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MOVING HISTORY FORWARD: Depression of 1893-1894 and St. Maries

by RICHARD SHELDON/Museum of North Idaho
| November 24, 2022 1:00 AM

The previous depression of 1873 was bad, but the Depression of 1893-1894 one was much worse.

The farmers and ranchers of the district were hit especially hard. Some thought the financial bad times were deliberately brought on by the large corporations, or worse yet, President Grover Cleveland.

Many thought that a socialistic form of government was the solution.

Those that hit rock bottom had to sell homes, lands, equipment and possessions in order to eke out a minimal existence. There were no jobs available to ease the pain. Even with a 10% unemployment rate (the Great Depression of 1929 hit a high of 25%), the hardscrabble farmers of North Idaho suffered terribly.

A plan was developed to build a road over the Coeur d’Alene/St. Joe Divide. It was hoped the road would open new markets and give employment to those needing a job.

The route of the proposed road was to start on the north side of the St. Joe River at Reed Gulch (“Reid“ in some accounts) and run up to the Divide. After crossing the Divide, the road would connect to the West Fork of Pine Creek and end in State Highway 10 effectively connecting to the Kingston to Kellogg markets.

This idea was presented to the Idaho State Legislature with a request for funding. The idea was backed by the Coeur d’Alene Mining District, St. Joe Valley ranchers and the people of Wallace. After a long debate the bill was passed, and the money allocated.

The project soon became a year after year disaster. Heavy snowfalls stopped the work for months. Costly overspending on materials, etc., meant few workers could be hired, thus negating the main reason for the project. The work was stopped after many years and was deemed a total failure for the State of Idaho. No part of the State Road was ever used. Over the years the Forest Service has cut roads that eventually made the connection. Many saw the project as another example of why you should not turn to the government for help in a crisis.

Rugged self-reliance was considered by many to be the best way out.

The local Wallace newspaper The Miner noted in July of 1914 that a consideration of finishing the road was afoot, but nothing ever came of the issue.

There is no existing map showing where the road was intended to run. The map included here shows a likely route as outlined by the red dots. The information of where the road may have been located was obtained from the book Pioneer Days on the Shadowy St. Joe written by Orland A. Scott.

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