The legendary restorative waters of Medical Lake were “strong medicine” to the natives of the region. Native Americans had brought the sick to its shores for generations. They had taken powdery residue from the water to those who couldn’t travel.
When a French Canadian named Andrew LeFevre settled there in 1872, the Indians told him the water was poisonous. But LeFevre found that the water cured his sheep of scabies and claimed that bathing in the water relieved his rheumatism.
LeFevre, who mostly avoided deadly conflicts with the natives who lived nearby, homesteaded what is now the town of Medical Lake. Stanley Hallett, an Englishman who said he was from British nobility, arrived in 1872. In the era of patent medicines and boastful claims, he boiled the lake water for salty powder he sold as a cure for almost anything. He also made soap from the product.
Hotels and bathhouses sprang up on the shores. Hallett built a spectacular brick mansion that still stands. The city of Medical Lake was founded in 1888.
Starting in 1905, an electric train from Spokane brought day-trippers by the thousands. Barkers met the trains and pushed visitors to their businesses. There were tour boats and live music at the bandstand. Over time, people became skeptical of the health claims and algae blooms in the lake, partly caused by sewage from big resorts, which made the water unappealing. Years of dredging had depleted the minerals credited for the healing magic.
Automobiles allowed people to travel to places without the electric train service, which was discontinued in 1922. The lake’s healing legend was over. The town of Medical Lake is also home to Eastern State Hospital, housing the mentally ill, founded in 1891; and Lakeland Village, housing severely disabled adults, built in 1914.– Jesse Tinsley
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