By Mike Sudduth
As you drive north and turn the corner into the quaint town of Burton, you are suddenly transported back 100 years, and are surrounded by a turn-of-the-20th-century village.
What is now Burton was once a thriving village of the sx̌ʷəbabš or “Swiftwater People,” with longhouses and a potlatch house. Historians estimate that prior to European contact there were up to 10,000 sx̌ʷəbabš living in a network of villages in and around what is now called Quartermaster Harbor, of which the village at Burton was one of the largest.
Burton quickly developed as the major commercial center for the new American settlers on the Island. The dry dock at Dockton, brickyards and sawmills around the Harbor, the Baptist Assembly Grounds and Baptist Children’s Home, Baptist and Methodist Churches, Vashon College, Harbor Mercantile, Mauck Hotel, Hatch Building, and Masonic Hall, and numerous small houses and cabins, all made Burton a vibrant and bustling town.
Burton was destined to become the major commercial center of the Island until the highway was paved from Island Center to the North End, and Vashon Town emerged as the main commercial center. The town of Burton has slowly turned into the quiet village you see today. Vashon College was destroyed by fire, the Baptist Children’s Home, Hatch Building, and Methodist Church have been demolished, but the essence of what was Burton a century ago still stands.
A group of Islanders wants to resurrect this forgotten history with a Burton History Trail. Similar to the Dockton History Trail, this trail will tell the story of Burton’s past, with signs depicting important eras, buildings, events, and cultures that made Burton what it is today. The planning committee comprises Kim von Henkle, Mike Kirk, Jane Slade, Keith Prior, Mike Sudduth, and Elsa Croonquist, in consultation with Bruce Haulman and the Vashon Heritage Museum.
On June 4, from 3:00 to 5:00 PM, you can learn more about the proposed Burton History Trail by attending a public meeting to be held at Camp Burton’s Grisham Hall. Learn about the proposed Trail, discuss and give feedback about possible walking routes, maps, and sign ideas, and volunteer to help work on designs, permits, funding, and other community activities.
If you have questions, email BurtonHistoryTrail@gmail.com.
Photograph: Harbor Mercantile, circa 1920, courtesy Vashon Heritage Museum