Revered as the best remaining example of early 20th Century copper mining, the Kennecott Copper Mines is now a national historic landmark after having been acquired by the National Park Service in 1998. Visitors today can visit the well-preserved ruins and get a glimpse into what was once a bustling and astoundingly prolific copper mine and the community that harvested it. In its heyday, it was the world’s largest of its kind.
Meandering along National Creek in the towering shadow of Mount Blackburn is a history buff’s delight. Though the conservation-minded might bristle at the sight of towering mounds of rejected earth, the site provides a raw, compelling insight into the world’s appetite for raw resources at the turn of the century. Throughout it all, what’s most inspiring and undeniable is the pure grit and perseverance of the men who overcame hordes of obstacles to harvest and transport copper to the continental United States and beyond.
In the early 1900s, prospectors Clarence Warner and Jack Smith fascinated by the green hues of the Kennicott Glacier and the towering stark green cliffs stuffed to the gills with copper. Soon thereafter, Michael J. Heney, builder of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad was recruited to build a railroad that could transport this unspeakably valuable resource. It took him four years, and the shipment of copper that embarked to market just ten days after its completion sold for $250,000. The community thrived for years; men, women, and children formed a tight-knit community complete with movie screenings, dances, pot luck dinners in this small area that was almost completely isolated from the outside world.
All too soon, in 1938, all known copper was depleted, marking the end of the Kennecott mining community and leaving the area to rot. The buildings are slowly being repaired and restored by the National Park Service, but heed locked doors and roped off decks—most structures are all but completely compromised and at risk of collapse.
Though it’s far off the beaten path and quite a hassle to get to, a visit to Kennecott Copper Mines National Historic Landmark is well worth the trip.