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The mining town of Kennecott is a major attraction within the Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park. It is so popular because many of the original buildings are still standing. Today’s visitors can walk along Kennecott’s main street; peer into the windows of the officer’s quarters, mechanical building, and school house; view the hospital; and take a tour of the much-photographed mill building. Several of these red and white buildings are even being restored by the National Park Service.
The town of Kennecott is located at an elevation of 2,200 feet along side the Kennecott Glacier. It was a mining town that supported the Kennecott “mine” which was actually a group of mines in that area. Together, these mines produced some of the highest grade copper in the world from 1911 until 1937. At its peak in 1920, 500 people lived in the town of Kennecott. Most of the building material and equipment for the town and mine structures, including a 400-ton mill, tramway, and power plant were brought in with pack horses and sleds from Valdez.
Kennecott was a company town, described by some who lived there as “staid and proper” when compared to the more “wild west” environment of McCarthy. The neat frame buildings housed company officials and their families. Movies were shown on Wednesdays and Sundays. Dances were held on Saturdays. There was a school with two teachers, a library, and a hospital.
The miners lived in bunkhouses on the mining sites or in McCarthy. One mine, the Jumbo, was located 4,000 feet above Kennecott and men had to take a 45-minute tram ride to get there, signing a waiver before leaving the ground. Jumbo’s 160 working men lived in two bunkhouses.
In 1911, the Copper River Northwest Railroad was completed. It ran from Cordova to Kennecott along the Copper River and became the primary transportation route for both ore and people coming and going from Kennecott.
Copper prices dropped drastically after World War I. These low prices and increased competition from mines in other parts of the world lead to the eventual closure of the mines in the Kennecott region. In 1938, the mines were closed permanently.