospital stood. The steel building was an Alaska Centennial project and it served the community for 40 years.
The Municipality of Skagway owns the Dahl Memorial Clinic, and it is the only medical facility in town. For many years it was staffed by Dr. Stan Jones, a visiting physician from Haines. After his retirement, the community eventually took over operation of the medical facility in partnership with Bartlett Regional Hospital of Juneau.
In 2010, the municipality constructed a new building for the Dahl Memorial Clinic and named it the E.A. and Jenny Rasmuson Community Health Center.
E.A. and Jenny Rasmuson moved to Skagway in 1916. E.A. became the banker at Bank of Alaska and eventually bought it in 1920. The bank set aside land in Skagway for public use, and after Wells Fargo bought the National Bank of Alaska, it transferred the land to the municipality for the community health center.
When E.A.’s son, Elmer Rasmuson died, he left his entire estate to the Rasmuson Foundation, which contributes to many projects statewide including the Dahl Memorial Clinic.
Also contributing to funds for the new building was Skagway resident Carlin “Buckwheat” Donahue, who walked and paddled from Miami, Florida to Nome, Alaska to raise money for the clinic.
Donahue had several heart episodes in 2003 while passing through Juneau. He was able to get to a hospital in time, but if he had been in Skagway, Donahue said, he may not have survived.
After that scare, he committed himself to walking, not only for his health, but to raise awareness and give something back to his community.
Starting on October 1, 2005, Donahue set out from Miami. After 327 days, he walked the final stretch into Skagway, his cause having raised $75,000 for medical equipment in the new building.
Donahue donated the shoes he walked into town with, and they are bronzed and hanging on a wall near the entrance of the health center.
Clinic Administrator Shelly Moss said the land, six lots between Broadway Street and State Street on 14th Avenue, has allowed for the clinic to be four times the size of the original building and in a more central location.
Dahl Memorial Clinic Administrator Shelly Moss inspects a doctor’s hat and other Skagway medical artifacts in a storage box at the E.A. and Jenny Rasmuson Community Heallth Center. Katie Emmets
The building, which cost about $7 million, has nine exam rooms, three urgent care rooms, one dentist suite, and a wing for Lynn Canal Counseling Services for a full-time behavioral health clinician.
Livingston Slone Inc., a design firm from Anchorage, did the planning and architecture work for the building. According to the firm’s website, the 14,000 square-foot building was designed to provide direct access for public services while still accommodating the privacy of clinical services, which is an essential need in small, rural communities.
The closest Alaska hospital is located in Juneau, which is a 45-minute flight or a seven-hour ferry ride away. It is not uncommon for Skagway residents to travel to Seattle or Anchorage to seek advanced medical care.
Skagway is a federally designated Medically Underserved Area and a Health Professional Shortage Area. Geographic isolation and weather create an exceptional need for community-based comprehensive health services.
Emergencies are handled by the local EMS squad, who transports patients to the clinic. If healh providers determine someone needs to get to a hospital immediately, the patient is flown on a regional medevac prop jet plane to the closest hospital available.
According to the United States 2010 census, Skagway has about 920 year-round residents but the clinic must be staffed to handle the more than 1,500 seasonal summer residents and the close to one million visitors who travel to Skagway by cruise ship each year.
The clinic has three advanced nurse practitioners and three medical assistants who work full-time four administrators. During the summer months, the clinic hires an additional administrator and a registered nurse.
The clinic also has a list of visiting providers who travel to Skagway to offer specialized healthcare. An ultrasound technician comes once a month, a pediatrician comes twice a year, a dentist comes four times a year, two eye doctors come three times and a year a physical therapist comes monthly. The clinic also has a physician medical advisor who checks in four times a year to review charts and see patients.
The clinic stopped birthing babies more than 20 years ago because of the liability of not being in close proximity to a hospital in case complications occur. For a decade women went to Whitehorse, but more restrictions have ended that option. Most pregnant women today travel to Juneau a few weeks before their due dates and deliver their children at Bartlett Regional Hospital.
From its infancy more than 100 years ago to its present form, Skagway’s health care has grown stronger. With advances in technology and transportation, medical options have opened up to residents in order to give them the best care possible.
Katie Emmets is a reporter and assistant editor for The Skagway News. Originally from Florida, she first interned at the paper in 2010 and then moved up to take a full-time job after her graduation from the University of Florida in 2011.
For a copy of this year's 32-page print edition, complete with more historic photos, a list of attractions and information on Skagway-Dyea, Klondike Gold Rush NHP, the Chilkoot Trail and other trails, and the best and most current map of downtown, call 907-983-2354 with a credit card number for a postpaid edition (cost will vary from $2 to US & Canada cities, more to elsewhere). Or just come visit us. The Alaskan is distributed FREE throughout Skagway, SE Alaska and the Yukon Territory and passed out every summer morning to cruise ship passengers.