MOVING FORWARD HISTORY: Depression of 1873-1874 and St. Maries

The previous depression of 1873 was bad, but the depression of 1873-1874 was much worse.

The district’s farmers and ranchers were particularly hard hit. Some thought the financial bad times were deliberately created by big corporations, or worse, President Grover Cleveland.

Many considered a socialist form of government to be the solution.

Those who hit rock bottom had to sell homes, lands, equipment, and possessions to make a minimal living. There were no jobs to ease the pain. Even with an unemployment rate of 10% (the Great Depression of 1929 peaked at 25%), hardened farmers in northern Idaho suffered terribly.

A plan was developed to build a road across the Coeur d’Alene/St. Joe Divide. It was hoped that the road would open up new markets and provide employment for those who needed a job.

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

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

The project soon turned into a disaster year after year. Heavy snowfall paralyzed the work for months. Costly overspending on materials etc meant few workers could be hired, defeating the main reason for the project. The work was stopped after many years and considered a total failure for the state of Idaho. No portion of the state highway has ever been used. Over the years, the Forest Service cut roads that eventually made the connection. Many saw the project as yet another example of why one should not turn to the state in a crisis.

Robust self-reliance was seen by many as the best way out.

The local Wallace newspaper, The Miner, noted in July 1914 that consideration was underway to complete the road, but nothing came of it.

There is no existing map showing where the road should go. The map included here shows a likely route as outlined by the red dots. Information on where the road may have been was taken from the book Pioneer Days on the Shadowy St. Joe, written by Orland A. Scott.


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