Waughop, Dr. John Wesley (1839-1903)

  • By Steve Dunkelberger
  • Posted 1/31/2004
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5641
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Dr. John Wesley Waughop is the eponym of Waughop Lake in Lakewood's Fort Steilacoom Park. He was the superintendent of what in past times was called the Washington State Hospital for the Insane. It is known today as Western State Hospital.

Early Days

Waughop, a Scottish branch of the Wauchope clan, is pronounced "Wah-op." The "gh" is silent. His road to immortality started in Tazewell, Illinois, where he was born on October 22, 1839. Waughop's life passed by in small-town schools without many noteworthy events. He entered Eureka College in 1860. The school has another famous alumnus, Ronald Reagan.

Waughop's schooling took a sideline when his professor rallied volunteers to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Waughop saw action in the battles of Shiloh and Vicksburg. He mostly worked as a surgeon's assistant. The medical equipment of the time meant that he probably held a screaming soldier down while a doctor sawed off a limb or removed a bullet without painkillers. After his discharge, he returned to academia by entering University of Michigan and then transferring to Long Island College in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated in 1865.

Dr. Waughop opened a private medical practice in White Cloud, Kansas, where he also served a stint as mayor. On February 1, 1866, he married Eliza Susan Rexford. They quickly had one son, Philip Rexford Waughop. The Waughop family wagon-trained to Olympia in 1871, where the doctor practiced medicine for nine years.

A Doctor for the Mentally Ill

In 1880, Waughop accepted the superintendent's position of what was then the state's only hospital for the mentally ill, located just outside of Steilacoom in what is now Lakewood. Waughop managed the hospital for 16 years.

Waughop and his wife are responsible for planting the rare trees, including an Empress tree from China, located around the hospital grounds. The nearby lake was part of the hospital grounds at that time. At the time many called it Mud Lake because one end is shallow and constantly muddy.

On to Hawaii

Waughop gave up the Northwest in August 1897 during a vacation to Hawaii. He visited the islands and decided to stay. By September, Waughop and his son, also a doctor, opened an office located in the Masonic Temple building in Honolulu.

Waughop decided to return to Washington in 1903 because of his failing health. He, his wife and son steamed across the Pacific on board the S.S. Moana. Waughop would never see land again. He died at sea on August 31, 1903.

After his death, the name Mud Lake was changed to Waughop Lake in his memory.


Clara Cooley, "The Western State Hospital, Fort Steilacoom, Washington History, 1871-1950," historical report dated 1950, Fort Steilacoom Museum research library, located on Western State Hospital grounds; "Trees of Western State Hospital: a Centennial Project by the Western State Hospital Historical Committee," typescript dated 1989, Fort Steilacoom Research Library located on Western State Hospital grounds.
This essay was revisedĀ on April 16, 2016.

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