There are more people in your average city high school than live in Wallace, Idaho. Rick Shaffer, the self described prime minster of Wallace, references 960 as he greeted us with a towering handshake and a wide smile.
Wallace is not the type of place I would normally make my home base on a vacation, but for a night, the Center of the Universe was my home. And it was wonderful.The Center of Universe title Wallace has adopted in the past few years is the sort of thing concocted by a town looking for people to pull over. Like Vulcan embracing its Star Trek name, or like Torrington collecting gophers for a diorama museum, Wallace is trying to find a way to scare in some tourism dollars.
It used to be The Silver Capital of The World, but as that enthusiasm waned, the idea for declaring themselves the Center of the Universe (something Shaffer challenges you to disprove if you don’t believe it to be true) was born. There’s a manhole cover in the middle of Wallace’s main intersection proclaiming their place in the universe.
Rick Shaffer is the general manager of the Wallace Inn in addition to his prime minsterial duties. It’s a wonderfully appointed hotel for the environs with a warm pool, large comfortable rooms, and friendly staff. Rick leads the band in that regard.
Before we even arrived I received two voice mails from Rick pre-welcoming me. I knew he was a character, but I didn’t know how big. When we arrived our family name was in lights. As we pulled in to the parking lot, my wife and I laughed loud and long when we spotted the Wallace Inn marquee.
The Buzz Bishop Family Accordion Festival. That was a genuine lol again the next morning when we looked out our window and saw the sign still up.
There was no accordion festival in our honour, but there was one in town. Roads had been blocked off, a big bandstand had been set up, and performances went through the day – even jam sessions broke out on random street corners.
Wallace, Idaho makes for a great base for cycling in the area. There’s the Trail of the Coeur D’Alenes running some 70+ miles back to the city, or you can head east and take the the Route of the Hiawatha. Zacharie and I spent the day doing that while Jen and Charlie swam at the hotel. We then regrouped for an evening stroll around Wallace.
We had dinner in the 1313 Club, a unique room covered in hunting trophies with a storied history as everything from barbershop to hotel. We walked next door to the Wallace Brewing Company to pick up some local specialties.
We then wandered the town checking out the wonderful architecture and signs celebrating the town’s history.
In addition to being the heart of silver mining, Wallace had a rough and tumble relationship with prostitution. Bordellos were on every corner and one, The Oasis, didn’t close up shop until 1988.
Now? Now Wallace is struggling to catch up. I90 used to go through town, now a big overpass takes travellers right over the Albi Hotel.
The hotel, by the way, is for sale for $350 000, should you want to buy it.
Big signs on the highway offer up a chance to take a small 2 mile detour through town, and you really should.
Our walk around Wallace ended at the Red Light Garage next to the Stardust Motel.
I was captivated by 3 things here: 1. the wonderful little spaceship at the corner of their parking lot. 2. huckleberry jello shots (to go with the huckleberry everything else on their marquee) 3. accordion music.
And so as Bob Russ jammed away on his accordion, I did a huckleberry shot while my wife licked a huckleberry ice cream and the boys climbed in and out of the spaceship.
I wouldn’t normally stop in a small town like Wallace, Idaho, but I’ll look for them on maps when I plan vacations from now on. When you go to a bigger city, all you really ever explore are neighborhoods within the city. Wallace is about the size of a city neighborhood. It had all the charm, uniqueness, and activities you look for when sightseeing. There was history, architecture, food, entertainment, sports, and leisure.
On your next visit to the Idaho panhandle, make plans to stop in Wallace, Idaho. Spend a day cycling, hiking, exploring, and enjoying this small town. Before you go, call up Rick and tell him you’re coming. You just might get your name on the marquee for an accordion festival too.
Disclosure: We were guests of Visit Idaho on our adventure to celebrate one of our #18summers as a family.
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