AIC Shines its Community Spotlight on Smelterville
Monday, January 4, 2016
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Smelterville lies on the western end of the historic, 40-mile-long Silver Valley as it begins to open up into a broader plain. The heavily wooded Coeur d’Alene National Forest surrounds the city. The South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River flows north of the city.
The city of Kellogg is three miles east and the cities of Pinehurst and Coeur d’Alene are four and 33 miles west, respectively.
American Indians—principally of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe—inhabited the region around what is now Smelterville in the early 1800s when the first explorers/trappers came into the region.
In 1841 Roman Catholic missionaries led by Father Pierre Jean de Smet came to teach the Indians their religion and culture.
In 1860 Captain John Mullan led 230 soldiers and civilian workers in the construction of a 624-mile military wagon road from Fort Benton, Montana, through what are now the Silver Valley and the cities of Smelterville and Coeur d’Alene to Fort Walla Walla, Washington. It was the first engineered road in the inland Northwest. Interstate 90 generally follows Mullan Road.
In 1877 reacting to concerns about Indian conflicts in the West, General William Tecumseh Sherman—the Union Civil War hero—made an inspection tour of military forts in the Northwest. While traveling over Mullan Road, Sherman passed along the northern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene. He made a recommendation to Congress that they authorize construction of a new military post on the north shore of the lake.
Congress approved Sherman’s recommendation and in 1878 authorized construction of Fort Coeur d’Alene on 999 acres of land at the headwaters of the Spokane River. The name of the fort was later changed to Fort Sherman. The military also commissioned Captain C.P. Sorensen, a boat builder from Portland, to build a steamboat to patrol the 30-mile-long lake.
Civilians employed to build the fort and others started a tent and log cabin village, which they called Coeur d’Alene City, near the fort.
At the same time, A.J. Prichard made a significant placer gold discovery about 17 miles northeast of what is now Smelterville.
In 1883 Prichard made disclosure of his discoveries, setting off a major gold rush. Ten thousand people converged on what is now Shoshone County by the end of 1885, scouring the mountains and streams in search of precious metals.
One of these prospectors was an unemployed carpenter named Noah Kellogg. Kellogg secured grubstakes and began prospecting several locations including Milo Gulch and Creek at what is now Wardner. There he discovered a rich outcropping of lead, zinc and silver ore.
Colorful folklore stories developed around how Kellogg actually discovered the ore body. The stories are hearsay, as Kellogg did not record the events. However, Kellogg told others who wrote and told various accounts making Kellogg and his fabled jackass a legend.
Kellogg and his partners worked together to develop the mine. However, the closest smelter was in San Francisco. James Wardner, one of Kellogg’s partners, took ore samples to Selby Smelting Company in San Francisco to seal a sales contract for the ore. The first shipments of ore were loaded on wagons, transported through what are now Smelterville and Coeur d’Alene to the railhead at Rathdrum, then by rail to Portland and by boat to San Francisco.
In October 1885 Kellogg and his partners named the new community that grew up around the mine Wardner and the mine Bunker Hill and Sullivan (Bunker Hill Mine). By 1890 all of the original partners in the discovery had sold their claims to investors who, a few years later, moved the entrance of the mine down the mountain to Kellogg and built a new concentrator and smelter.
The Bunker Hill Mine played a pivotal role in the early history of Smelterville and the Silver Valley. Tailings from the Bunker Hill Mine were deposited along the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River on what was then called Smelterville Flats.
In 1887 railroad interests built the Silver Valley’s first rail line, a narrow gauge 44-inch track. Soon thereafter, national standards changed and in 1889 other railroad interests replaced the line with a wider 56.5-inch-wide track that extended from Spokane to Wallace.
By 1892 the Bunker Hill Mine was the largest mine operation in the Silver Valley—a valley that extended from Pinehurst to Mullan. In 1892 and again in 1899 the Bunker Hill Mine became the center of sharp conflicts between the mine owners and labor unions. These conflicts quickly spread affecting mines and towns across the Silver Valley as they turned violent—resulting in loss of life, dynamiting the Bunker Hill facilities and, later, the murder of Idaho’s governor who was in office at the time of the conflict.
On October 2, 1947, Smelterville became an incorporated village.
A Superfund Site
In 1998 the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared most of the Silver Valley a Superfund Site. Over the intervening years, there has been massive removal of soils contaminated by lead and other heavy metals to landfills and temporary realignment of the river. They then brought in clean soils, restored streams and replanted the land with native species of trees, shrubs and grasses. In Smelterville, EPA contractors removed millions of cubic yards of mine tailings to restore the land and the river to as near to its pre-mining condition as possible. A large Wal-Mart store now sets on the land once covered with mine tailings.
Amenities and Attractions Today
The Silver Mountain Resort, part of a chain of destination resorts in the Northwest, is located in Kellogg and is one of the largest private businesses in the valley.
The resort complex starts at Gondola Village in Kellogg and takes patrons for a 3.1-mile gondola ride that passes over Wardner as it rises 3,400 feet to the ski lodge, village and condominiums.
The expanding resort includes two mountains—Kellogg and Wardner Peaks at 6,300 and 6,200 foot elevations, respectively. Additionally, the resort has six ski lifts and 67 named ski trails and runs. The resort sponsors year-round outdoor activities including concerts.
Old Mission State Park is located eight miles west of the city. It is the location of the old Cataldo Mission of the Sacred Heart, Idaho’s oldest standing building.
The Route of the Hiawatha is a scenic 30-mile round trip on a paved, non-motorized path built on the rail bed of the old Milwaukee Railroad. It is headquartered 16 miles southwest in Wallace. The path is also part of the Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area located east of Wallace on the Montana Border.
The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is a "Rails to Trails Conservancy," a national organization, project. It is a paved 72-mile-long trail built on the old Union Pacific rail bed between Mullan and Plummer.
In addition to nearby trails and resorts, the surrounding forest, mountains, streams and the Coeur d’Alene River and its tributaries offer fabulous opportunities for camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, cross-country skiing and other outdoor recreation and activities.