Murray, Idaho, in the Historic Silver Valley
By Diana G
I have been wanting to do a few of my blogs on historic towns, but have neglected to do so until this month. Since moving back to Idaho, I have become increasingly aware of the rich history of the area I always considered home. Since my husband and I travel around northern Idaho and eastern Washington doing craft fairs, gun shows, and the occasional flea market here and there, this is the perfect opportunity to take a closer look at some of the tiny towns that dot our neck of the woods. For the Fourth of July this year, we were in the tiny town of Murray, Idaho. Murray has a population of between 25 to 50 people depending on who you talk to, but people come “home” from Arizona or drive in from Montana and Washington for the towns annual events.
Murray itself is a sleepy little near-ghost town in the northern panhandle of Idaho. Located in the historic Silver Valley east of Coeur d’Alene, it has seen its share of colorful characters come and go. From 1886 to 1887 it was actually the county seat for Shoshone County, Idaho. At one point in its heyday, the tiny town boasted 44 bars along its main street. Below is a picture of Murray Circa 1900 — one site has the photo dated to 1888. Below it is another photo that was colorized and made into a penny postcard. As with everything else, we will probably never know the exact date the picture was taken. There is still a plethora of information available online about the town, but you do need to be a little cautious about what you read, as I have found some of it to be very outdated now.
In 1882 or 1883, A. J. Prichard discovered gold on Prichard Creek and the rush for gold in Idaho was on. According to some accounts, more 10,000 people made their way into the northern panhandle of Idaho hoping to strike it rich, and the central point for these little towns was Murray.
In 1884, Adam Aulbach decided to start up a newspaper. As with everything else, there are differing accounts on how this came about. In one story it says he established a newspaper in Belknap, Montana, a Northern Pacific Railway station along the Clark Fork River. Since most of his stories centered around the mining boom in the Coeur d’Alene area of Idaho, he decided to move the paper, and during the summer of 1884 he tore down the presses and hauled the whole outfit into Murray on the backs of 45 mules. The town, located on Prichard Creek about 12 miles north of Wallace, was then only a few months old. He published the first issue of the Idaho Sun on July 8, 1864 (1884). I am thinking the year of 1864 was a typo since he didn’t even move his paper to Murray until 1884. The following year he changed the name to the Coeur d’Alene Sun. The other story says he moved the newspaper on the backs of 45 mules from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and The Idaho Sun was born.
Mr. Aulbach began the newspaper in what is now called The 1884 Murray House — a current picture is below. This historic old beauty is one of the few remaining original buildings from that time period and is now a bed and breakfast, but it was originally only single story. As is normal with most old buildings, it has had several incarnations over the years, originally serving as the town bank. Mr. Warren Hussey owned the bank and he rented one side of the building out to Mr. Aulbach for his newspaper. Hussey later sold the building to Aulbach and moved his bank into Eagle City. The current owners have worked diligently to find out all the information they can on this pivotal little town. As is obvious, Murray means a lot to the people who currently live here and has gained almost a cult following with weekend history buffs and tourists trying their hand at panning for gold.
The Masonic Hall is another one of the great old buildings in Murray. Dating from 1884, it has the distinction of being the oldest running Masonic Hall in Idaho and is still active to this day. In 1886, Adam Aulbach donated the building to the Masons Association, who maintains ownership of the building to this day. In the picture below of the original charter for the lodge, you will see that the word “State” has been crossed out and the word “Territory” has been written in above it. That is because when the Masons started this particular lodge, Idaho was not yet a state. It was still considered a territory. The Lodge itself was chartered on September 16, 1886. The other picture shows three banners belonging to the Masons that are also original to the lodges startup in 1886, as is the wallpaper, carpet, and other furnishings. The Copyright on these three pieces is 1882.
Another of the more interesting buildings in Murray is the courthouse, which also doubled as a bar. Back in the day, the guys would sit at the bar and wait to see what their sentence might be. If they were sentenced to jail, they would be locked up right then and there. The old brick jail is still there. It is said that Wyatt Earp stayed there frequently as one of her tenants. He owned a bar in Eagle City about 3 miles away, but was better known at the time for his escapades in claim jumping. The building itself is not totally original anymore, though. It seems age got to the old girl at one point and it fell down. Local citizens pulled together and lifted her back up, but due to the fall, part of the original structure was lost. The pictures below show the original building in 1978 when it was still being used as a bar and café, and then before its collapse in 1986, and now as it has been lovingly reconstructed. There is still a lot of work to do to bring her back to her past beauty, but with enough love and attention it will be done.
As is common with many small towns, I have discovered way more than one can put into a single blog post. I will continue the saga in my next post, including the story of the lady who made the town famous, Miss Maggie Hall, aka Molly B’Damn!
I have added one last picture of Murray’s Main Street, taken by me on July 13, 2017. For those who like to delve into the lesser known bits of history of this great country, there are a trove of books about Murray and the Silver Valley of Idaho, and Miss Molly, out there.
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