Medical Lake Swimming

Medical Lake is a city in Spokane County 15 miles southwest of Spokane on the shores of the lake that bears the same name.

For thousands of years, Medical Lake was an important site for the Spokane Tribe and other nearby tribes. The tribes believed that the waters, mud, and salts of the lake had curative properties. One early historian said that Indians “congregated in great numbers around its shores, bringing the afflicted from all directions” (Edwards, p. 268). According to one report, the tribes called the lake Skookum Limechin Chuch, which meant “strong medicine water” (Dullenty). Indians would “place the sick on a bed above hot stones then by throwing water from the lake on the stones, they caused the steam to engulf the sick, thereby opening the pores to allow the sickness to leave the body” (Story, p. 8). They also made a powder from lake’s salty residue and took it back to people who were too sick to make the trek.

The first white settlers arrived in 1872 and they, too, believed the lake had healing powers. By 1879 hotels and bathhouses had sprung up along the shores and tourists came seeking relief from rheumatism and other maladies. The town was incorporated in 1890. When an electric interurban rail line began operation in 1905 from Spokane, thousands of visitors jammed Medical Lake’s bathhouses, beaches, excursion boats, campgrounds, and parks on hot summer days.

“Being so near Spokane Falls, the spot is visited by many of our people, some of whom make frequent visits of a day’s duration, while others camp out on the shores of the lake, or seek accommodations at the hotels of the town, for weeks at a time.” said the Spokane Falls Weekly Review in 1895 (“Medical Lake”). The paper said Medical Lake was destined to become the Saratoga or White Sulphur Springs of the West.

In the 2010 census, Medical Lake’s population grew to an all-time high of 5,060. That year, Mayor Higgins described his town like this: “We’re a kind of laid-back town, kind of a bedroom community. We don’t have a lot of commercial or retail. We have lakes for skiing and fishing. We do five triathlons a year … . We have a bluegrass festival that bring people from all over. We have very little crime. … It’s just a nice place to raise your kids” (Craig).