The Old Swimming Hole: Burke Idaho

September 3, 2023 at 5:51 p.m.
Writer Ralph Warner fondly recalls summer days in Burke, Idaho learning to swim at the public pool
Writer Ralph Warner fondly recalls summer days in Burke, Idaho learning to swim at the public pool Ralph Warner

We hope you enjoy this end-of-the summer hooray from Washingtonian Ralph Warner

While reading Burke: The Elusive Dream, a recently published book by Charles Mooney, I came across a short section about the old Burke swimming pool where my sisters, Sue and Dixie, along with brother Bob and myself all learned to swim in the late 1950's and early 1960's. If you happen to have the book, take a look at pages 96 to 99.

The photo above was taken well before our family moved to a house on Shifter's Hill just above the pool around 1957 or 1958. By then the hotel to the east and the Methodist church to the west had already burned down.

Mr. Mooney believes the pool was built by the Hecla mining company after the fire of 1923 around the time when the Hecla mill and service plant were also rebuilt. By then the mine owners had realized it was in their best interests to attract and keep men with families living and working in the mines all up and down the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene river.                                                                                             

Because the Burke pool was a community investment paid for and maintained by Hecla, there was no charge to use the pool and, at least when I was a kid, there was always a lifeguard on duty during the few summer months when the pool was open.

A kiddie swimming area located at the east end of the pool was separated by a bar from the deepest section which gradually sloped down to seven feet where a diving board and a high dive platform were placed. Although the high dive platform probably wasn't all that high, it took me quite some time before mustering up the courage to jump off it. When we had to do something similar in Navy Boot Camp, some recruits balked while I had no problem. Along the south side of the pool, dank, musty changing rooms and showers were available. Everyone was supposed to shower before jumping into the water and sometimes we did, more often we didn't.

Needless to say, us kids spent many hours in the sun and suffered several severe sunburns in those years before realizing that too much UV is not necessarily a good thing. Probably explains why I've had a couple of melanomas and basil cell carcinomas hacked off recently. My years of surfing haven't helped either. All I can say to those who love the outdoors is to wear a hat, cover up, and use a mineral sunscreen.

Because we learned to swim at the Burke pool, all of us – siblings and cousins alike –became comfortable in the waters of the North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River (in the many lakes in the area), and, at least for me, surfing the waves along the Washington and Oregon coast.

Many thanks to Charles Mooney for reminding me of summertime in Burke, Idaho, a ghost town with a vivid past.

Ralph Warner and his wife moved to the Long Beach Peninsula from North Idaho in 1987. They now reside in Ocean Park. 


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