Wallace, Idaho, known officially as the Silver Capital of the World, is just one of 14 historic towns tucked into Idaho’s Silver Valley. The area got its name from the rich silver deposits first found here in the early 1880s. The Valley’s Coeur d’Alene Mining District continues to be one of the largest silver mining regions in the world, producing more than a billion ounces over the past century.
One of the best ways to learn about mining first-hand and have fun at the same time, is by visiting the Sierra Silver Mine (open May-October). In addition to this underground tour, many of Wallace’s other attractions also showcase the area’s 125-year mining history: Oasis Bordello Museum, Northern Pacific Depot Railroad Museum, and the Wallace District Mining Museum to name a few. The entire downtown of Wallace is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and although the plank sidewalks are long gone, restored Queen Anne bungalow style homes and quaint commercial architecture give a good glimpse into yesteryear.
Like most towns in the Silver Valley, Wallace had a modest beginning. In 1883, Colonel Wallace purchased 80 acres and staked a claim. His wife, Lucy, became the first postmistress for a population of just 14. By 1887, mining claims covered most of the district, downtown businesses were well established, and the population swelled, so the first narrow gauge railroad arrived to serve the town.
In 1910, that railroad proved to be a literal life saver during the “Big Burn” when it transported thousands of people to safety. The Great Fire destroyed about a third of Wallace, causing $1 million in damage. In just two days, about 3,000,000 acres (4,687 square miles) were burned across Washington, Idaho, and Montana. It is believed to be the largest fire in recorded U.S. history and led to the establishment of the U.S. Forest Service policy followed today—to prevent and battle against every wildfire.
Wallace can claim some Hollywood fame, too. Actress Lana Turner was born here but moved to California where she later became a movie star. In 1979, the western “Heaven’s Gate” was filmed in downtown, and “Dante’s Peak” starring Linda Hamilton and Pierce Brosnan, was shot during the summer of 1996.
Over a century of mining in Idaho’s Silver Valley has created a unique and colorful culture. Whether it was silver, gold, zinc, or galena that first attracted prospectors and miners, today it’s fun to turn back the clock to the early days of Idaho’s mining heritage and learn how bustling cities were reduced to ghost towns, and in many cases brought back to life again.
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Kellogg, Idaho 83837
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com