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Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark, Alaska


(Where Gumbo was #451)

Gumbo was visiting the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark in Alaska.  Congratulations to George G and Bob Cranwell, who recognized where we were.

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Our trip to Alaska included a two day side-trip to visit the Kennecott Historic site, which is near the hamlet of McCarthy.  The road to McCarthy is the only practical way into town (although you could catch a private charter bush-plane flight), and is an extremely rough gravel road -- hard to go much faster than around 20 mph because the potholes will bounce your head into the roof of your vehicle.  The road was mostly laid on the old railroad track and is infrequently maintained, so you've been forewarned.  But the drive there is interesting and the scenery is very pretty.

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The Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark adjoins majestic and remote Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, its 13.2 million acres making it America’s largest national park.

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A brief history of the Kennecott Mines:

Copper containing ore was discovered in the area around 1900, but it took a lot of money and effort to develop the mines and ore processing facility at Kennecott.  A 196-mile stretch of railroad was constructed from Cordova to the mine through rough mountainous region, requiring the building of 44 miles of bridges and trestles.  Seventy-six buildings were constructed in the mill town and mine camps, including the 14-story timber frame mill building that towers over the site. Kennecott was a self-contained company town that included a hospital, general store, school -- even a dairy.  It was a very impressive undertaking, and fortunately you can see the remains of the mill town when you visit today.  Ore from the mines was transported to the mill building along three aerial tramways stretching a total of six miles.

Copper was first shipped to market from the mill in 1911.  At its peak, Kennecott was a bustling town, employing 500 to 600 men. The operation closed in 1938 because of declining profits, increasing costs of railroad repairs, and better mining opportunities elsewhere.  By the time operations ceased the Kennecott mines had extracted almost 600,000 tons of copper valued at $200,000,000 in 1938 dollars.

The site was all but abandoned, but it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.  The Park Service acquired the property and has been preserving it since 1998.  Kennecott is considered the best remaining example of early 20th century copper mining.

Visiting the Historic Site:

From McCarthy, there is a for fee shuttle van you can take to the mine site, or you can walk the five or so miles there and back if you're energetic.

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When you arrive, take time to explore the layout of the place and enjoy the views of the mountains and glaciers.  Even the piles of trash are now historic...

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The mining and milling site includes many interesting buildings and exhibits.  These include:

1) Old Post Office:

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2) The General Store:

What walking into a store a century ago must have been like.

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3) The General Manager's Office:
The oldest building in Kennecott.  It's where the bosses worked, employees and bills were paid, and money for the company was generated.

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4) The Old Mill:
You need to take a special guided hard-hat tour to see the inside of the tall mill building.  Such tours have limited spots available and there are only a few tours each day, so make sure you buy your tickets when you arrive.  The tour starts at the top of the mill structure and you descend down stairs through the levels of the mill and exit at street level.  You'll get to see the remnants of the mechanisms used to move and grind the ore and extract copper.

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5)  Residential Cottages:
There weren't many women at the site.  The company made a point of hiring single men as much as it could.  But management often had their families living with them and the cottages give an example of what homes were like on the mill site.

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6) Power Plant:
An impressive structure that provided the electricity to run the mill and all the buildings at the site.   The generators powering the place are massive.

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There are other sites you can visit at Kennecott, as well as trails you can take to the old mines and nearby Root Glacier (which you can walk on if you want).  We didn't have the time to explore the mines -- which are several miles away and steeply uphill, but it's important to remember that the buildings you see are all at the processing site, and not where the ore was extracted from.

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37 KennecottAll in all, an excellent day visiting a most extraordinary site.


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Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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