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News & Press: Community Spotlights

City of Mullan

Friday, May 29, 2015  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Mullan is nestled in the beautiful and rugged Bitterroot Mountain range. National forests surround the city. The Coeur d’Alene National Forest is on the north and west, the St. Joe lies to the south and the Kaniksu National Forest on the east in Montana. One of the highest mountains in the area is the 6,625-foot Tiger Peak, five miles due north at the head of Gorge Gulch above Burke.

Mullan is the easternmost city of the 40-mile-long valley gorge cut by the Coeur d’Alene River. Designated for a century as the Coeur d’Alene Mining District, it now has the distinctive name of the Silver Valley. Over the past century, mining interests have extracted massive quantities of silver, lead, zinc and gold from ore deposits that extend over a mile below the earth’s surface.

A few mines still operate in the valley, and rich ore reserves remain. However, environmental concerns and costs, along with cyclical markets, have left the mining industry in the Silver Valley a shadow of its previous economic dominance. Today, tourism and outdoor recreation play prominent roles in the valley’s economy.

Historical Tidbits

Until 1859 the mountainous terrain around what is now Mullan was largely the sole domain of the American Indians who passed through the area.

That year, U.S. Army Captain John Mullan—then a lieutenant and a topographical engineer—and a crew of over 200 began construction of a 624-mile military wagon road between Fort Walla Walla, Washington, and Fort Benton, Montana. The road passed near what is now Mullan and Interstate 90.

Mullan said that while the road was under construction, he would lie night after night on the ground with his men with nothing but pine needles for a bed and a saddle for a pillow. "In my imagination I heard the whistle of the engine," he said, "… I saw the country thickly populated, thousands pouring over the borders to make homes in this far western land."

Even though Mullan Road was a military road, it was primarily used by prospectors, miners and settlers.

Andrew J. Prichard discovered placer gold in November 1878 about 13 miles north of what is now Mullan. Word of his discovery got out, and in 1883 a gold rush brought 10,000 fortune seekers into the region. They not only discovered more gold but also rich deposits of lead, zinc and silver ore.

In May 1884 G.J. Hunter and C.W. Moore, prospectors working the area, discovered a silver-lead lode that became the Gold Hunter Mine. They found the Morning Mine claims in July. News of the discovery incited a rush of fortune seekers into the area and a boomtown emerged. Many of the first mineworkers and their families were living in tents. There was a pressing need for a municipal government, fire brigade, school and churches.

Business leaders proposed a 19-acre plat for a townsite. However, they could not agree on specifics and the attempt failed.

Charles J. Best, George S. Good, A.J. Betaque, C.C. Earle and another man formed a company that platted a townsite in 1885 and named it Mullan, after Captain John Mullan.

They filed their plat as an unincorporated community on August 4, 1888. At that time, the town had 20 log and 15 frame houses, a sawmill, two hotels, several saloons and a population of 150.

The town’s first school was a log cabin on Hunter Street. However, school patrons soon began constructing a new school on Knob Hill.

As the town’s population grew, the residents constructed new and better buildings on Earle Street including a larger brick school. By 1889 Earle Street had displaced Hunter Street as the city’s principal thoroughfare. The old school building on Knob Hill became St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

That year was also momentous in other regards. Residents greeted completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad from Wallace to Mullan with great celebration. They celebrated again when they heard that congressional leaders had told Idaho delegates to proceed with the state’s constitutional convention, even though Idaho would have to wait until the next year for statehood. Idaho became the nation’s 43rd state on July 3, 1890.

These exciting events only briefly overshadowed the dark and brewing labor union/mine owner disputes taking place at the mines throughout the district.

The first of several disputes between miners and mine owners erupted in 1889. Having their demands rebuffed by management, the workers at the various mines began to unionize. On November 3, 1890, the Mullan mine workers organized under the Knights of Labor. Four months later, the owners of the mines near Mullan responded by joining the Silver Valley’s Mine Owners’ Association.

The differences between the two sides became so acute that in 1892 and again in 1899 the governor declared Mullan and much of Shoshone County "in a state of insurrection" and placed the area under martial law.

In January 1891 six years after community leaders proposed the first fire brigade, the Mullan Volunteer Fire Department was finally organized.

In August 1892 Mullan business leaders filed for a U.S. townsite patent at the Coeur d’Alene Land Office. However, authorities rejected the filing because it included only the business portion of town and not the entire settlement.

On July 15, 1904, a group of Mullan leaders established the town boundaries, appointed officers and trustees, drew up ordinances, defined crimes, set fines and petitioned the Shoshone County Commission to incorporate as a village.

However, the Federal Mining Company claimed survey errors and, specifically, referenced the cemetery and "Village Park" land as being improperly included in the plat. Once again, authorities denied the petition.

The 1910 U.S. Census reported the Mullan population at 1,667. In September 1910 community leaders again applied, unsuccessfully, for incorporation as a village.

It was not until March 13, 1912, after an appeal to Idaho Senator William Borah and other elected officials, that Mullan became an incorporated village. In 1967 Mullan become an incorporated city in accordance with a new state law.

Adapting and Enduring

Mullan’s 1960 population was 1,477—almost twice what it is today. Beginning in the 1970s Congress passed several environmental protection and workplace health and safety laws. These laws not only brought many mining practices and processes into question but also created and expanded the powers of certain regulatory agencies. Compliance with these new pollutant discharge or emissions laws was costly to implement.

At the same time, world demand for many precious and industrial metals was in decline. Mine closures and long unemployment lines were common.

However, the mines in Mullan were able to comply with the new regulatory laws and weather the economic challenges. The Mullan mines emerged from the mining problems of the twentieth century more technologically advanced and less labor intensive.

Amenities and Attractions Today

The city’s downtown center includes a beautiful park with flowers, shrubs, trees, gazebo, playground equipment and a historical museum with an eclectic collection of artifacts and memorabilia of Mullan’s past. A commemorative statue of Captain John Mullan stands in front of the city’s fire station and city hall, facing the old Mullan Road.

The Lookout Pass Ski Area, six miles east, is a popular family-oriented ski area featuring a free ski school. Snowboarding and snowcatting are also popular.

The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes is a 72-mile paved public trail connecting cities from Mullan to Plummer, opening up a cross-section of the natural beauties of Northern Idaho’s magnificent national forests and wildlife to walkers, hikers and bikers.

The Route of the Hiawatha is a non-motorized rail-to-trail mountain path. It follows the old Milwaukee Road rail bed between Pearson, eight miles southeast of Mullan, and St. Regis, Montana. This area has some of the most spectacular scenery in the nation. Today, only a sign remains to designate the location of the old town of Pearson.

Mullan has many attractive homes built at the turn of the twentieth century. These historic buildings give a nostalgic sense of the bygone days when hundreds of miners inhabited the town.

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