Thursday, January 7, 2016

Dr. Alfred Mark Burnham

I enjoy reading other’s articles, blogs and papers on people who eventually fall in love with, and  make their homes in, our community.   Or those born and raised here you leave our small community to do even greater things in the larger world both nationally and internationally.

Today I thought I would share with you an article that was written by Ed Shannon, Feature Writer for the Albert Lea Tribune, Albert Lea, Minnesota, on August 10, 1995.  I’ve seen other articles he wrote on Dr. Burnham, and attempted to contact him in the past.  But by the time I was familiar with his historical standing in Albert Lea he had retired from the newspaper and the Albert Lea Historical Museum.   I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Page 2 - ALBERT LEA TRIBUNE, Thursday, August 10, 1995

Tribune Feature Writer

ITASCA — If Dr. Albert Mark Burnham had been more successful with his first big promotion back in the late 1850s, the Freeborn County Courthouse would have been a part of Paradise Prairie in a growing town named Itasca.

However, his prescription for the location of the county seat wasn’t filled in the November 1860 election which resulted in Albert Lea becoming the winner by 178 votes out of the 770 cast.

Despite this disappointment, the doctor remained in the county for about 25 years and combined a sporadic medical practice with a wild variety of commercial ventures.

He became a part of history as one of the county’s first residents, for being an aggressive promoter, and for later starting another new town further west in Washington.

Burnham was born Oct. 16, 1824, in Genesee County, N.Y., and graduated from the University of Buffalo in 1852 with a medical degree.  Within a few years he and his wife moved to Freeborn County.

The doctor is credited with the name Paradise Prairie for an area northwest of Albert Lea, and for being one of the three founders of the new town of Itasca.

According to one historian, “His first winter was spent at Shellack (Glenville) where he built a hotel, and on a contract for $244 constructed the first bridge across Shellack River.

Later he (Burnham) constructed a steam-propelled boat called the Itasca, on which he transported lumber and logs … uptake Shellack River, (across) Lake Albert Lea, (through Fountain Lake) and on up to his town-site, Itasca, on Paradise Prairie.

“Itasca soon claimed a hotel, a blacksmith shop, a shoemaker shop, a drugstore, a newspaper, and a dozen houses.

The purpose of all this was to secure for Itasca the dignified status of county seat.”

The trips of the good ship Itasca were made before there was a permanent dam at the outlet of Fountain Lake.

Burnham, incidentally, owned the hotel, the newspaper (named the Herald, which was published for a few years), an imposing two-story home with an observation tower, and a farm operation in Itasca.

The attention of the county was soon focused on the Civil War in 1861, and the Sioux Uprising on the Minnesota frontier the following year.

The doctor decided to enlist in the Tenth Minnesota Regiment in October 1862.  He was discharged just a year later “on a people’s petition” and returned to Itasca.

Burnham’s first wife died on June 7, 1865, at the age 34.  Her gravestone is in the historic Itasca Cemetery.

After the Civil War, Dr. Burnham somehow combined a local medical practice with several commercial activities.

News accounts tell of a gold mining operation in the Dakota Territory during 1866.

This was followed with an 1869 project involving the cutting and sales of wooden ties to the Union Pacific Railroad in the Wyoming Territory.  

He also sold cattle from time to time.

Dr. Burnham’s second wife, and their four children left Freeborn County and the gradually dying town of Itasca in early 1884 and moved west.

After living in Oregon for a short time, the family moved north to Tacoma, Wash.

Not far from this city on Puget Sound is a scenic bay known as Gig Harbor.

It was discovered in 1841 and named for a type of small rowboat.  Turnham thought this might be the place where he could start and promote a new community.  

A guide sponsored by the Washington State Historical Society says Gig Harbor’s “first settlers, Dr. Burnham and his family arrived in the early 80s…”  In reality, the date was 1886.

Gig Harbor quickly became a lumbering and fishing center.  Dr. A. M. Burnahm died on July 11, 1896, in the second town he started.

He lived to see it become more successful than the first one he tried to promote back in Minnesota.

Gig Harbor, Wash. is on the Kitsap Peninsula.  (Actually it is located on the Gig Harbor Peninsula, the southeastern most extremity of the vastly larger Kitsap Peninsula.)

Dr. Alfred Mark Burnham
Rachel Jane Turnham (2nd Wife)

© 2012 Harbor History Museum. All rights reserved.

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