This road trip to Wallace, Idaho, began on a sunny Saturday morning – the first really sunny morning in a long time. Locals say Wallace is “the center of the universe,” within a short distance of skiing and hiking, climbing and biking, all in the mountains that line the Silver Valley.
The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places and it has survived no less than two huge fires: The first in 1890 almost destroyed the town; the second fire in 1910 only took out parts of town as many of the buildings destroyed in the 1890 fire had been rebuilt in brick.
But before we get to Wallace, a few stops were made along the way because that’s exactly how a good road trip goes.
Follow I-90 and just about 50 miles east of Spokane you’ll find a historic marker pointing to the Mullan Tree.
Now, there is no tree – there hasn’t been since 1988, according to the plaque placed on a stump made out of rocks where the tree used to be – but if you pull off I-90 and park your car at the first parking lot, there’s a nice little leg-stretching hike ahead of you among tall, beautiful trees.
At the entrance to the interpretive trail there’s a statue of Army Captain John Mullan, who built 30 miles of new road over Fourth of July Pass between 1859 and 1862. Today, the interstate follows Mullan’s route fairly closely and when you walk the half-mile interpretive trail you’ll be standing on part of the old Mullan Road, completely surrounded by forest. Mullan had help, obviously, by engineers and enlisted men, and on July 4 in 1861 he gave the entire camp the day off to celebrate. And what did they do? They chopped “MR July 4 1861” into the bark of a huge tree along the road. It’s estimated that the tree was 250 years old at the time, so when a windstorm hit in 1962 the top broke off – the rest of the tree was removed in 1988.
Still, it’s worth a walk. Be quiet and look for white-tailed deer and other wildlife. The overgrown part of the old Mullan Road is a fine reminder of how vacant and wild things were back then.
Keep heading east on I-90 and soon you’ll see the Cataldo Mission on your right – it’s about 60 miles from Spokane. The Old Mission State Park is definitely worth a stop: not only can you see the mission itself, but the nearby parish house is open to visitors, there’s a historic cemetery and the Old Mission Landing is a great picnic ground.
The Old Mission was settled by Jesuits in 1846 and the mission house constructed between 1850 and 1853. The beautiful old building was decorated by the priests who built it – you’ll see chandeliers made out of tin cans and ceiling panels stained blue using berry juice, to resemble the blue sky.
When the reservations were established in 1877, the mission itself moved to Desmet – Cataldo was not on the reservation – and the building was left behind where it served as a gathering place and a resting spot for travelers.
When the mining boom hit in 1880, steamboats were still docking at the Old Mission Landing and in 1887 the current parish house was built, after the original one burned to the ground.
Gradually, though, the mission fell into disrepair and the first major restoration effort began in 1925. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1962, and today the mission is recognized as the oldest standing building in Idaho.
Take time to watch the 20-minute video about the history of the Old Mission of the Sacred Heart in the new interpretive center, before you walk the grounds. It’s $5 per car to get into the park.
Between Cataldo and Wallace, you’ll pass through Kellogg, which is home to Silver Mountain Resort. Over the past decade, Silver Mountain has expanded its activities to cover much more than skiing: there’s now a year-round water park and the famous gondola runs all summer, taking visitors up the mountain for spectacular hikes.
Uptown Kellogg is a little sleepy in the summer, but lunch at the Alder Creek Café (116 McKinley Ave.) just beyond Wildcats Stadium can be recommended.
Leaving Kellogg for the last few miles eastbound on I-90 to Wallace, you’ll pass the Sunshine Miners Memorial, which was built to commemorate the 91 miners who died in the Sunshine Mine fire in 1972 – a poignant reminder that the beautiful Silver Valley is built on top of miles of mining tunnels and the backbreaking work of thousands of miners.
Once you land in Wallace take a deep breath and relax. Park your car in the shade somewhere (parking is free) and plan to spend at least a couple of hours wandering through antique and secondhand stores. If this is your first visit, stop at the Wallace District Mining Museum at Fifth and Bank streets. Here you’ll find all the tourist information you can carry with you, including how to get on the Sierra Silver Mine Tour, which has a trolley running from downtown.
The 1901 Northern Pacific Railroad Depot is now a museum and on Cedar Street you’ll find the Oasis Bordello, which is now a museum. It opened in this exact location in 1895, and it was in business until 1988. When it closed, everything was left in place by the five working girls and the madam. Today visitors can get a tasteful tour through this time capsule – and purchase funky souvenirs in the museum shop.
True to its heritage as a hard-living mining town there are still many great bars and eateries in downtown Wallace. The Smoke House Barbecue and Saloon sits on the corner of Bank and Sixth streets in a building that’s both been a post office and cigar business, with a few upstairs rooms for ladies of the night. Today, it’s hard to miss because the smoker sits out on the sidewalk and the tantalizing scent of ribs will tickle your nose almost no matter where you are walking along the main drag.
Another favorite is the 1313 Club located in the 1891 Heller Building on Bank Street, right next to the Wallace Brewing Company. The 1313 Club features great food and a huge selection of beverages in a relaxed setting full of Wild West decorations including a bison head and a white beaver.
According to the restaurant’s website the most commonly asked question is how the 1313 Club got its name?
“There are a couple of different stories: The most popular is the fact that the original bar area was 13 feet high by 13 feet wide. The other story is that when they opened there were already 13 bars and 13 brothels going in Wallace.”
And that’s saying something about the history of this beautiful little town.