Monday, June 13, 2022

Burke, Idaho, Ready for Almost a Century of Silver Production [otd 06/13]

On June 13, 1885, a group of prospectors met and “declared” the town of Burke. They picked a spot about six miles up Canyon Creek from Placer Center (soon to be Wallace), itself only a few months old. The gorge is so narrow at Burke that during the winter the bottom gets only two or three hours of direct sun.
Burke, ca 1888. University of Idaho Library.

The previous year, searchers had uncovered two fabulous silver lodes, the “Tiger” and the “Poorman.” Other prospects soon followed. However, only the Tiger saw much development during that year. Lacking funds, the discoverers bonded their claims to John M. Burke, a Virginian who had been a banker in Utah. He, in turn, passed the rights along to Stephen S. Glidden, a wholesale grocer in Thompson Falls, Montana.

Glidden sold his business the following spring, and he, Burke, and some others improved the roads and trails into the mountains. Further development proved the worth of the Tiger, and hinted at the high value of other claims. They needed a supply point, and a place to put an ore processor, and chose Burke as the best site available.

Growth was very slow at first. In fact, not until May 1887 did they get around to really organizing a town, with street names, specific lot sizes, property recording requirements, and so on. The hamlet then contained only about twenty actual buildings.

However, in December of that year, tracks from Burke linked to a new narrow gauge railway at Wallace. In January, 1888, the Wallace Press listed around 35 business buildings in Burke, including “… seventeen saloons, four general stores, one beer hall … and not a hotel in town.” (There were two boarding houses, however.)

The arrival of the railroad sparked a construction boom. By the end of the 1888 building season, Burke reportedly contained around three hundred buildings, including ore concentrators for the Tiger and Poorman mines.

Those properties easily lived up to their early promise. Output from the mines reached their mill capacities within a few years and continued even after a disastrous fire that destroyed the Tiger and Poorman mills, and supporting structures, in March 1896. At that point, miners had pushed their tunnels down over a thousand feet. With no pumps running, those deep shafts began to fill with water.

Undeterred, management immediately contracted for new, bigger and better equipment for the mines. Despite other huge discoveries in the Coeur d’Alene mining districts, in 1898 the Tiger and Poorman still produced around 14% of all the silver-lead ore in the region.

The 1890 census recorded 482 inhabitants in Burke itself, and that number had increased to over a thousand in 1900. After that, as throughout the Coeur d’Alenes, Burke’s prosperity rose and fell with the prices of silver and lead. The population peaked at over fourteen-hundred in 1910-1912, and then slowly but steadily declined, dropping below a thousand in 1940.
Burke, 1946. Museum of the Rockies, Montana State University.
For over half a century, Burke boasted a structure that was unique in the world. Built in 1896, the Tiger Hotel mostly served mine officials and workers, although visitors might rent a room if it was available. With the canyon being so narrow, the hotel's substructure was raised so Canyon Creek could flow underneath.

Unusual ... but the true oddity was the pair of railroad tracks running right through the lobby. (We're told that only heavy sleepers got the rooms directly over the tracks.) The hotel survived two World Wars, but was finally torn down in 1954.

The last mine near Burke shut down in 1982 (The Oregonian, Portland, June 13, 1982). The hamlet’s remnant is now often referred to as a “ghost town,” with 300, or 75 (depending upon whom you believe) inhabitants.
Refrences: [Illust-North], [Illust-State]
Judith Nielsen, “Tiger Hotel Company,” Manuscript Group 80, University of Idaho Archives, Moscow (February 1993).

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