Jack Smith and Clarence Warner were two prospectors who in 1900 were prospecting north east of Valdez in Alaska when they stumbled upon green patch on a hillside. At first from a distance they thought it was grass for their horses but getting closer they realized it was something more. That something more turned out to be a mountain of copper ore. It would be about two decades later that the world would find out that this was the richest deposit of copper on the face of the earth.
It wasn't long before they teamed up with a few others and formed a small mining company called the Chitina Mining Exploration Co. samples of this ore were assayed and found to contain as much as 70% copper. There was also silver and gold in this ore. By the fall of that same year, a group of invesotrs had bought out the two prospectors and their friends for around $300,000. Developement of this mine startedright away. Copper ore was hauled out of the mine site by mule train as there was no other means of transportation at the time.
In 1903 the Kennecott Copper Corp. was formed. Kennecott had five mines: Bonanza, Jumbo, Mother Lode, Erie and Glacier. The Mother Lode mine was located on the east side of the ridge from Kennecott. The Bonanza, Jumbo, Mother Lode and Erie mines were connected by tunnels. On April 8, 1911, the first ore train hauled $250,000 of 70% copper ore. In 1916, the peak year for production, the mines produced copper ore valued at $32.4 million.
The highest grades of ore were largely depleted by the early 1930s. The Glacier Mine closed in 1929. The Mother Lode was next, closing at the end of July 1938. The final three, Erie, Jumbo and Bonanza, closed that September. The last train left Kennecott on November 10, 1938, leaving it a ghost town. After 27 years of mining, the Kennecott mines produced 4.5 million tons of ore averaging 13 per cent copper valued at roughly $207,000,000 with an estimated profit of $100,000,000.
In the 1980s, Kennecott became a popular tourist destination. The town of Kennecott was never repopulated. The area was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986 and the National Park Service acquired much of the land within the Kennecott Mill area in 1998. The National Park Service is now in charge of this once bustling town and mine. Not far away is the old almost abandon town of McCarthy. There are still people who live there in McCarthy with extremely limited services.