Ghost Towns & Abandoned Mines in Alaska, Arizona and Arkansas

Image by VeloBusDriver

The many ghost towns dotted about the United States are silent reminders of the country’s (often lawless) past.  Adventurers came from far and wide to seek their fortunes on the frontiers, building numerous communities around mines and railroads that declined as their raw materials were often rapidly depleted.

Alaska – Independence Mine and Kennecott Mining Camp

Images by VeloBusDriver

Let’s begin with the last frontier – Alaska.  From the moment lode (hard rock) gold was found in the Talkeetna Mountains in 1886, the “rush” was on!  Lode mining required elaborate tunnels and heavy equipment, and several mining companies merged to pool their resources.  The result was Independence Mine, with an operation comprising 27 structures across more than 1,350 acres.

Image by framboise

At its peak in 1941, the company operating Independence Mine employed 204 men, blasted almost 12 miles of tunnels, and produced 34,416 ounces of gold worth $1,204,560; today $17,208,000.  World War Two rendered gold mining nonessential, although Independence Mine continued to operate due to the presence of sheelite (a source of tungsten, which is a strategic metal).  But supplies were low and the mine closed in 1943.  I was granted a brief reprieve in 1946 when gold mining resumed, but Independence Mine never recovered and January 1951 saw the end of an epoch in Alaskan history.

Image by Sewtex

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The abandoned mining camp at Kennecott was once the centre of Alaska’s copper mining operations.  Stephen Birch, a newly qualified mining engineer, bought the prospectors’ interest in mine for $275,000.  Within 20 years the investment would yield the richest known concentration of copper in the world.  Battles raged between conservationists and those with a financial interest in the copper, including the Guggenheim family and J.P. Morgan, who formed the Kennecott Copper Corporation in 1903.

Images by the norse

Kennecott had five mines, four of them connected by tunnels.  At its peak in 1916, the copper ore yield was valued at $32.4 million.  High grade supplies were depleted by the 1930s, and the last train-load of copper ore left Kennecott on November 10, 1938.  The following day, it was a ghost town, and national historic monument.  For more ghost towns in Alaska, check out the abandoned stilt village of Ukivok, and this related article.

Arizona Ghost Towns – Fairbank, Sasco and Swansea

Images by Airstream Life

Fairbank was once an important town in the “Arizona Territory”, brought about by the railroad and tied in fate to the silver mines of legendary frontier town Tombstone.  The town was named after Chicago investor Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank who partially financed the railroad.  Fairbank founded the Grand Central Mining Company, which had an interest in Tombstone’s mines.  The town was formally founded on May 16, 1883, the day the local Post Office opened.

Top image by James E. and Barbara H. Sherman (public domain); bottom image by ThreadedThoughts

Fairbank’s railroad station and proximity to Tombstone ensured its vibrancy, with supplies brought in and silver ore shipped out.  At its peak Fairbank was home to around 100 residents, a steam quartz mill, general store, butcher shop, restaurant, Wells Fargo office, railroad depot, stage coach station, and of course, the ubiquitous saloon.  But when it rains in the desert, it pours!  Flooding closed Tombstone’s mines in 1886 and Fairbank’s fate was all but sealed.  The last significant event in the town’s history came in 1900 during an attempted train robbery, when a lawman mortally wounded robber “Three Fingered Jack” Dunlop, in true Wild West fashion.

Images by rscottjones

Sasco rose to prominence towards the end of the Old West, and is perhaps not how many would imagine a “Wild West” ghost town to be.  But this town, which once housed 600 people and is an acronym for Southern Arizona Smelter Company, boasts some interesting remains.  Most extensive are the old Rockland Hotel (above), smelter foundations and the old cemetery.  Sasco’s habitationw as short-lived, mainly between 1907 and 1919, when the post office closed.

Images by robsv

Swansea was a mining town settled around 1909, originally called Signal.  Due to a lack of smelting facilities at the time, most of the copper ore was shipped to Swansea in the United Kingdom.  At a time when the world was a smaller place, the journey must have been epic – railroad to the Colorado River, then by ship from the Gulf of California around Cape Horn to the UK.  A smelter was finally added, but the town took the name Swansea in honour of its history.  But decline set in fast, and Swansea was a ghost town by 1937.

Arkansas – Rush Ghost Town

Images by SnoopyKiss

Unlike the Wild West, Arkansas was a zinc and lead mining region, and Rush was settled for that purpose.  The town was settled from around 1880 to 1940, although the bottom dropped out the zinc market after World War One, and Rush’s population dwindled from almost 5,000 to 500.  Rush had shops, a hotel, a doctor’s office, and even a moving picture show.  Today, the abandoned ghost town is a symbol of the boom-bust cities in America.

If you enjoyed this article, don’t miss Ghost Town of Bodie: Spectres, Curses and “Arrested Decay”



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