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BURKE, Shoshone Co., ID

 

By

 

Gary B. Speck

 

 

            LOCATED JUST northeast of Wallace, Idaho, Canyon Creek Canyon cuts back into the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, which run along the Idaho-Montana border in Idaho’s upper panhandle.  About seven miles from Wallace, BURKE is at the upper end of a string of seven mining camps that run between GEM and BURKE.  BURKE is the withered remains of what was once a true silver mining boomtown. Today, its main claim to fame is the massive buildings that were once the Hecla Mining Company offices and mine.  The early history of Burke and the history of the Hecla Mining Company are intertwined.

 

The story of BURKE begins in 1884, with the discovery of rich silver ore.  Mines and mills popped up in the surrounding hillsides, and within three years BURKE was a true boomtown filled with wooden buildings and a railroad.  The biggest mine in the early days was the Hercules Mine, which operated until 1925, and its mill lasting at least through 1938.  The Hecla Mine got off to a little slower start. 

 

The Hecla was originally discovered by James Toner, on May 5, 1885.  His 20-acre silver-lead claim was one of many in the rich Coeur d’Alene Mining District.  He sold it, and the mine changed hands several times before it was purchased for $150 by a group of seven investors on October 14, 1891.  They incorporated the Hecla Mining Company, and leased out the property.  Seven years and only $14,000 in production later, they recapitalized, booted the leasers out and began mining themselves.  In 1900 they were well on their way, having built up a large surface plant to process their ore.  By the end of the year, the HECLA MINE produced $229,500 worth of ore.  Just over 15 years after its discovery, the mine became one of the top producers in BURKE, outlasting its nearest competitor, the HERCULES.

 

Through the ups and downs of the first two decades of the 20th Century, the HECLA was a true bright spot, pumping out its silver, lead and zinc treasures.  In 1922, the neighboring STAR MINE was purchased by the Hecla Mining Company, and the two mines were then connected by a two-mile long underground tunnel.  Both mines were operated from the BURKE headquarters.  The massive complex of wooden offices and mills towered over BURKE, which was shoehorned along the base of the steep-walled canyon.

 

BURKE was a disaster waiting to happen.  It was a compact cluster of wooden buildings jammed into the bottom of a narrow canyon.  Because of the narrowness of that hundred-yard wide canyon, the railroad ran through the middle of town.  Most towns had main streets.  BURKE had a railroad.  Because of this narrowness, most of BURKE’s buildings crowded up against the railroad, or spanned over it.  Some sources even say that storekeepers had to retract their store awnings when trains went by, to avoid having the trains rip them off the buildings.  One of the most unique buildings was the Tiger Hotel, built in 1888 by S. S. Glidden.  It was actually built spanning the railroad, the narrow roadway and Canyon Creek, all of which ran through the hotel’s lobby.  When a second railroad ran up the one street in 1890, it also went through the Tiger’s lobby.  Where else could travelers step off their train directly into the lobby of the hotel?

 

Very few wooden mining towns with BURKE’s character escaped the ravages of fire.  On July 13, 1923, the inevitable happened.  Fire ripped through the claustrophobic mass of buildings, quickly burning nearly three-quarters of BURKE, and reducing the HECLA MINE office and milling complex to charcoal.  Within 18 months of the fire, it was business as usual.  BURKE and the HECLA came back – in brick, the HECLA MINE office was built of brick and overlooks the entire town.

 

The 1930s were not kind to the town or the mine.  Along with the onset of the Great Depression, zinc prices collapsed, and the STAR MINE closed, but the HECLA still operated.  When census enumerators arrived in BURKE for the 1930 census, they managed to find 800 people.  But, the good times were over.  The STAR reopened in 1936, but the HECLA closed in 1944, after producing nine million tons of ore, yielding 41 million ounces of silver, 732,000 tons of lead and 41,275 tons of zinc, worth some $81 million.

 

Unlike most mining towns when their main mine closes, BURKE managed to cling to life.  The Hecla Mining Company purchased a number of other mines throughout the West, continuing to operate out of their office in BURKE.  In 1962, the Star Mine was consolidated with the inoperative Hecla and several other mines, and continued to be run out of the massive brick and concrete complex in Burke. 

 

By 1971 BURKE had faded to a couple saloons and a small general store.  The Union Pacific Railroad continued shipping ore from the HECLA complex but live was REAL SLOW!  In 1980, the census counted 15 people.  In 1982, the end finally came.  The Star Mine closed after reaching the 8100 level, with its temperatures around 130º and 100% humidity.  That year Hecla closed its offices and mill complex in Burke, which were then fenced off and posted against trespass. 

 

Today’s BURKE can pretty much be divided into four distinct parts. 

1.     The first would be the residential area, a string of mostly occupied cabins along the north side of the road at the southwest end of town.

2.    Then comes central BURKE with its massive brick and concrete Hecla Mining Company complex along the south side of the road. 

3.    The former business district, now is just a row of single-story brick building shells sitting across the street from and just to the east of the HECLA offices. Long abandoned, these weathered buildings are well on the road to ruin.

4.    The upper east end, with its massive crib wall that may have once supported the Hercules Mill.  Standing on top of a knoll overlooking the rest of town a two-story brick building with a full basement sits at the top of a long set of concrete steps.  Just to the west of the brick building are concrete mill foundations.

 

All buildings in BURKE are showing the neglect from nearly 30 years of abandonment.  The HECLA’s massive brick and concrete buildings are still standing and highly visible from the road that squeezes past the mill building in the bottom of the narrow canyon.  The unused, covered walkway, rusted metal head frame, rusted ore chutes and broken windows all lend a unique aura to this dead mine.  Other interesting items at the mine complex include a small slash burner, railroad lines and a concrete-covered viaduct through which the highly polluted creek runs, the viaduct and all the rocks in the creek bed stained rusty brown.  The Hecla Mine complex is still owned by the very much still alive Hecla Mining Company, and contains some of the largest, most solid and still-intact buildings I’ve ever seen remaining in a ghost town.

 

The former business district still has a few identifiable buildings including an old automobile repair garage, a second repair garage with its famous “Ghost Town Auto” sign now signifying the truth about the town, roofless store  and what appears to have been a saloon.

 

A few people do still live here, so please respect their privacy and property rights. 

 

Location:

·        SE¼ Sec 9, T48N, R5E, Boise Meridian/Baseline

·        Latitude: 47.5202080 / 47° 31’ 13” N

·        Longitude: -115.8201604 / 115° 49’ 13” W

 

This was our Ghost Town of the Month for April 2010.

 

 

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FIRST POSTED:  March 31, 2010

LAST UPDATED: May 01, 2010

 

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