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Burke, Idaho: A Modern Ghost Town and a Lesson in Economics Pt. 6, The End.

So...here we are. The end of an era. That phrase..."The end of an era"...has been so overused. Perhaps...just perhaps...it's use here lacks the correct..."gravity".

In Part 5, I showed you photos of the Hecla Mining operation...or, more specifically, the ruins that still exist. I stated that even though mining operations had long since ceased, Hecla's main headquarters continued to function in Burke all the way into 1982. And then...the inevitable finally happened; they closed up shop and moved to a new location (which, if my memory is working correctly, is now located in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho).

Within a mere 80 years, Burke went from rags to riches to ruins. The hopes and dreams of generations and a few thousand people...gone. Even in the 50's Burke seemed healthy enough...though there were indications that mining, as an industry, had forever changed. I've seen some proof that "hope" was alive at the time. Why do I say this? Well...in doing a little digging, I ran across some post cards from the 50's. Take a look at them...

Look at all those bumpers...located right next to the train traveling right down the middle of the street! Take a good look at the sidewalk...and the buildings. If you remember one of my earlier postings...these might look vaguely familiar. I actually stood upon this very sidewalk! For those of you that appreciate history, you can well imagine how my mind was racing the very first time that I gazed upon this postcard.

This particular postcard appears to be a painting...still, it is a particularly informative picture! Think about the photos of the ruins that I posted in Part 5. Very little of what you see in this photo is still standing. Look at the size of this operation! It's no wonder that they employed hundreds upon hundreds of people! Absolutely amazing.

The photo shown below is uniquely interesting. My guess is that it was taken around 1919. In earlier postings, I commented that due to the narrow floor of the canyon, Burke had to build "up"...and multi-story buildings were a necessity (before a fire burned three-quarters of the town to the ground).

Since I mentioned that a fire burned Burke to the ground...here is what it looked like...after 1923's fire.

Certainly, economic conditions contributed to Burke's demise. That said, economy wasn't the only factor involved. Mining has long been recognized as one of the most dangerous professions known to man. Certainly, it's hazards aren't restricted to the activity itself. Indeed, the effects of mining...and it's inherent involvement of chemicals, volatile metals, gasses and the like...have an adverse effect upon the surrounding land. In fact, at one point, the very stream (Canyon Creek) that runs down the middle of Burke was so loaded with metals that when Idaho Fish and Game tried to populate it with fish, all of the fish died. The entire greater Kellog/Wallace area has been the site of a major clean-up for decades (though, you wouldn't know it by the looks of things).

I originally titled this series "Burke, Idaho; A Modern Ghost Town and a Lesson in Economics" for three reasons. The first two are rather obvious. The third one...the "Lesson in Economics" is a bit more involved. Burke and it's history...as a relatively modern example...teaches a lesson whose relevance is universal. Economies, be they for an individual, a family, a town, a city, a state or a country...must be sustainable. In order for a condition to be sustainable, resources must be preserved. When an entity utilizes it's resources to a point of diminishing returns...we have one of two outcomes; diversity...or death. We either adapt and overcome...or we become just another moment in history. The town of Burke did NOT diversify. To be accurate, it's landscape and climate surely limit what can be done to diversify an economy. For quite some time...logging provided just as much "lifeblood" to the Northern Idaho economy as mining. Currently, both industries exist as mere shadows of their former selves (especially logging).

Driving out of Burke, you pass an abandoned two-story brick building...and a few houses that look more like summer cabins than year-round residences. As I mentioned early on...there is one way into Burke...and that highway/main street/road...ends. The photo below was taken looking back towards Burke. Were I wealthy to the level of a Bill Gates, I'd have to revive Burke...at least to some level. Of course, given that Burke's existence spans multiple times in US History...I think that, architecturally, I'd remake the 50's-era Burke...the one that still had HOPE. And...in this modern era of telecommuting, perhaps I'd be able to create a diverse economy...that would sustain...indefinitely.

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Tags: Burke, Idaho, Northern, ghost, mining, modern, towns

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Comment by Ken Spielvogel on December 19, 2013 at 14:52

Very interesting Chris, thanks for sharing that great story.

Comment by Jan Carter on August 5, 2012 at 18:14


What an amazing story.  I too want to thank you for taking us along on your journey through Burke

Comment by stephen tungate on August 5, 2012 at 17:59

i want to thank you chris for doing such a good write up on your trip to burke id.and telling the history of the town this is very interesting to me.because one i like history two i lived in twin falls when i was about 14 for about two years and in that time a got to go to the mountains and see old ghost towns and old mining towns.and always wanted to go back to that beautiful place.thank you for taking me back it was great sir....

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