History of Wallace
Danger, intrigue, passion, great wealth, heroics and comedy are set against the breathtaking backdrop of northern Idaho’s Bitterroot mountains. Those are the elements of the 14 decade story of Wallace. The entire town of Wallace, Idaho is on the national Historic Register.
A true, old west, mining town that still prospers today; the town of Wallace traces its roots back to 1884 when Colonel William R. Wallace purchased 80 acres of land and built his cabin in the area that became the site of the present city. Colonel Wallace is rumored to have made the land purchase with Sioux Scrip (which was later declared not to be valid currency) resulting in property disputes that continued for years.
Like other early settlers, he was drawn to the area by the rich deposits of silver, gold, and other metals in the surrounding mountains. His wife, Lucy, joined him in 1885 and became the first postmistress in town. By 1887, downtown businesses were established and mining claims dotted the hillsides. The railroad came to town and the first Wallace depot was built that same year.
By the early 1890s, Wallace was a prosperous town filled with immigrant miners from all over the world. In 1890, a fire that started in the Central Hotel burned much of the wooden buildings in the downtown business district. They were replaced with brick buildings, most of which still stand today.
THE BIG BURN
In 1910, the largest forest fire in U.S. history, the Big Burn, swept through the Wallace area destroying one third of downtown. A giant wall of flames raced over the mountains consuming all in its path with a thunderous roar like 100 trains going across 100 steel trestles according to one eyewitness account. One of the best known big stories involved Wallace resident and forest ranger, “Big Ed” Pulaski. Pulaski, also the inventor of a combination ax and hoe that bears his name and is used today throughout the world, saved 38 men by guiding them to safety in a mine tunnel south of town and holding the frantic workers there at gunpoint until the fire passed.
Wallace had had several brushes with fame over the years. President Teddy Roosevelt made a stop in Wallace in 1903 giving a speech from the historic train station. Movie actress Lana Turner, grew up in this rough and tumble town before being “discovered” in Hollywood. Movies such as “Tornado”, “Heaven’s Gate”, and “Dante’s Peak” have been filmed against the beautiful backdrop of downtown Wallace and the surrounding forests.
Today, Wallace is a tourist Mecca. The world is drawn to this area by the towering mountains, beautiful forests, sparkling streams, and world class attractions. Just east of town is the Lookout Pass recreation area which averages over 400 inches of light fluffy powder on the ski runs every year. South and East of Wallace is the world famous Route of the Hiawatha. This 15 mile section of former railway is widely recognized as the most scenic hiking and biking trail in the USA. Silver Mountain Resort with a waterpark and gondolas to the ski mountain lies only 20 minutes to the west.
Wallace also has the notable distinction of being officially declared the Center of the Universe. The mayor of Wallace officially proclaimed it so in 2004 after finding that the EPA followed logic along the lines of “if something can’t be disproven, it must be true”. Since it can’t be disproven that Wallace is the center of the universe, it follows that it most certainly must be and this fact is recognized at the exact center – a manhole cover on Main Street.
Incredible history meets incredible beauty in this town. Surrounded by towering mountains, thick with pines and huckleberry bushes and crisscrossed with trails waiting to be explored, our warm and friendly residents are proud to welcome you to historic Wallace. You’re invited to tap into a motherlode of historic attractions that will captivate your imagination, thrill your senses, and transport you back to the days of the wild west (which lasted much longer around Wallace than most places). Enjoy truly unique museums and historical sites that tell the stories of the railroaders, miners, working class heroes, and even “working girls” that carved this beautiful gem of a town from the Bitterroot mountains.