How the National Register of Historic Places Saved Wallace, Idaho

This is the story of  Harry F. Magnuson and his leadership in the battle from 1970 to 1986 to save the Town of Wallace from destruction at the hands of State and Federal highway officials. Born in Wallace in 1923, Harry became a legendary business leader and philanthropist in the Northwest and beyond who never forgot his roots in his beloved hometown. The Federal Highway Administration and the Idaho Transportation Department planned to route Interstate 90 directly through the center of Wallace. Slated for the wrecking ball were blocks of historic buildings, including the iconic Northern Pacific Railroad Depot, that linked the Town to its storied past.  Harry Magnuson sued the FHA and ITD, alleging that they had failed to file an Environmental Impact Statement. A Federal judged concurred, entered an injunction, and halted the imminent bulldozers.  Harry [together with Nancy Lee Hansen] secured placement of the entire Town of Wallace on the National Register of Historic Places, creating insurmountable roadblocks in the agencies’ paths.  The stoplight at the corner of 7th and Bank Streets, the last on I-90 between Seattle and Boston, became a stirring national symbol of Wallace’s fight for survival.  As a result of Harry’s efforts, a compromise was struck, preserving Historic Wallace. A new overhead freeway was designed to bypass the Town. The Depot was moved across the South Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River to its new location on 6th Street.  The battle won, the Townspeople conducted a ceremonial funeral for the storied stoplight in 1991. Media from around the world reported the event. Charles Kuralt of CBS News wanted to know how a town of 1,000 people could stand up to the Federal government. The answer was “Harry.”  Historic Wallace is Harry Magnuson’s legacy to the Town he loved so deeply. Without his efforts, the elegant historic district you see today would be nothing more than four lanes of concrete. With this in mind, a grateful citizenry has dedicated the original routing of I-90 through Wallace as the  “Harry F. Magnuson Way.” 

2 thoughts on “How the National Register of Historic Places Saved Wallace, Idaho”

  1. Every time I hear about preserving historic buildings I think about the town of Wallace. If you haven’t been there, it is a great place to visit. If you do visit you will notice the suspended freeway above the town…now you why!

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