North Idaho Mining Country
Silver Mining seems to be a theme for this tour, and in fact the whole area we’ve been driving through is known as Silver Valley–making it the ideal spot to celebrate the Silver Anniversary of Walking Adventures. Today’s first destination was Wallace, Idaho, another north Idaho town known for silver mining (and for my old co-workers out there, it’s also famous as the birthplace of Tony Bryant and Carol Larson!).
Landowner Colonel Wallace founded the town, although our local guide tells us he was a bit of a scalawag who was eventually run out of town. Wallace has had a tumultuous history, including lots of conflict between mine owners and unions. Most of the town burned to the ground in 1910, and the old wooden buildings were replaced by brick ones. Nowadays, all the downtown buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. This is one reason why in 1991 the folks in Wallace were able to force the federal government to build Interstate 90 over the town instead of through it. They did have to move the train depot a few hundred feet to accommodate the freeway overpass.
Our main activity in Wallace was a tour of the old Sierra Silver Mine. As our guide, Mike, told us, this is a bit of a misnomer, as they never did find silver in the Sierra Mine, although someone else found it years later, just underneath where the original miners gave up.
Mike got us into our hard hats and led us through the mine, stopping at several stations along the way to demonstrate the techniques and equipment used in the mine. This mine was used for many years as a training center for high school students, who actually built many of the exhibits.
After the mine tour we were supposed to get a walking tour of downtown Wallace with our local guide. However, the pouring rain deterred even this intrepid group of walkers, and we wound up touring by bus. Our guide introduced himself as Colonel Wallace and told us the story of the early days in Wallace. Very little silver mining goes on here nowadays, but over a billion ounces were taken out of the Silver Valley between the 1880s and 1980s
Our tour took us to the old Northern Pacific depot, which now serves as a museum. The Chateau style building was partly built with concrete panels made of mine tailings. The Women’s waiting room was used to separate the ladies from the roughnecks of the town.
Leaving Wallace, we wound up through the mountains to the unincorporated town of Murray. Murray was once a roaring mining camp but is now home to a few loggers, prospectors and retirees. It still has a lovely old post office, and two other buildings: the Sprag Pole restaurant and museum, and the Bedroom Goldmine bar.
The Sprag Pole has a quirky collection of…well, just about everything. Decorative souvenir whiskey bottles adorn this set of shelves, and there are also hundreds of souvenir magnets that put my fridge to shame.
The Bedroom Goldmine once belonged to a man who discovered gold right under his bedroom (supposedly a friend of his once said, “you’re sitting on a gold mine here!”).