Kennecott, Alaska

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May 3, 2016
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KennecottAlaskaThis town was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986 and is an abandoned mining camp that had a number of copper mines operating here. It is located in what is now Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve an area that is administered by the National Park Service. Discovery of copper in this area is what led to the establishment of Kennecott town.

Two prospectors, “Tarantula” Clarence L. Warner and Jack Smith who were part of a group of prospectors associated with the McClellan party, found a green patch in an improbable location for a grass-green meadow in the summer of 1900. It was then discovered that this was malachite or “copper glance” and this was the location of the Bonanza claim.

Later on, an independent U.S. Geological Survey geologist named Arthur Coe Spencer found chalcocite within the same location and what followed thereafter was the organization of a company by the McClellan’s men, which saw the immediate development of mines in the area. That is how the town came into existence and had a total of five mines namely Glacier, Bonanza, Erie, Mother Lode and Jumbo.

Glacier was an open-pit mine that operated during summer only and was an extension of the Bonanza. These mines were situated on various locations within the town of Kennecott. The Mother Lode was on the east side of Bonanza Ridge from the town, Erie was on the Northwest end of the ridge overlooking Root Glacier while Bonanza and Jumbo were located on Bonanza Ridge.

A tunnel connected four of these mines namely Erie, Jumbo, Mother Lode and Bonanza. From the mines, ore was delivered to Kennecott town through trams that head-ended at Bonanza and Jumbo. Once it had reached the town, steel flat cars were used to transport it in sacks to Cordova on Copper River and Northwestern Railway (CRNW).

Kennecott mines were closed down temporarily in 1932 but even with this, between 1909 and 1938, Bonanza, Mother Lode and Jumbo ore bodies produced more than 4.6 million tons of ore with 1.183 billion pounds of copper. During this period, gross revenues had hit over $200 million and a net profit of more than $100 million.

At some point, Bonanza had the richest concentration of gold in the world and this was confirmed after a study that had been done then. After a period of robust activity in the town of Kennecott within the mines, production dipped and by 1952 the town had been deserted. Attempts to transport ore in planes in the 1960s failed due to cost implications of the same and around the same time, some structures in this town were brought down after an order was issued to destroy it.

The task did not reach completion and most of the establishments were left intact and continue to serve as tourist attractions in this day and age. Another attraction is a tour to the old mines and original mills in this ghost town, something that most visitors appreciate whenever they visit the place. Kennecott is a town that goes down in history as one built around an environment rich in minerals that saw operations here running over a considerable period of time.

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