One attraction of McCarthy/Kennicott is the abundance of old copper mining structures. In a large part, the minign operations of one-hundred years ago are why this place exists right now. Because of copper, a hundred or so people, including myself, have a real fun job for the summer. What follows is a simplified history of the Kennicott mine, summarized and paraphrased from the myalskan.com website; or to view pictures simply scroll down, following bold prompts.
Starting around the turn of last century copper was discovered in this area by an enterprising prospector. This turned out to be one of the largest copper deposits ever found. Within four years a major copper mining operation was under way, complete with a railroad and the fledgling mining town of Kennicott. The railway, the Copper River Northwestern Railway, was considered to be one of the great engineering marvels of its time, crossing ravines, wild rivers, and mountains on its way to Cordova, Alaska. During the Alaskan winters the world’s largest rotary snow plows were brought in to clear the tracks. Every spring massive trestles and bridges had to be rebuilt after being washed away by the spring flood. For almost forty years the mining operation flourished, collecting over $200 million worth of copper, a substantial amount of money for the time. During it’s peak Kennicott boasted a population of 800 people, a hospital with dental office, an elementary school, recreation hall, a silent movie theater, ballpark, skating rink, tennis court, and a dairy.
As a result of the Industrial Age and WW1 Kennicott was able to remain successful for almost four decades. However, by the end of the 1930’s, the copper market took a decline, and the mine was forced to shut down. The company informed the resident’s and employees of the company they had two hours to pack up and leave. In the hurry, many possessions and pieces of equipment were left behind. Dinnerware was left sitting on tabletops. Half finished paperwork lay on desks. The main 14 story mill building was abandon with copper ore half processed in it’s many machines. In November of 1938 the last train left Kennicott, leaving a ghost town in it’s wake. Because of the remoteness of the area, the mine remained virtually intact and preserved for all these years.
Today, many, if not most, of the 40 original buildings still stand. An independent touring company offers tours through the monolithic 14 story mill building. The Ammonia leaching plant, the first of its kind, also remains intact. As they tell a person on the tours, or in brochures, walking through Kennicott is like walking through the past. In the case of Kennicott, this may be a fair and accurate claim.
The following picture gallery is from a hike to the Bonanza mine, one of five outlying mining bases built high atop the mountains to extract copper ore for the mill down below. Hopefully the preceding crash course in Kennicott history lends some context and meaning to the images. The hike itself is seven miles roundtrip, with a vertical gain of over 4,000 ft. On the way there, a person simply hikes upwards. One the way back down, they try to catch themselves. While hiking up there a person can’t help but wonder how anything was built on such a perch, especially one hundred years ago.
To view pictures of the Bonanza Mine and hike please click the image below: