Historic Wallace, Idaho is located in the Silver Valley. The town is also known as the “Silver Capital of the World”. From the earliest days of mining until 2000, Wallace produced more silver than any other mining area in the world.
Like gold flakes bottoming in a placer miner’s pan, history lingers on Wallace’s street corners, buildings, and alleyways. So here, you can learn more about our town’s brave, tumultuous, and bawdy past – from its frontier days to its gold and silver mining eras, to its emergent future as a historical and recreational treasure of the Inland Northwest. Let’s look at some of Wallace’s historically significant places:
Wallace District Mining Museum
The Wallace District Mining Museum was established in 1956 by Fred I. Evering, a true Harry Truman lookalike. In 1974, the museum was relocated to the former Rice’s Bakery building (509 Bank Street).
The museum features exhibits depicting the history of local mining from the 1880s to the modern methods in use today. On display are mine lighting devices ranging from antique oil lamps and stearic candles and oil lamps to contemporary rechargeable electric lamps.
Drilling exhibits range from single jacking with hand steel to the modern jackleg or buzzy. In addition, the museum has the only known complete stearn-driven diamond drill in existence.
Relics of a by-gone era are found throughout the museum and depict other activities linked to the development of the district. Many structures in and around Wallace were used as office buildings for the area’s mining activities the museum gives a clear picture of struggles everyday life in the mining camps. For a walking tour through Wallace, click here.
Consequently, there is a section on office equipment, some dating back to the last century, and another section with an old treadle sewing machine, wash tub with wringer, hand crank phonographs, and early medical necessities.
The mining wars of 1892 and 1899 are of particular interest to museum visitors, so historical archives on those and many other historical topics are constantly being expanded. At some point, much of the material will be digitalized to greatly improve retrieval efficiency.
The new video program “North Idaho’s Silver Legacy” highlights the history of this area from the 1850s to the present. It is 20 minutes long and can be rewound for another group in about two minutes. The projection system throws a four foot by six-foot image, so even back row seating in the 40-person theater allows an excellent view.
The old video on mining techniques and mineral processing, also 20 minutes long, is still available as well.
The museum maintains a visitor center in the front lobby and proudly offers free public restrooms. There is a modest admission fee for the remainder of the museum, however. You can find the Sierra Silver Mine ticket office just one block west of the museum and although they are now separate operations, they still work closely together and assist visitors in making the most of their day in Wallace!
The museum is open seven days a week, including holidays, most of the year. During the winter, hours are cut back and five or six days operation a week is normal. On most winter holidays, the museum is closed. Virtually the entire exhibit area and one unisex restroom are wheelchair accessible. See also this post about Historic Hanson, Kentucky.
Sierra Silver Mine Tour
No true historical understanding of the labor rebellion that erupted in Wallace and neighboring towns just before the turn of the 20th century can be secured without a real grasp of the hardships and perils that hardrock silver mining involved.
The Sierra Silver Mine Tour provides just a taste of the life and the work inside a hardrock mine-but it will be enough, trust us, to inform your historical sensibility ever after.
The tour is an hour-long, guided walk through a now-dormant silver mine. Time includes transportation to and from the mine on a motorized San Francisco-type trolley; the trip also includes commentary and passage by various sites in and around Wallace.
At the mine’s portal, you’ll be fitted with a hard-hat. Before entering it, the guide, himself a retired miner, offers a brief overview of the fundamentals of hardrock mining. Then, into the mine, where several stations have been designed to acquaint you with a silver miner’s work, equipment, daily experience, and risks. The guide will be more than happy to answer questions at any point along the mine’s 1,000-foot u-shaped tunnel into and back out of the mountainside.
Explanations of safety procedures, demonstrations of pneumatic and mechanical equipment, and an account of the organization and division of labor in hardrock mines are provided. Incidentally, the atmosphere and mining methods described are much the same as those still employed. (Today, roughly a thousand Silver Valley men work in the still-active mines.)
Aside from a short climb up wooden stairs to the mine’s entrance portal, no other climbing is required. Once inside the mine, the walk is level or slightly downhill. This is not deep mining, and visitors readily become comfortable in the shaft environment. Check out also this post about the Wallace to Murray Road Trip.
The tour leaves the Sierra Silver Mine Tour ticket office at the corner of 5th and Bank Streets (420 5th St., in Wallace) every thirty minutes daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. May, June, September and October, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. July and August. A stop at the Wallace Mining Museum either before or after the tour is highly recommended. Please note that no children under the age of four are allowed in. Chances are, you’ll never again look at an object shaped out of silver in the same way after you’ve taken this illuminating and unforgettable tour!