The story of Seattle’s Great Fire of June 6, 1889, was widely publicized in national newspapers, including the response of Seattle leaders who pulled together immediately to commence rebuilding the downtown business zone.
Across the USA people recognized the opportunity to get in on the reconstruction boom, and soon people of many different skills, from carpenters to real estate investors, began arriving in Seattle. New doctors arrived in the city, too, and businessmen with services to offer such as drugstores, meat markets and groceries.
The suburb of Fremont had been founded just a year before Seattle’s Great Fire and was out of range of the fire. Fremont’s industries, including a lumber mill, iron foundry and construction materials company, boomed with business in the post-fire City of Seattle rebuilding program. Fremont also acquired new doctors and drugstores in 1889-1890 to serve the resident population.
Fremont’s earliest doctor and drugstore
Dr. Howard P. Miller, age 40, was one of those who must have seen the news articles and decided to seize the opportunities in Seattle. Born in Massachusetts, at the time of the Seattle Fire in 1889, Dr. Miller had been a practicing physician in California for more than ten years. He had arrived in the Sacramento Valley as a single man and in 1884 at age 34, he married Bertha, the California-born daughter of German immigrants.
We don’t know what motivated the Millers to suddenly leave California and start a new life in Seattle. City directory listings show that the Millers came to Seattle not long after the Fire in 1889, and they settled in the new Fremont neighborhood.
At first the Millers lived on Etruria Street which is on the south side of today’s Fremont Bridge. The next street to the south, Florentia, is the boundary line of the original land area of Fremont, called the Denny & Hoyt’s plat. For this reason, and because the present, wide dividing line of the ship canal had not yet been built, in the 1890s the Millers listed their address on Etruria Street as part of Fremont. Somewhat surprisingly, however, at first Dr. Miller listed his occupation as a retail druggist.
In the 1890s there were not yet any antibiotics, and medicines were derived primarily from plants. There was not yet a division between physicians and pharmacists, so it was common for a physician/pharmacist to give a diagnosis and then treat patients with a remedy which the doctor compounded himself.
As the practice of pharmacy gradually evolved and became separate from the doctor’s office, drugstores became linked with soda fountains, perhaps because medicines were often bitter-tasting and went down better with a fizzy drink or some ice cream. It was known, for example, that salicylic acid derived from willow bark could cure a headache, but it was easier to swallow it dissolved in a liquid. It was not until 1899 that the Bayer company registered a trademark, Aspirin, for a white powder made from salicylic, and it was not until 1900 that aspirin was made into tablets. In 1915 aspirin became available without a prescription and was one of the first over-the-counter medications.
The Fremont Pharmacy
By the end of the 1890s Dr. Miller had established a storefront building called Fremont Pharmacy, listed in the city directory at “Fremont Avenue southwest corner of Ewing Street” (North 34th Street) and later with the address of 3219 Fremont Avenue.
In the early 1900s the Miller family moved to 3636 Woodland Park Avenue North, and Dr. Miller worked at a downtown Seattle office. He made his Fremont Pharmacy building available to another man, a young physician, Dr. Schuyler W. Case.
Sadly, Dr. Miller only lived to be 58 years old. After he died in 1909, Dr. Miller’s Fremont Pharmacy building had to be moved or demolished because it was in the way of construction of the new, wider ship canal. The 3200 block of Fremont Avenue disappeared, and today North 34th Street is the entrance to Fremont after crossing the bridge over the ship canal.
Dr. Schuyler W. Case, Fremont physician from 1902 to 1962
Like so many other early residents of Fremont, we wish we knew how and why Dr. Case chose to come to Seattle and live in Fremont. He was born in Illinois and attended university and medical school in Chicago. Dr. Case was only 21 years old when he came to live in Fremont in 1902, at first making his home in the upstairs apartment of Dr. Miller’s Fremont Pharmacy store building (top right corner of photo below). City directory listings showed that there was a pharmacist working downstairs in the store building, so that the functions of doctoring and drug preparation were becoming separate.
In 1912 Dr. Case married Florence Nelson of Fremont. The couple bought a house at 3612 Fremont Avenue, where Dr. Case practiced medicine out of his home office until his death in 1962.
Dr. Case was an active, energetic person who was involved in many different pursuits. He was registered as an early car owner in Seattle in 1910 and he promptly got a ticket for drag-racing along with a group of other young men. In 1912 Dr. Case’s car knocked down a pedestrian at the corner of 35th & Fremont, and fortunately the man was not hurt.
In 1915 Dr. Case was driving on Fifth Avenue in downtown Seattle. Just as he passed the courthouse at James Street, he swerved to avoid another driver and Dr. Case’s car overturned, pinning him beneath it. The sound of the accident was heard in the courthouse and some people ran out and rescued Dr. Case. In 1918 Dr. Case was driving on Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle when a woman jumped out in front of his car and was knocked down. It seemed that she had seen the streetcar which she wanted to board, so she sprinted ahead to catch it. Her husband was with her, and after dusting her off, Dr. Case drove the couple home.
Dr. Case was a golf enthusiast and an early member of the Rainier Golf Club in Des Moines, a southern suburb of Seattle. We may wonder why Dr. Case chose to play golf at a location so far from his home in Fremont, but we know that Dr. Case enjoyed driving, and that may be part of the reason.
At age 60 in 1940, Dr. Case was arrested not just because he had struck a parked car (the initial reason for the arrival of police) but because police officers smelled alcohol on his breath. Dr. Case said he’d had “only a beer” after a golf game at the Rainier Golf Club. The judge at Police Court was William F. Devin, soon to become mayor of Seattle, who admonished Dr. Case that even a doctor is a dangerous driver after he has drunk alcoholic beverages.
Only two days before that newspaper article, another article in the Seattle Times told that Dr. Case had delivered all five children of the Bullock family (Mr. Bullock was one of Dr. Case’s golf buddies.) As of March 1940 Dr. Case began delivering babies in the next generation, the first grandchild of the Bullocks.
News reports of the doctor’s vehicular misadventures did not seem to affect his medical reputation at all. Dr. Case was renowned for his quick response to emergencies, though a news article of 1941 told of a disturbance, not a real emergency:
“Reveille was sounded about 6:30 this morning in the Fremont district by what neighbors called a “jungle alarm clock.” An unaccompanied parrot took perch on telephone wires in back of the home of S.C. Henkle, 3614 Fremont Ave, and sounded the alarm which had most of the neighborhood, still clad in nightclothes, up and at ‘em. Neighbors came out of their homes in pajamas and bathrobes, armed with household utensils and pieces of coal for ammunition to knock the parrot from his perch.
“Dr. Case, it was reported by neighbors, was out of his home at 3612 Fremont Ave and ready to fire in such quick time as to put the famous Minute Men to shame. He probably was the only neighbor to make his appearance fully clothed.” (Seattle Daily Times, September 13, 1941, page 3)
In 1911 Dr. Case’s quick response to a real emergency was lauded in a newspaper article:
“Dr. Schuyler Case Hurries to Little One in Slippers and by Hard Work Manages to Save His Life: Within plain view of a score of residences, Theodore Testall, two years old, lay submerged in two feet of water in a fountain at 9:30 this morning. To the passerby, there was visible only the folds of his little dress floating on the surface of the pool. Rescuing the apparently inanimate little form from the fountain, a neighbor rushed home with the child and telephoned Dr. Schuyler Case.
“Driving at breakneck speed, the physician, in shirt sleeves and slippers, reached the household where death seemed about to knock for admittance, and began the work of resuscitation. Heroic work was rewarded when the child opened his eyes. The parents cannot find words with which to express their praise of the prompt manner in which Dr. Case responded to the call.” (Seattle Daily Times, April 24, 1911, page 8)
In addition to being known for quick response, Dr. Case seemed to have had more than his share of wild-West experiences. In 1950 at age 70, Dr. Case was awakened at 1 AM by three people who said that one of them had a bullet in his leg, and asked Dr. Case to remove the bullet. They fled when Dr. Case said he would have to report it to the police. He did call the police and he was able to identify the suspects after they were arrested for a robbery earlier that evening, during which one of the suspects had accidentally shot himself.
In 1959 at age 79, Dr. Case was threatened in his home office by a pistol-packing woman who demanded drugs. Dr. Case was quicker than she was and got away before she could shoot.
Dr. Case was still active in medical practice at the time of his death in 1962 at age 81. He was a beloved member of the lively Fremont community, and he was the last of Fremont’s pioneer physicians.
Census and City Directory Listings.
Great Seattle Fire virtual reality exhibit — Seattle Public Library.
Historic Sites Index, Fremont – 3636 Woodland Park Avenue North, the Dr. Miller house.
History of Aspirin, Wikipedia.
“Pharmacy in Washington: A History,” HistoryLink Essay #9453 by Phil Dougherty, 2010.
Seattle Times newspaper listings via on-line search, Seattle Public Library genealogy resources.
“Seattle’s Great Fire,” HistoryLink Essay #715 by Greg Lange, 1999. See also Essay #10743.
Washington Digital Archives – Automobile License Fee Books 1909-1913; Professional License Records – Physicians.