Center of the Universe: Wallace, Idaho

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If you’re looking for a neat little mountain town that’s crammed with history, along with some quirky attractions, you’ll need to make a stop in Wallace, Idaho.  This tiny mining town is home to the last stoplight on Interstate 90, as well as the Center of the Universe. Yeah, you heard me.

My Visit

Wallace is such a neat little town, I didn’t mind walking around in a chilly drizzle to see it all for the second time.  My first visit to Wallace was in 2006, not long after it was discovered to be the Center of the Universe.

Wallace is a mining boomtown, founded in the late 1800’s.  It’s known as the Silver Capitol of the World, thanks to all the silver that’s been pulled out of the surrounding mountains over the past century.  All that silver money helped create a downtown district that still feels wonderfully authentic and unspoiled by the 20th and 21st centuries.

Let’s get right to the most curious attraction in Wallace.  It really is the Center of the Universe, and the road signs prove it.  You’ll find the epicenter of everything in the middle of Bank and 6th Streets…

… more specifically, directly under this manhole cover.

In 2004, mayor Ron Garitone proclaimed that the center of the universe had been discovered here. To prove this theory, the mayor pointed to the science of Probalism. It seems the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies had used probalistic modeling to determine the necessity for federal meddling in local affairs, and that wasn’t sitting well with the leadership of Wallace.  By the EPA’s logic, if local officials couldn’t prove that the area was a healthy and safe place to live, then it therefore must not be healthy and safe, and the feds could continue to meddle.

The mayor reasoned, likewise, no one could definitely prove that Wallace was not the center of the universe, so therefore, it is.  Proclamations and celebrations followed, along with the installation of the manhole cover.

If that’s not enough to make you love Wallace, you should wander on over to the town’s Mining Museum, where you can pay tribute to the Last Stoplight on Interstate 90.

Wait a minute… Interstates don’t have stoplights.  What gives?

You probably noticed that Interstate 90 makes a very tight squeeze as it passes through (or more accurately, over) Wallace.  That viaduct wasn’t completed until 1991.  Prior to that, you could drive all the way from the east coast to the west coast without hitting a stoplight, except for one — in Wallace.

When the freeway was finally finished, the town held a celebration of life for the old light, and then gave it to the museum, where it can lay in state for eternity.

The rest of the museum is pretty interesting, too — especially if you want to learn about the mining industry.  Your visit includes a tour of a simulated mine…

… complete with displays that illuminate as you navigate the twists and turns.  This display shows the last steam-operated diamond drill known to exist.  It was made in the early 1900’s.

The museum includes other relics from the town and surrounding area, including this old bank vault.

Back outside…

… I continued to wander around town.  The Shoshone County Court House is an impressive structure…

… but I really enjoyed Wallace’s collection of neon signs, such as this one for the Stein Bar.

Albi’s is also nearby.  This restaurant/lounge/hotel is shut down, and a sign (that’s been up for quite a while) says it’s all for sale.

Albi’s may be closed, but the Stardust Motel is one of a few motels in town that are still open.

The Red Light Garage, next door to the Stardust, offers a space capsule in the parking lot, for some reason.

You’ll find various mining equipment on display around town…

… and some interesting backdoors, if you wander down Wallace’s alleyways like I did.

Last but certainly not least, you should check out the Northern Pacific Railroad Museum, inside Wallace’s old train depot.  The depot had to be moved 200 feet, back in 1986, to make room for Interstate 90 (which you can see directly behind it).

You can also get a taste of the seedier side of Wallace at the Oasis Bordello Museum.  Built in 1895, it survived a devastating fire in 1910, and continued to operate until 1988.

During my 2006 visit to this area, I rented a bicycle and took a ride on the Route of the Hiawatha bicycle trail, along the nearby Idaho/Montana border — which included a scary trip through the dark 2-mile-long Taft Tunnel.  You can read about the Route of the Hiawatha Rail-Trail here.

The Bottom Line

If you’re driving through Idaho on Interstate 90, make it a priority to visit the Center of the Universe, see the Last Stoplight on I-90, and wander around the streets of Wallace Idaho.

Location

Wallace, Idaho is located on Interstate 90, about 13 miles west of Lookout Pass (the Idaho/Montana state line) and about 46 miles east of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

The town is squeezed in between mountains, and there’s barely room for the Interstate, so you can’t miss it. Park anywhere and wander around town on foot.

Drivelapse Video

Check out this time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive across Idaho on Interstate 90, including a stop in Wallace:

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