|Stepping into this town cradled in the bottom of a narrow valley and surrounded with forested hills brings visitors into one of the most interesting towns in Idaho’s mining history. Situated near the convergence of Canyon, Placer, and Ninemile Creeks with the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, Wallace was initially called Cedar Swamp after the cedar groves surrounding the area. In 1884, the name was changed to Placer Center after lucrative placer mining began. When Colonel W.R. Wallace, site owner and member of the city council, applied for postal services in 1888, the settlement’s name changed a final time to Wallace. Shortly thereafter, Wallace became the first incorporated Idaho town in Shoshone County and business boomed. As a mining supply center, seven freight trains passed through town each day. Soon, the town reached 2,000 inhabitants and supported a variety of economic activity: five doctors, one teacher, one preacher, a power company supplying electric lighting to residents for just $1.50 a month, a renowned printing press powered by Printers Creek, twenty-eight saloon owners, ten lawyers, and one judge who always allowed criminals one drink at a saloon before heading to jail. As hard as Wallace’s miners and business owners worked, they also played hard and took advantage of several entertaining events. Drilling contests, prize fights, horse races, hot air balloon festivals, community dances, hunting, fishing, trips to Coeur d’Alene Lake, and local baseball games were favorite pastimes. By early 1890, Wallace was the third largest town in Idaho.
Despite its stellar beginnings, devastation hit Wallace. During summer 1890, a devastating fire destroyed the entire business district valued at $500,000. Persevering, business owners bounced back, only to have one-third of the town destroyed again during the Great Idaho Fire of 1910. After this fire, the town’s water supply was so limited that the mayor ordered all saloonkeepers to serve free beer in an effort to hydrate residents and ward off a typhoid outbreak.
Today, Wallace has quieted down from its rowdy days as a lively mining town. Still, the town remains much the same architecturally with many well-preserved 19th-century buildings found throughout Wallace and its surrounding foothills. Serving as Shoshone County’s county seat, the entire town is listed on the National Historic Register and several museums can be found detailing Wallace’s fascinating past.