Wallace Idaho was the commercial heart of the Coeur d'Alene mining district. The Coeur d'Alene district, also known as the Silver Valley began developing in the 1880s and boomed in the 1890s. Wallace had a population of 3,000 by 1910. Wallace's peak population was 3,839 in 1940. Today Wallace has a population of 784.
The Coeur d'Alene district was the site of several waves of violent labor strife in the 1890s. These battles between miners and mine owners led to the formation of the radical Western Federation of Miners (WFM). Members of the WFM including Bill Haywood subsequently formed the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905. After the formation of the IWW, the lumber mills, mines and smelters in the Coeur d'Alene district became fertile territory for that union. Although Wallace was not the site of any of the historic battles during that period, it would have been one of the main centers of organizing. Today it's not hard to imagine Bill Haywood talking labor and revolution in a smoky bar in downtown Wallace.
Much of turn-of-the-century downtown Wallace has survived intact thanks to local preservationists who prevailed in an epic struggle with the Federal Highway Administration. In the early 1970s the Federal government planned to complete interstate 90 through the Idaho panhandle by routing it directly through the center of Wallace. This would have almost entirely obliterated the town. An alternate route that would have mostly by-passed Wallace with a tunnel was rejected because of its expense. Local residents sued the government delaying construction of the highway until the late 1980s. A compromise was eventually reached and an elevated section of highway was built along the edge of town saving most of Wallace's historic commercial core. The result is that the freeway is stacked almost directly on top of Wallace in the bottom of the narrow valley. Downtown Wallace was saved but the highway project did require the demolition of a large swath of Wallace including many industrial and residential buildings.
The local silver mining industry is still active though greatly diminished. Almost no traces of the mines and mills that once existed in and immediately around Wallace survive. There are several mill and mine ruins near Wallace as well as a few still active mines. Wallace's economy has slowly been transitioning to one based on tourism and recreation. There are several museums and hotels in town and businesses catering to both tourists and locals line the downtown streets.
There is a large abandoned mill and mine in the ghost town of Burke 7 miles northeast of Wallace. The ruins of the Frisco Mill can be seen from the roadside on the way to Burke. Kellogg which is 11 west of Wallace has a substantial historic district. There are ruins of a large smelter outside of Smelterville about 14 miles west of Wallace. Most of the mines and mills in the Coeur d'Alene district were along the sides of the Coeur d'Alene river valley which is the current route of interstate 90. Many mines, both active and inactive can be seen from the freeway today.