Historical Wallace, Idaho

Mar 7, 2023 | 0 comments

by Dava Jean Wharton

Wallace, ID….Home of the Brothels

While driving from Washington State to Montana, you will cross through about sixty miles of Northern Idaho. This is one of the best stretches of history that you will find. You pass through Coeur d’Alene, then you start heading over the 4th of July pass. Once there, you are in what is known as the Silver Valley. This was the area that everyone lived in when the Silver Mines were in full swing. It may not look like much from the I90, but if you find yourself leaving the freeway you should pull over when you see the signs for Wallace, Idaho. It is the town with the freeway running over top. The town is so quaint, and you can see it below.

What you do not know is the crazy history of that town. Residents love it there so much, that when the I90 was going through, the DOT came to them and said that their town was going to be bulldozed and that the freeway would be taking it over. Do you think the residents liked that? Not after everything they have gone through. Let us talk a little bit about that.

With the Silver Mines keeping thousands of men employed in the area, brothels and gambling were big business. How big? Well, the brothels were in operation until 1988, and illegal gambling was operational until 1991. As the mining dried up and drama happened between all the mines in the Burke Canyon, the men were starting to leave town. The ladies working the brothels were not making as much money, and the heat at the mines were bring the law sniffing around. This concerned the ladies and one night they all left and never returned. There are museums that can be toured. The brothels were a big part of the town and were seen as a business. The ladies were not allowed to be in town amongst everyone else but were allowed out at times for errands. They also had regular doctor visits to check for their health. Once that was gone, the illegal gambling got worse. There were card rooms, and slot machines and lots of money changing hands. In 1991, 150 FBI men came, and raided little old Wallace and carted off the old slot machines. They were confiscated for many years while looking to go through trials and figure out who was to blame. Many years later, the slot machines were returned to the original owners, but they must be kept under lock and key.

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Oasis Brothel

Bygones of an era gone by…

Each year, the town does an event called the Fall for History Festival. It is the last weekend of September/first week of October timeframe. They do tours and go over all the history. It is about $100 but includes a casino dinner at the Elks Lodge. The Elk’s Lodge is where everything happens in that town. Weddings, dances, events, etc. Wallace Fall for History Festival – Visit Wallace Idaho

Have you figured out why Wallace has the freeway running over top of it yet? How did they escape being rejected and being removed from the map?

In town, you can still see remnants of the old mines, as well as the surrounding area. Many left over parts and buildings. In Wallace, right outside is the Burke Canyon. This was an active mine from 1924-1938. The town started in 1884. Burke Canyon | Visit North Idaho.

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The town has an interesting area called the Pulaski Tunnel Trail. This has historical meaning for the town. In 1910, there was a large drought. Trains went through there frequently due to the mining, but a spark from a train caused a large fire. When it reached the Wallace area, a man named Ed Pulaski grabbed up his service rangers realizing this was too big and hid inside of a mine tunnel. This ended up sparing the lives of forty men. By the end of the fires, eighty-five people had perished and much of Wallace and several other towns had burned completely down. What this did was help put a fire suppression policy into place, which still stand today. The tunnel serves as a reminder of how to live with fire on the land. The trail is now a hiking trail that is a 4-mile round trip to the overlook. The first 725 feet are paved, then there is an incline going up eight hundred feet in elevation. When you walk the trail, there are reminders of the history that has happened there.

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Wallace Fire
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Map of the Pulaski Tunnel/Train

In closing, the answer is that the town fought back, as they always have and got all the buildings added to the historical registry. The freeway could no longer come in and tear the town down. So now DOT had to produce a new plan. The freeway ended up being built over the top of the town.

There are many great restaurants and venues. Some campgrounds, as well as old brothels that are now open as hotels and AIR BnB rentals.

The town has all kinds of festivals and event. They celebrate everything there.

Home – Visit Wallace Idaho

Pulaski tunnel: Idaho Panhandle National Forests – Recreation (usda.gov)

Railroad Museum: HOME – Northern Pacific Depot Museum, Wallace, ID (npdepot.org)

Mine tours: Home – Sierra Silver Mine Tour – Wallace, Idaho

Family Friendly Activities: Family Activities – Visit Wallace Idaho

Event Calendar: Upcoming Events – Visit Wallace Idaho

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Burke Canyon
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Sunshine Mine
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Freeway built over the city of Wallace
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Wallace in the Fall

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Safe 1 Outside

“Stash the Millions”

Photos from the “Stash the Millions” safe tour during the Fall into History event.

These were all hand painted.

Wallace has several campgrounds nearby.

Wallace RV Park: https://wallacervpark.com/ .This is right in town and walking distance for most of the attractions and restaurants.

Alberts Landing RV Campground: https://albertsrvcampground.com/

Country Lane Resort: https://countrylaneriverresort.com/

Crystal Gold Mine & RV Park: https://www.goldmine-idaho.com/rvpark.htm

By the Way Campground: http://www.bythewaycampground.com/

Camp Coeur d’Alene: http://campcoeurdalene.com/

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Dava Jean Wharton


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