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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Osburn

Friday, February 12, 2016  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Gene Day Park

Osburn lies at the center of the historic and beautiful Silver Valley. The city of Wallace is six miles southeast on Interstate 90 and Kellogg nine miles northwest. The rugged and heavily timbered Bitterroot Mountains of the Coeur d’Alene National Forest surround the city. The St. Joe National Forest begins three miles south.

Historical Tidbits

In August 1860 U.S. Army Captain John Mullan (then a lieutenant), a topographical engineer with a crew of around 200, completed construction of a 624-mile military wagon road between Fort Benton, Montana, and Fort Walla Walla, Washington. Interstate 90 generally follows the old Mullan Road.

On September 30, 1860, a band of prospectors found placer gold about 70 miles south at what is now Pierce. The discovery started Idaho’s first gold rush, which on February 4, 1864, led to the establishment of Shoshone County with Pierce as the county seat. Pierce is now located in Clearwater County.

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 was so impressed with the setting that 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 in what is now the city of Coeur d’Alene. The name of the fort was later changed to Fort Sherman.

With the establishment of Fort Coeur d’Alene, the military strung a telegraph line along Mullan Road. They built a maintenance way station they named Evolution about a mile west of what is now the city of Osburn. Travelers on Mullan Road often camped at Evolution.

In 1881 A.J. Prichard, who had prospected in the Silver Valley area for years, found placer gold on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River near what would become the town of Murray, about 10 miles north of what is now Osburn. His discovery prompted a gold rush that brought about 10,000 people into the Silver Valley. In 1885 Murray would become the Shoshone County seat.

In 1884 W.B. Heyburn discovered silver ore, the Polaris Mine, near what is now Osburn. A small mining community named Polaris grew up around the mine.

On September 10, 1887, the Spokane Falls and Idaho Railroad, later Northern Pacific Railroad, extended a rail line from Coeur d’Alene to Wallace.

The railroad generally paralleled Mullan Road. However, when the surveyors reached the intersection of Two Mile Gulch Road and Mullan Road, they preferred that location to Evolution for the place to plat a townsite, which they named Georgetown.

In 1885 Seth McFarren and Samuel Norman acquired a 160-acre ranch near the south boundary of Georgetown and erected a house and out buildings. In March 1886 they sold the ranch to S.V. William Osburn for $2,000.

Osburn built a hotel, barn, stables, icehouse, cellars and fences and cultivated 60 acres. He called his property Buckhorn Ranch. However, others called it the Osburn Ranch.

In 1890 Osburn became the Shoshone County Seat. In the fall of 1890 with the population at 260 people, the Idaho Supreme Court established a District Court in Osburn. A new courthouse and a 20-room hotel were added to the town site. In 1893 the District Court and the county seat were moved to Wallace.

During the 1890s major conflicts arose between mine owners and labor. Virtually every Silver Valley community was affected.

In 1940 the town’s population exceeded 1,400. Shortly after the 1941 U.S. declaration of war against Japan, the community formed the Osburn Civil Defense Administration. Among its first actions was to have a fundraising campaign to buy a large air-raid siren to warn the people if there was an impending Japanese bombing raid. After Pearl Harbor, there was general concern in the U.S. that Japan planned a follow-up attack on Western Coastal cities.

The fundraiser netted $618. However, with the money in the bank they decided the siren was not a high priority after all, so they left the money in the bank.

On March 8, 1949, Civilian Defense Administrator Ralph Neyman gave a speech wherein he said that since it was a unanimous opinion of the people that the money was the property of the community, it was an opportune time to incorporate as a village and let elected officers spend the money on behalf of the community.

On July 17, 1950, with a population of 1,850, Osburn became an incorporated village with Neyman as Village Chairman. The money for the air-raid siren was the first deposit into the village’s treasury.

In April 1958 the town of Polaris requested annexation into the Village of Osburn which took place on May 1, 1958.

On April 12, 1967, in accordance with new Idaho law, Osburn, with a population of around 1,850, became an incorporated city.

How Do You Spell That Again? 

In 1887 the Georgetown/Osburn community had grown to over 60 residents. "Billy" Osburn applied for a post office to be located in his hotel with him as postmaster. Postal authorities approved his application but spelled his name "Osborn."

On May 10, 1915, following a one year closure, postal authorities re-established a post office for the residents of Osburn Ranch and Georgetown. However this time, they spelled the name "Osborne." On January 31, 1920, postal authorities closed the Osborne post office. On February 3, 1922, postal authorities re-established the post office. This time, they properly spelled the name of the re-opened post office "Osburn."

Amenities and Attractions Today 

There are two parks in the city. Gene Day Park has three covered kitchens, picnic areas, a pond, a baseball field, basketball and tennis courts, children’s playground equipment and bathrooms.

Osburn Lion’s City Park has a covered picnic area with children’s playground equipment.

A Loyalty Day Parade, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, is held on the first Saturday in May. Prizes are awarded and hamburgers and hotdogs are sold.

The Coeur d’Alene District Mining Contest takes place the first Saturday in August at Gene Day Park. The event includes many mining activities with prizes given for the winners of each contest.

Nearby activities include those offered in neighboring cities such as the Silver Mountain Water Park in Kellogg. Outdoor enthusiasts have an abundance of other available activities including ATV, motorbike and snowmobile trails, hunting, fishing on the North Fork River less than a mile away and boating 45 minutes away on Coeur d’Alene Lake.

The "Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes," a 72-mile paved public trail connecting cities from Mullan to Plummer, runs through the city. This wonderful amenity opens up a cross section of the natural beauties of Northern Idaho’s magnificent national forests and wildlife to walkers, hikers and bikers. It is one of the most spectacular paved non-motorized trails in the Western U. S.

The Route of the Hiawatha is a non-motorized rail-to-trail mountain path. When complete, it will follow the old Milwaukee Road rail bed between Pearson, Idaho, about 10 miles south of Osburn, and St. Regis, Montana. It has some of the most spectacular scenery in the nation.

Downhill skiing is available at Lookout Pass Ski Area, located about 16 miles east on the Idaho/Montana border. The resort receives up to 400 inches of snow each year and has several ski runs and lifts—a popular, family-oriented ski area.

The 18-acre Old Mission State Park, home to the oldest building in Idaho, is located 17 miles west at Cataldo.


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