The Ghost Town of Burke

Nestled in a cramped canyon seven miles from historic Wallace, are the decaying remnants of the once-booming mining town that was built to house the miners of the Hecla, Hercules, Tiger-Poorman, and Bunker Hill mines. Burke was "all length and no width," and its railroad tracks also served as Main Street.

Short on space but thriving as a community, proprietors had to build the Tiger Hotel over railroad tracks, a road, and a stream. The trains of the Northern Pacific Railroad actually ran right through the lobby. The hotel wasn't the only place where Burke residents had to be creative. Cars had to stop and wait for trains to pass through, and it is said that store owners even had to roll up storefront awnings whenever the iron giants rolled through Burke.

The tiny town faced other challenges. Starting in 1892, wage cuts provoked a strike against owners like Amasa Campbell of Spokane fame, and Burke was caught within the rising lawlessness more than once. The most famous of these occurrences was the hijacking of a Northern Pacific Railroad train in 1899. The takeover began in Burke, and after a few more stops in Wallace and Gem, the train was packed with more than 1,000 irate miners armed with dynamite and pickaxes. The wild ride culminated in the blowing up of the Bunker Hill Mine concentrator with 3,000 pounds of dynamite. One of these men fed up with the robber-baron mine owners was the infamous Harry Orchard, who would later assassinate Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg with an improvised explosive device.

Today, Burke is visited by few and home to even fewer. Mining declined over the next century and by 1981, the mines in Burke were closed. Suggestive remnants remain, though. Although the unique Tiger Hotel was torn down in 1944, visitors can still tour some of the looming mining structures of the Hecla Mining Company still standing today. Also, look at the steep hillsides and notice how the earth is scarred by terraces. This was how the town's previous residents created livable space. Now just a ghost of its former glory, Burke beckons you to drive through and be in awe of the tomb-like buildings.

Images

Burke, 1888

Burke, 1888

This early view of Burke shows the cramped conditions under which the town was built. | Source: Photo: Barnard-Stockbridge Collection. #8X-0431, Historical Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library, Moscow, Idaho. View File Details Page

Early Burke.

Early Burke.

This early image of Burke shows how the main street and the railroad shared the same path through town. | Source: Courtesy of the Wikimedia Foundation. View File Details Page

Burke postcard

Burke postcard

This 1950s era postcard of Burke shows the town near the end of its prosperity. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Hannah Peterson, “The Ghost Town of Burke,” Spokane Historical, accessed June 23, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/517.
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