A Sunday In Wallace Idaho Complete With Lots Of History!

image of Wallace Idaho downtown

A Sunday In Wallace Idaho Complete With Lots Of History!

What’s a great place to spend a Sunday afternoon? Why, Wallace Idaho where you’ll find interesting history galore! Tiny little Wallace, Idaho had peaked our interest several years ago on our way back from Yellowstone National Park. So yesterday the sun was shining, it was in the high 70’s and we had a clear calendar. We headed to Wallace, Idaho to spend the afternoon exploring and learning the history of this incredibly interesting area.

Wallace now has a population of 760 (2014 census figures) but during it’s heyday the town was considerably larger with approximately 6,000 residents. Wallace is the county seat of Shoshone County and the world’s largest silver producer. Our first stop? The Wallace Mining Museum. Multiple displays tell the history of life in the mines as well as life in the Wallace area in the 1800’s.

image of old mine bike
Mining Bicycle
image of Sunshine Mine Model
Sunshine Mine Model depicting the layout of the mine

The intricate model shown above was constructed by the University of Idaho College of Mines and Earth Resources. A court case resulted from the mine fire of May 2, 1972 and the intent of this model was to assist the jury in understanding the layout of the mine.

In A Mining Town Of Men The Worlds Oldest Profession Flourished

As a mining town Wallace was primarily populated by men. The figure we were given was 200 men to every woman living in Wallace. Brothels were a fact of life in Wallace and the town had five operating brothels during it’s heyday. The brothels (although illegal) were not bothered by local law enforcement and continued to operate until the feds came in and shut them down in the late 1980’s. Up to that date, each time the federal agents were due in town, the Sheriff notified the Madams and the “girls” left town for a few days until the federal agents left. The “girls” then returned and business proceeded as usual.

Brothels were a fact of life in Wallace and the town had five operating brothels during it's heyday.… Click To Tweet

The last fateful visit from the federal agents was a little different. They weren’t looking for the brothels that time. They came for the Sheriff. He was arrested on multiple charges and the brothels were shut down for good. The “girls” had been used to leaving for a couple days each time the feds showed up and typically only took what they needed for 2-3 days.

Madam Ginger

The Oasis Bordello was owned and operated  by a madam whom everyone called Ginger because of her red hair. After the arrest of the Sheriff the brothels were closed. Madam Ginger never returned. She went to Coeur d’Alene and bought a residence on the lake leaving everything in the brothel exactly as it had been prior to the feds arrival. The building sat deserted until new owners, seeing the contents exactly as they were left when Madam Ginger and the “girls” fled, realized they had the makings of a museum. Oasis Bordello Museum was born.

image of Madam Ginger's room as it was when she fled
Madam Ginger’s room with mannequin depicting Madam Ginger. Everything remains exactly as it was when she fled.
image of Madam Ginger's dressing table
Madam Ginger’s dressing table – the lady in the framed photo is the real Madam Ginger
image of doll lamp
Doll Lamp Used To Signal A Problem

The Doll Lamps Had A Special Purpose

Madam Ginger’s room and each of the working girls rooms contained a doll lamp like the one shown above. Colors were coordinated with each room but the lamps were all wired together and each contained a blue light bulb. If one lamp went out, they all went out. This was the signal that there was a problem and a girl needed help.

Image of kitchen in the Oasis Bordello Museum
The kitchen where the maid cooked meals for the “girls” remains exactly as it was the day they left.
image of locked payment boxes topped by a timer for each
Locked collection boxes for payments topped with a timer for each.
image of bathroom of Oasis Bordello Museum
One bathroom for all 5 working girls and the Madam. Each girl had their own medicine cabinet.
image of locks on door at top of stairs of the brothel
NINE locks protected unwanted entry at the top of the stairs of the brothel.

Next Stop On Our Wallace History Tour ~ Northern Pacific Depot Museum

After the rather “colorful” and very interesting tour of the Oasis Bordello Museum I was thinking that possibly our next stop would seem a bit anticlimactic. Out the back door of the Bordello Museum and across the lawn and we arrived at the Northern Pacific Depot Museum. Constructed in 1901 the Depot was moved across the Coeur d’Alene River in 1986 to make room for the construction of I-90. The distance of the move was about 200 yards. No longer a working depot, it now houses the museum and a small gift shop. Memories of train travel as a child with my mother and sisters soon had me engrossed in the items on display that matched my memories.

image of Northern Pacific Depot Museum Wallace Idaho
Northern Pacific Depot Museum – Wallace, Idaho

A Flood Of Memories As I Viewed The Museum

A very knowledgable docent dressed appropriately for the period gave us a guided tour. The depot waiting room had the old wooden benches I remembered from the King Street Station in Seattle, Wa. The “office” was complete with displays of old time telegraph, manual typewriters, lithograph press, an antique telephone, an assortment of trunks for clothing, train schedules and more.

Image of interior of old time travel trunk
The interior of an old time travel trunk.
image of travel iron set up
Each part of the trunk had a specific purpose.

Each part of these old travel trunks had a specific purpose. This travel iron folded and fit into one of the drawers. The padded portion at the top of the drawers was for ironing. Genius, right??

The Second Floor Housed The Station Master And His Family

The entire second floor of the depot was, at one time, where the station master and his family lived. The parlor, living room, master bedroom and childrens’ bedrooms are now all used for displays of memorabilia. The kitchen area is still a working kitchen used by museum staff. The photo below is the original entry staircase and the components for a “moonshine still” that you see above the stairwell were found in the basement of the depot.

image of stairwell and "still" components
Entry staircase and “moonshine still” components found in Northern Pacific Depot basement.

And Dinner Topped Off Our Day!

We topped off our day with dinner at the City Limits Brew Pub. Originally a warehouse, this 100 year old building has undergone extensive renovation and now houses a full brewery and restaurant. Dinner was excellent and the service was great. Perfect end to an incredibly interesting day.

If your travels take you to northern Idaho I would highly recommend spending some time in Wallace. We only scratched the surface today and will visit again at a future date.

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