Burke is a small place tucked in a narrow canyon just a few miles from Wallace, Idaho. One of the many places of interest in north Idaho, this little ghost town faced hardship from the early days. In 1884 people in the area discovered deposits of silver, lead, and some zinc which stirred interest with a few notable people. According to https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/idaho/burke-ghost-town-id/ the Tiger mine was the first established, and it put out over 3,000 tons of ore during it’s first year.
This naturally led to a bit of a boom in the area, and in 1887 Burke was officially established. As explained by https://sfcompanion.blogspot.com/2020/06/burke-idaho-ready-for-almost-century-of.html?fbclid=IwAR2JEKUiQlvcFc9o-CPoS9iDHVOyaIginBxCSoHAVI8HMHMzDtUvlHXcz00, the town got it’s namesake from John M. Burke, who was a Virginian man that had been a banker in Utah. In fact the people that had discovered the mines didn’t have the resources to further develop the area, and thus bonded their claims to Burke. The biggest issue they faced early on was how to fit a thriving mining community in such a narrow canyon. The canyon measuring 300 feet wide proved difficult to build in, but they improvised and brought some unique ideas to life.
Most notable of these constructs was the Tiger Hotel, which was the only hotel to be built with a road and train tracks going through part of the lobby. Builders also had to keep the substructure of the motel raised to allow Canyon Creek to flow underneath the building. This hotel had 150 rooms, and at it’s peak was said to feed around 1,200 people a day. It was even said the trains could be found parked in the lobby, because the engineers loved the food that came out of the beanery at the hotel. Most accounts tell a tale well respective of the Tiger Hotel, although it was sold and thus dismantled in 1954.
The town survived several natural disasters including avalanches, floods, and a devastating fire in 1923, the people continued to rebuild. A United Press Dispatcher recounted the events as detailed on https://westernmininghistory.com/towns/idaho/burke/, as quoted,
“WALLACE, Ida., July 14. The town of Burke, seven miles east of here, lies in ruins as the result of a fire caused by a spark from a locomotive. Over fifty business houses of Burke’s main street were destroyed and practically all of the residences are gone. Four hundred and forty miners were forced to flee to the depths of the Hecla lead and silver mine. A high wind rendered dynamite ineffectual. All of the mine company’s buildings on the surface were destroyed. The damage is estimated at a million. Six hundred people are homeless. Army tents have been received from Fort George Wright at Spokane for the homeless.”
The mines continued to show their worth in production, but slowly they were closed down. This forced many of the workers to move and go elsewhere for work, leading to a continued decline in the population of this once thriving town. Now Burke is another ghost town, and the main buildings that remain are the colossal mining facilities, a few old storefronts, and an aging office building in which decaying books can still be seen through the windows. There are still some folks that live out there also, but only a handful.
General Disclaimer: If you ever visit Burke please remember that people do live out there, and still own many of the buildings that stand. The buildings are marked “No Trespassing” for a reason, and that should be respected. Please be courteous, but also enjoy the incredible nostalgic feeling.
All of the modern photos were taken by Matthew O. Stephens Photography
Historic Photo References:
“Hecla Mine, Burke (Idaho) 1920 ”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/barstock/items/barstock643.html
“Burke (Idaho), 1907 ”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/barstock/items/barstock425.html
“Burke Fire ”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/barstock/items/barstock1563.html
“Tiger Hotel ”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/barstock/items/barstock1919.html
“Marsh Mining Co., Burke (Idaho) ”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/barstock/items/barstock169.html
“Hecla Mine, Burke (Idaho) 1920 ”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/barstock/items/barstock645.html
“Hercules Mining Company ”, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, Digital Initiatives, University of Idaho Library https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/barstock/items/barstock1279.html
All of the historic images referenced can be found at The University of Idaho, Barnard-Stockbridge Photograph Collection, and they state the rights as follows: Material has passed into Public Domain based on date of creation. Digital reproduction permissions assigned by University of Idaho Library. For more information, please contact University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives Department at firstname.lastname@example.org. https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/