The old mining town of Kennicott Alaska is an extraordinary piece of history in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The site is five miles up a gravel road from the town of McCarthy. The impressive structures that remain at the mill site and mines represent an ambitious time of exploration and discovery in Alaska.
Kennicott's high grade copper ore, previously known and used by the region's Ahtna native population, was among the nation's richest deposits ever found in the twentieth century.
In the summer of 1900, prospectors Clarence Warner and "Tarantula Jack" Smith were exploring the east side of the Kennicott Glacier. As they drew closer to the limestone-greenstone contact, they could not miss the magnificent green cliffs of copper perches on the mountainside. Their discovery was staked as the "Bonanza mine outcrop". A young and ambitious mining engineer, Stephen Birch, later purchased this claim. Birch was financially backed by some of the most influential families of the time, including the Morgans and Guggenheims. Originally called the Alaska Syndicate, it became the Kennecott Copper Corporation in 1915. (The mining company was named after the Kennicott Glacier. It was misspelled as Kennecott, with an "e" instead of an "i".)
Along with the building of the mine and mill works, the corporation controlled the entire transportation route. It funded 196 miles of railroad from Kennicott to Cordova, and organized a steamship line that shipped the ore to the smelters in Tacoma, Washington. From the first shipment of high grade copper ore in 1911 to the final shipment in 1938, approximately $200 million worth of copper traveled the Copper River & Northwestern Railway to the port of Cordova. Today the McCarthy road follows the old rail bed of this railroad. At its peak, the Kennicott Copper Corporation employed about 600 people: approximately 300 in the mill camp, where the ore was processed, and 200-300 lived in the mines up the mountain. Kennicott was a self-contained company town in the truest sense of the word. It came complete with a hospital, general store, schoolhouse, baseball-field, skating rink, tennis court, recreation hall and dairy.
Access to the town is by shuttle van out of McCarthy. The more ambitious could also walk the old wagon trail which passes by the old Kennicott cemetery. Tours are given of the town of Kennicott including the old mill building. No trip to McCarthy or Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is complete without a tour of Kennicott.