Long preceding it’s reputation as a unique outpost of civilization, the Kennecott valley was known by native Ahtna to contain significant deposits of placer copper. Once the location of this wealth was realized by western interests, a flood of investment and energy followed, forever changing the landscape of this great wilderness. The Alaska Syndicate – whose main beneficiaries were the legendary JP Morgan and Guggenheim brothers – fueled a mining boom. So financially successful was this investment, it is quite possibly the reason theirs are household names the world over more than a century later.
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The historic mill site at Kennecott is that of an archetypal company town. The construction of multiple buildings including a 14-story processing plant, cow barn, managers house, workers’ bunkhouses and an infirmary were funded entirely by the Kennecott Copper Corporation. Extracting copper ore from nearby Bonanza Ridge was the sole incentive behind such a significant endeavor.
McCarthy, a town five miles to the south along the Kennecott Glacier, sprung up out of necessity to provide relief for the working men. Enterprising frontiersmen opened bars, brothels, a mercantile and whatever their determined spirits dreamed. McCarthy also centered on the turn station for the Copper River and Northwest Railroads built to deliver ore 200 miles south to the Pacific Ocean at the Port of Cordova. These routes crossed over the roughest landscape man had ever dared to engineer for rail; the entire operation demanded relentless hard work in unforgiving conditions, year-round.
Because of its role in Twentieth Century America’s modernization, word has spread and people now come from all over the world to see Kennecott – it’s infrastructure, surrounding wilds and colorful people – for themselves. A variety of small businesses provide basic amenities in this jumping-off point for big mountain adventure. Lodges, air taxis, guide services and the not-to-be-missed Golden Saloon make up today’s mostly seasonal communities of McCarthy and Kennecott.
“We want to go into the Territory [of Alaska],” said Daniel Guggenheim in a 1905 interview with the New York Times on behalf of the Guggenheim-Morgan Syndicate. “And build railroads and smelters and mining towns and bring men there and populate the country and do for it or what the earlier figures of American railroad building did for sections of the great West.” And sure enough, the building of a railroad up the Copper River, from tidewater to the rich copper mines in Kennecott, was an epic event that pitted gang against gang in pitched battles over rights of way. There were herculean struggles to overcome natural obstacles, including the building of a bridge where experts said none could be built. And yet, their efforts paid off. Kennecott Copper Corporation unearthed the largest copper deposit ever. It is estimated that between 1911 and 1938 $200 million in copper was produced.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get to McCarthy?
From Anchorage, visitors to McCarthy and Kennecott generally take a shuttle or rental vehicle to Chitina, where the paved road ends. From there, visitors can travel either by bush plane or by a scenic 60-mile dirt road. The McCarthy Road was once the route of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad, running mining supplies all the way to Kennecott, filling up with copper ore, and turning around in McCarthy at the McCarthy turntable. Now, it is an adventurous ride featuring scenic views of the Crystalline Hills, the Twaharpies, Mount Drum, and other beautiful views of the Wrangell Mountains.
Can I tour the Kennecott Mill building?
Most years, there are opportunities to take a guided tour of the inside of the 14-story Kennecott Mill building. This year, however, the National Park Service is closing the building for renovations after July 9, 2012. But don’t be dismayed! Visitors can still tour many of the other historic Kennecott buildings, which boast fascinating history and extraordinary engineering.
- World class flightseeing adventures
- Hiking trails, early 20th century structures, a museum and more
- Towering peaks, raging rivers, rolling tundra, tumbling glaciers
- Local nightlife and fine dining featuring haute-Alaskan cuisine
- Vast country, this park is bigger than Switzerland!
- UNESCO World Heritage site designation
Related Adventures & Training
Rent crampons, trekking poles or other adventure essentials and explore Alaska without a guide! | Read more →
Authentic outpost exploration highlighting the best of McCarthy, Kennecott and the wild mountain Kingdom beyond. Five day custom getaways from Sunday to Friday, ongoing availability May 15 – September 15. | Read more →