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Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark

National Parks Week: Day Five

Kennecott

Within Wrangell-St Elias National Park is the old mill town of Kennecott. In 1900, two prospectors, “Tarantula” Jack Smith and Clarence Warner, spotted a green patch in the hills, but thought it was an odd location for a meadow. It turned out to be malachite mixed with chalcocite (copper glance). It was the beginning of the Bonanza Claim.

Kennecott Mine in its heyday

A group called the Alaska Syndicate, which included Daniel Guggenhiem and J.P. Morgan, was formed. Kennecott had five mines: Bonanza, Jumbo, Mother Lode, Erie, and Glacier. Between 1909 and 1938 over 4.6 million tons of ore was processed, which produced 1.183 billion pounds of copper.

Gilahina Trestle Bridge, CR&NW RR; Camera: Rolleiflex

To haul the ore out of the remote location of Kennecott, operations needed a railroad. Michael Heney received the right of way up to the Copper River, and started to build the Copper Line in 1906. Meanwhile, Myron Rogers received a four year contract from Guggenheim to build the Northwestern Line, which he started in 1907. That same year, Heney sold the Copper Line to the Alaska Syndicate.

The Million Dollar Bridge

The Miles Glacier Bridge, more commonly known as the Million Dollar Bridge, was one of many obstacles that the Kennecott Corporation faced in building the railroad. The bridge, completed in 1910, came with a whopping $1.4 million dollar price tag. A small nugget when compared with the $100 million profits the mine provided investors.

The last spike, a copper spike, was driven on 29 March 1911, and the first load of copper ore soon traveled down the tracks. The Copper River and Northwestern Railroad, also known locally & affectionately, as the Can’t Run & Never Will, was in operation.

Looking up at the CR&NW

Today, the road to McCarthy and Kennecott is the old CR&NW railroad bed. For years, the drive out to Kennecott was an adventure in avoiding railroad spikes. Many a tire was punctured by an old leftover spike from the Copper River & Northwestern.

I have been out to Kennecott many times. Currently, the mine ruins are undergoing a stabilization. Some buildings, like the post office, are being restored, but for the most part, the National Park Service is just trying to keep them from complete collapse. The new roofs on the buildings are obviously a great start.


Kennecott Mine

Film Friday:

A visit to Kennecott Copper Mine

Camera: Kodak 66; Film: Kodak 120, Ektar 100


Revisiting Kennecott

At its peak, the five mines of Kennecott: Mother Lode, Glacier, Bonanza, Jumbo & Erie, produced $32.4 million in copper ore in 1916. Between 1909 and 1938, Kennecott produced 4.6 million tons of ore and 1.183 billion pounds of copper.

The Kennecott mine and mill town were named after the Kennicott Glacier, which lies in the valley below the mine, although with a slight misspelling. The change is blamed on a clerical error.

The Alaska Syndicate, headed by Daniel Guggenheim and J.P. Morgan, had bought 40% of the Bonanza Mine from the Alaska Copper and Coal Company in 1906. Eventually, the venture turned public, and the Kennecott Copper Corporation was launched in April of 1915.

At its peak, 300 people worked in the mill town, and up to 300 more in the mines. A self-contained company town, Kennecott contained a hospital, general store, school, skating rink, tennis court, recreation hall, and dairy.

The Great Depression had driven down the price of copper, and by 1938, the quality of ore coming out of the mine had dropped. The final train traveled from Kennecott down the CR&NW rail line in November of 1938.

Deserted for decades, Kennecott was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986, six years after Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve was established. Much of the old mill town was purchased by the National Park Service in 1998. Since then, NPS has been slowly stabilizing and rehabilitating several of the structures within Kennecott.


Walking the streets of Kennecott


Glacier through the alley


A view of Kennicott Glacier from an alley at the old mine

I found an old roll of black & white that I shot the last time I was out in the McCarthy area, hiking around the Kennecott Mines. I recently developed the film, so over the next few days I’ll share a few photos of that trip/hike.

Some of the photos are okay, some are just fair, but the old mine is fascinating, and I love heading out there. I do remember that the weather was absolutely wonderful, barely a cloud in the very bright sky, which isn’t always the best when shooting B&W.


Danger in Kennecott


A Flashback Friday Edition:

Kennecott Copper Mine
The Kennecott Copper Mine in the early 1900’s. Photo courtesy of Wrangell-St. Elias NP&P Archives