Long a center of mining activity, Wallace offers a window to the past
You don’t have to read about history in Wallace.
You experience it.
The entire downtown, businesses as well as homes, is recorded on the National Register of Historic Places. The hills above Wallace are bursting with mining equipment, old mining buildings, remains of mines that were bombed (union conflict with a mining company), gated mine entrances, and unrecognizable – but fun to guess – structures used in the mining industry. It should become apparent that mining dominates what this area was and is about.
According to the Wallace District Mining Museum, 1.3 billion – that’s with a “b” – ounces of silver have been mined in the past 100 years, making the valley the silver capital of the world. In fact, the residents good naturedly claim that their town also has the honor of being the center of the universe and have designated a manhole cover downtown to recognize the town’s distinction.
A walking tour – maps are available at the visitor’s center – lists a wonderful variety of mostly brick buildings built after a 1910 fire destroyed much of the town. And because the town is on the historic registry, houses must conform to the historical theme. For example, only certain paint colors can be used on exteriors.
Mining activity in Wallace and the rest of the Silver Valley did not follow the dramatic boom and bust that many old West towns did. Some mines continue to operate, and others may reopen depending on the price of silver.
In his book “The Silver Pennies,” David Bond lists more than three dozen companies that own patented ground in the area and are potentially poised to begin mining again. Wallace is a sleeping giant.
Here are some highlights any visit to Wallace should include:
• Mine Heritage Exhibit: The visitor’s center located just off Interstate 90 at exit 61 is a good place to start a visit to Wallace. The center can give you information and directions to other activities. Also there is an outdoor exhibit of mining that a visitor practically has to trip over in order to get inside.
• Oasis Bordello Museum: This business was open until 1988 – the employees left in a hurry just before law enforcement came to close the establishment.
In the rush to escape, many items of the trade were left behind.
The tour guide explains how the bordello was operated as a business, why it was tolerated in town and how it became useful financially to the community.
• Northern Pacific Railroad Depot Museum (pictured at left): The building was built in 1901. Trains were an essential means of transporting men and materials into the area and ore out.
The two-story depot offers historic items and photos of a time when trains ruled transportation.
The second floor contains explanations and photos of the 1910 fire that destroyed most of the town. Reading the exciting eyewitness accounts are worth the trip upstairs.
• Biking: The paved Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes passes right through Wallace.
The trail offers 72 miles of mostly flat trail.
The Route of the Hiawatha bike trail with its trestles and tunnels is not far away, and Wallace can accommodate overnight guests. The Hiawatha trail is open seasonally; visit www.ridethe hiawatha.com for details.
• Wallace Mining Museum: The museum provides an 18-minute video, explanations of the mining processes and the equipment used.
Here you can see what silver, lead and even antimony ore look like.
• Sierra Silver Mine Tour: Retired local miners explain and demonstrate what hard rock mining is all about. Drawing information from their mining experiences, the tour is fun as well as informative. The tour is available seasonally; visit www.silverminetour.org for details.
• Snow Skiing: There are two major ski resorts nearby, Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation and Silver Mountain.
• And more: There is more to see, including the Sixth Street Theatre, Walking the Pulaski Trail and a self-guided walking tour of the historic and interesting downtown. Look for the center of the universe.
Get details from the Historic Wallace Chamber of Commerce online at www.wallaceidaho chamber.com or call (208) 753-7151.
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