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.
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).
Bob's friend Brad Meiklejohn of the Conservation Fund was one of many who 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.