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The Sierra Silver Mines of Wallace

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The history of Wallace is synonymous with that of silver mining in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains. The town was founded when silver was discovered, thrived as long as the mineral was abundant, and faded once the mines closed up shop. The Sierra Silver Mine Tour confidently describes itself as “the most popular, interesting, and instructive tour in the Northwest”, and offers an excellent primer to both Wallace and the industry which defined it.

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Our tour started with a trolley ride around Wallace, with the driver pointing out historic buildings and sharing anecdotes from the town’s bawdy history. The trolley then drove outside the town limits and deposited us at the opening to the Sierra Silver Mine, where a retired miner was awaiting us. He outfitted us with hard hats, gave us a short history of the mine, and then led us into the underground.

Discovered around 1900, the Sierra mine was a dud which never produced any real riches. It had a few different owners throughout the years, but regardless of how far or deep they dug, silver was never discovered in sufficient quantity to justify full-scale mining. In 1982, the mine was purchased by a group of locals who opened it up to tours, hoping to preserve and promote Wallace’s mining history and heritage.

Our tour underground lasted an hour. During it, we were taught how to identify silver and lead, and how these differ from lesser-value metals like zinc. Turns out the sparkliest stuff isn’t necessarily the most exciting. Our guide also demonstrated some of the equipment used by the miners of the early 1900s, such as a giant drill which was at least twelve feet long. My favorite was the slushing machine, which removed the sludge and water produced after a blast.

It was a fun tour, and an interesting peek into the history of the industry that shaped the Silver Valley.

Sierra Silver Mine Tour – Website

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October 17, 2012 at 12:22 am Comments (2)

A Walk About Historic Wallace

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Without a doubt, Wallace is among the most unique towns that we’ve ever set foot in. The entire downtown district is on the National Register of Historic Places. It had active bordellos until 1988. And leading theoretical physicists agree that Wallace is the exact center of the universe!

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Fine, perhaps it wasn’t physicists who decided that Wallace was of such cosmic importance, so much as drunken locals who, after a rowdy night of drinking in the Smokehouse Saloon, laid down a plaque in the intersection of Bank and 6th Street which reads “Wallace: Center of the Universe”. Despite the questionable science, the nickname stuck. And extra-terrestrials seem to agree; we saw two spaceships during our walk around town.

Though “center of the universe” might be a stretch, Wallace is certainly the center of the Silver Valley mining area. Only 700 people live here today, but it was once one of the largest towns in the Pacific Northwest, and probably its most notorious. Wallace was a hard-drinking, brawling mining town famous for its bordellos, which remained open until 1988.

Originally, Wallace was constructed mostly of wood, leaving it defenseless against the horrific 1910 wildfire that ravaged northern Idaho. Thereafter, all buildings constructed in the town center used brick. The result is an exquisitely-preserved mining town from the turn of the century. The entire historic district has survived the years, and visiting is like stepping back in time.

The official walking tour of Wallace starts at the old Train Depot, then leads visitors around on a comprehensive tour of 43 historic buildings. Hotels, brothels, bars, banks… just about every single building in the old town has a story to share. Despite the town’s diminutive size, we were exhausted by the end of our tour. Somehow, though, we found the fortitude to grab a seat in the 1313 Club, and treat ourselves to a delicious dinner of burgers and home-brewed beer.

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October 12, 2012 at 1:05 am Comments (5)
The Sierra Silver Mines of Wallace The history of Wallace is synonymous with that of silver mining in the Coeur d'Alene Mountains. The town was founded when silver was discovered, thrived as long as the mineral was abundant, and faded once the mines closed up shop. The Sierra Silver Mine Tour confidently describes itself as "the most popular, interesting, and instructive tour in the Northwest", and offers an excellent primer to both Wallace and the industry which defined it.
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