Coeur d'Alene Indians traveled through here on the way to hunt buffalo in MT. In 1848 the Indians began building a mission for the Jesuits near Cataldo. Between 1859 and 1860 (1862) captain John Mullan and 100 men built the Mullan Road through this valley. Congress gave them $30,000 for the survey and $230,000 to build the road. The road was 624 miles from Fort Benton, MT to Walla Walla. The road went through Idaho approximately along were I90 is today.
Things really started to boom when Andrew Prichard found gold in 1883 near Murray, north of Wallace. The Tiger and Poorman lodes near Burke were discovered in 1884. Subsequent discoveries of silver, lead, and zinc in the Silver Valley led to the development of the largest silver mines in the United States. Some of those famous mines are Bunker Hill, Sunshine, Lucky Friday, and Consolidated Silver, all within a few miles of Wallace.
Colonel W.R. Wallace (not a colonel) bought 80 acres of swampy land with large cedars. In 1883 he started the Hecla mine. He bought the land with Sioux scrip, built a cabin in 1884 and called the new town Placer Center. His wife Lucy came in 1885 and changed the town's name to Wallace. She became the first postmaster for 14 people. By 1886 Wallace was a prosperous mining town. The first school opened with 15 children out of a total pop of 500 in 1886. In 1886 a narrow gauge railroad arrived.
The first depot was built on the west side of 6th Street November 1887. The second railroad, the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Co., completed tracks from Farmington, Washington, came to town in Dec 1889. This standard gauge rail was highly competitive against the less efficient narrow gauge steamboat route The northern Pacific reached town in August 1891 and the narrow gauge service was discontinued.
In 1890, a flue in the Central Hotel began a fire that destroyed the entire business district. New brick buildings were erected, and many are still standing. By 1891, the town had plank sidewalks and an ethnically diverse community: Irish, Germans, Finns, Italians, Norwegians, and Canadians. There were shootouts and bandits holding up the train. Two masked men held up two miners underground in the Standard-Mammoth mine.
In 1892, a labor war began between miners and mine management. The Frisco Mill was dynamited and six people were killed. Federal troops put the district under martial law for four months. By June 1893, nearly all mines were shut down by a sudden drop in silver price and from strikes. In 1895, the Oasis Bordello opened.
After 1900 town became a hub of one of the richest mining districts in the world. In 1902, a new Northern Pacific depot was completed. The bricks used were originally imported from China by the railroad in 1890. When the new depot was finished the old CR&N; depot was relocated to the north and converted to a freight house.
President Roosevelt came to town in 1903. The town spent $5,000 for flags and buntings. It rained that day. He traveled a parade route to the city park in an open horse-drawn carriage. Mining legends Al and Mae (Arkwright) Hutton entertained the president with a coffee hour in their home during his visit. They had invested wisely in the Hercules mine and thereafter were rich.
The Wallace Library was one of many built from funds generously donated by Andrew Carnegie. Construction was delayed due to the 1910 forest fire that broke out August 20. The fire eventually burned three million acres of timber, and 85 were killed. Rains on Aug 31 finally ended the fire. The library was eventually built in April 1911 at a total cost of $15,300. Architecturally it is an excellent period example. It is on the NRHP.
1910 fire also forced evacuation of most of the town's women and children. Many caught the northern Pacific railroad fire rescue trains at the depot on Aug 20 to flee to Missoula. The depot survived the fire. The fire wiped out a third of the town and killed over 80 people. The depot was the staging area for evacuating thousands of women and children when the fire closed in late August.
Edward Polasky was the hero of the day. Polasky, a forest ranger, and his men were heading out of the forest towards town. They noticed the fire following them and growing around them. He stopped the crew occasionally to check ahead. He soon found it would be impossible to move towards town so they stopped near a tunnel. He ordered the men inside. The fire was all around them and drew air out of the cave creating a vacuum. The men moved as far back in the tunnel as possible and laid close to the ground. The men were scared and argued with each other but Polasky was able to calm them down by brandishing a firearm. Finally the fire passed and devastation was left behind. The air was white with lingering smoke. It was hard to breathe. The wind was cold as ice and the men were wet from having laid in the tunnel. They crawled to a cabin destroyed by the fire and warmed themselves nearby. The next morning they began walking back to town four miles away. Many ended up spending months in the hospital recovering from injuries. Polasky went back to service and one of his tasks was raising a new telephone line to the St. Joe and starting a new line to Taft.
In 1918 logs were placed across Placer Creek to form the first outdoor pool. Nearby hills were still brush as result of the 1910 fire. It was about 100 yards above the falls on the present dam site. Lagging was nailed to the logs and extended down to the creek bottom creating a pool that was about four feet deep. In 1921 the pool was moved about one block down the creek. Lagging was set end to end and nailed to a log to make a pool ten feet deep. In 1922 or 23 a concrete drain and fill pool was built at the present dam site. Water from the creek filled the pool and a coal fired boiler heated the water. Solar power heated water for the showers. The flood of 1933-34 washed this pool away.
In 1922, C.W. Toole, veteran prospector of the Osburn district claimed the first quartz mine in Shoshone County. When stopping by the courthouse to conduct some business, he told the clerk that he believed that he and W.M. Sutherland and S.B. Morgan had located the first quartz claim. His mines were the Sun Rise, Silver King, Silver Tip, and Sunset Lode.
Lana Turner was born here. Her father had a dry cleaning shop before he worked in the mines. She later moved to California, where she was discovered.
In the 1930s, Lookout Pass ski area begins. It is the second oldest ski area in the state.
In 1951, the historic Eagles building was involved in a shoot out; today it still bears the bullet marks.
On May 2, 1972, 91 miners died in an underground fire. No miners were near the fire itself, they were unable to escape the fire gases in the work area. Two years later the Miners memorial statue was erected. It is 20 feet tall above its concrete base at Big Creek exit near the freeway. It was dedicated, deigned, and constructed by Idahoans. The eternal flame in the miner's helmet is a constant beacon to remind traveler's of Idaho's strengths.
May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens, in Washington State, erupted. Ash arrived late in the afternoon. Auto traffic was impossible for three days after an estimated 12 - 20 tons of ash per acre fell on the town.
By 1985, the mining district had produced one billion ounces of silver.
In 1986, the NP depot moved to make way for I90. It was moved about 200 ft south across the South Fork of the Coeur d'Alene River. It was rehabilitated and the new site landscaped as part of the freeway project. Then turned over to the city for use as a railroad museum.
The entire city is on the National Historic Register.
Last revised 2/7/98