Summer 2013 Edition Features



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”
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)

Historical Feature

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


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.

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.


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 no