Kennicott Mine & Ghost Town Walking Tour

This abandoned copper mining camp is a National Historic Landmark District. Established in 1903, Kennecott Mining Corporation operated 5 mines in the area. Kennecott became a bustling mining camp filled with miners and their families. In 1925, a geologist predicted that the area would soon be mined out. By 1938, Kennecott was a ghost town. Today, Kennecott is a popular tourist attraction and the National Park Service is currently stabilizing and rehabilitating many of the mill and town buildings. Take a guided tour with St. Elias Alpine Guides, a local company that has been granted special permission to take travelers not only around the town, but also inside the buildings.

The iconic view in Kennicott is the giant red mill building from the old Kennecott Copper Company, which stands 14 stories above the Kennicott glacier (the different spellings are due to clerical mistakes on official paperwork a century ago). You need a guide to explore inside the actual building.

Historic Details: The Discovery of Copper

Copper became an extremely valuable mineral at the turn of the century due to the inventions of electricity, automobiles, and telephones. In the summer of 1900, prospectors Clarence Warren and Jack Smith were exploring Kennecott Glacier and came across the richest concentration of copper ore ever discovered. The samples they collected from Bonanza Peak’s magnificent green cliffs of exposed copper revealed up to 70% of pure chalcocite.

The Development of the Mines

J.P. Morgan and several other wealthy families collaborated to form the Alaska Syndicate and capitalize on this rich mineral source. They hired Michael J. Heney, who had previously built the White Pass & Yukon Railroad. It took Heney and his crews 4 years of tireless labor in temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero to build the rail bed and bridges through the regions rough terrain. Steven Birch, a mining engineer, was hired to develop the Kennecott mining claims. He used dog sleds to haul entire steamships, piece by piece, from Valdez. He reassembled them on the Copper River, and used them, as well as horses and dog sleds, to bring in equipment and begin mining before the railroad was even finished. The railroad was completed in 1911 and the Kennecott Mines quickly established itself as a model of state-of-the-art technology and progressive management.

The Active Kennecott Mines

The Kennecott Copper Corporation lured workers to this isolated Alaskan mining camp with higher salaries than any mine in the lower 48 offered. Mill workers and miners lived in bunkhouses, worked 7 days a week and sent money home to their families. Between their hard work and the ingenuity of the founders, Kennecott Copper Corporation produced at least $200 million worth of ore, making it one of the world’s largest mineral companies. Profits were used to expand the corporation by investing in mines in Chile and the lower-48.

From the Close of the Mines to Today

Despite all the initial success, the low price of copper during the Great Depression took it’s toll on the Kennecott Mines. By 1938, all known ore deposits had been depleted. The mines closed their doors, the railroad shut down, and Kennecott became a ghost town with only a handful of residents remaining. In the 1960’s the Kennecott Copper Corporation sold its land, structures, and surface mining rights to Consolidated Wrangell Mining Co. The Great Kennecott Land Company was formed in 1976 and the town and surrounding land was subdivided and put up for sale to private owners. A group of doctors and lawyers from Anchorage purchased the property (including Jim Harrower, an Anchorage dentist who ran a wilderness lodge deep in the Alaska Range on the Stony River--where Alaska.org founder Bob Kaufman spent his first winter in Alaska in 1988).

Brad Meiklejohn of the Conservation Fund helped the Park Service acquire the property in June, 1998. Today, this old mill town is a National Historic Landmark, and has become one of Alaska’s most popular destinations.

Getting There

Coordinates
Latitude: 61.485101
Longitude: -142.888607

Show Map

Walking Tour Points

Although most of Ken­necot­t’s food was import­ed, the Dairy Barn was used to keep small cows that pro­vid­ed milk for the town. There was also a small com­mu­ni­ty gar­den out­side where some fruits and veg­eta­bles were grown. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

Owned and oper­at­ed by the Nation­al Park Ser­vice, this hall often hosts speak­ers, movies, potlucks, yoga, music, wed­dings, and oth­er com­mu­ni­ty events. You’ll like­ly see fly­ers around town about these events, which are usu­al­ly held for no charge (though they may request dona­tions). If there is some­thing going on dur­ing your vis­it to town, don’t be shy; it’s worth your while to find out what’s hap­pen­ing. And check in at the NPS vis­i­tor cen­ter to see  ...more

The Ken­necott School House was used to teach first through eigth grade class­es, as well as to hold church ser­vices. High school stu­dents were sent to Cor­dovia or Seat­tle and board­ed with fam­i­ly or friends. The school’s recre­ation­al facil­i­ties were con­sid­ered very pro­gres­sive at the time. There was a hand­ball court and a base­ball dia­mond that was to flood­ed in the win­ter and turned into an ice skat­ing rink. Source: McCarthy Kennicott…  ...more

The orig­i­nal Staff Five-plex build­ing that was con­struct­ed in 1916 burn­down in 1983. As the name sug­gests, it was a five town­house com­plex used to house man­age­ment fam­i­lies and cou­ples. In 1987 it was rebuilt as Ken­necott Glac­i­er Lodge. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum

These cot­tages were used to house man­age­ment and a few long-term employ­ees who were allowed to bring their fam­i­lies with them to Ken­necott. The cot­tages on what is now called Silk Stock­ing Row were con­sid­ered very lux­u­ri­ous at the time because they fea­tured indoor plumb­ing. Almost all the cot­tages are now pri­vate­ly owned. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

West Bunkhouse was built in 1917, mak­ing it Ken­necot­t’s third bunkhouse. Wash­ing and lock­ers were locat­ed on the first floor, and sleep­ing quar­ters were on the upper lev­els. All the Ken­necott bunkhous­es had cook­ing, din­ing, and recre­ation­al facil­i­ties. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

Even though the Ken­necott Cor­po­ra­tion was built on the edge of a glac­i­er, they used the most advanced refrig­er­a­tion tech­nol­o­gy avail­able. Ammo­nia cool­ing and a mechan­i­cal­ly cooled meat lock­er were used to keep meat and oth­er per­ish­ables fresh for the min­ing town. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

Ken­necot­t’s com­pa­ny store car­ried every­thing res­i­dence would need, from dyna­mite to christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions and every­thing inbe­tween. The Ken­necott Post Office was locat­ed in a cor­ner of the store. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

Today, only ruins remain of Ken­necot­t’s sawmill and car­pen­try shop. This build­ing was con­struct­ed with local spruce in 1908, before the arrival of the rail­road. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

The Ken­necott Train Depot was the ter­mi­nus for the Cop­per Riv­er & North­west­ern Rail­road. Nat­ur­al dis­as­ters and haz­ards along the train route often pre­vent­ed the rail­road from run­ning. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

Orig­i­nal­ly, Nation­al Creek Bunkhouse was used as a bunkhouse as one would assume. Lat­er on, parts of the bunkhouse were used as a place to bot­tle dairy and as a tem­po­rary den­tist’s office. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

The Assay Office was built in 1910 and served as the labra­to­ry where ore from the mines was test­ed to deter­mine it’s puri­ty. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

The major­i­ty of the work­ers in the Ken­necott mines and mill were tem­po­rary. Most worked here for 6 months, 7 days a week. In the bunkhous­es, two to four men shared a room. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

The Ken­necott Hos­pi­tal was typ­i­cal­ly staffed by one doc­tor and three nurs­es. Peo­ple from all over the Cop­per Riv­er Val­ley, not just Ken­necott, were treat­ed here. This small hos­pi­tal was the home of Alaska’s first x‑ray machine. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

The log cab­in sec­tion of Gen­er­al Man­agers Office was the first per­ma­nent build­ing in Ken­necott. Addi­tions were added to pro­vide more space for the office, safe, pay­roll, and draft­ing. There use to be a staff house next door that was used to house female employ­ees and unmar­ried man­age­ment. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

Ken­necot­t’s Ammo­nia Leach­ing Plant was built in 1916 and was used to process the low­er grade cop­per from the mines. A chemist named E.T. Stan­nard invent­ed this advanced min­ing tech­nol­o­gy, and lat­er became CEO of the Ken­necott Cor­po­ra­tion. In 1923, a floata­tion plant was added to the build­ing where the fines”, ore less than 2 mm in diam­e­ter, were processed. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

Con­struc­tion of this 14-sto­ry state-of-the-art mill began in 1908 and took 10 years to com­plete. Tramways con­nect­ed the 5 Ken­necott mines to this mill, trans­port­ing up to 1,200 tons of ore every day. At the mill, the ore was processed using advanced tech­nol­o­gy to extract the cop­per. Most of the machi­nary is still intact today. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

Along with some oth­er build­ings, the Nation­al Park Ser­vice has fin­ished ren­o­vat­ing the Pow­er Plant, and has opened it up for pub­lic view­ing. It makes for an inter­est­ing tour. It was built in 1924 after a fire destroyed the orig­i­nal pow­er house. The plant once pro­duced enough steam-gen­er­at­ed elec­tric­i­ty to run the mines up in the moun­tains as well as the entire town, includ­ing heat­ing the build­ings and even melt­ing snow off the sidewalks.…  ...more

The Machine Shop at Ken­necott Mines was used to house large inven­to­ries of spare equip­ment so that any bro­ken machi­nary at the mines or mill could quick­ly be replaced. Equip­ment that need­ed to be repaired was then sent to the Machine Shop. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum 

The Elec­tri­cal Shop was used as a work­space for Ken­necot­t’s elec­tri­ans, and as stor­age space for spare elec­tri­cal parts. Source: McCarthy Ken­ni­cott His­tor­i­cal Museum