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Clarkdale — Arizona’s copper capital

Copper mining and processing provided the solid economic foundation for the mining town of Jerome, Ariz., and for the smelter Company Town of Clarkdale, Ariz., a short distance down the mountainside from Jerome.

Gorden - Clarksdale 2Copper was the primary and most economically productive metal to be mined in the entire state of Arizona during the decades from 1900 to 1960. Clarkdale was built by W. A. Clark as a community to provide housing and social life for the workers at the Clark-owned Daisy mine in Jerome and the smelter plant, Clarkdale. When the smeltering plant and mine closed in 1954, the town began a rapid loss of residents and many homes fell into decay.

When the homes and buildings were offered for sale in 1954, some residents bought their homes while the majority of the 3,500 registered residents simply left to find jobs in other locations. Remaining citizens incorporated the town in 1959 and the resurrection began. With the Phoenix Cement company as the largest employer, the town has now rebounded to become a unique, charming and prosperous community.

Clarkdale was declared a National Historic District in 1998. The designation included 4,600 acres, 361 buildings and 20 structures. Outstanding features of this revived town include, but are not limited to:

1. Copper art museum.
2. Verde Canyon Railroad.
3. Clarkdale Historical Society and Museum.
4. Yavapi Community College.
5. Tuzigoot National Monument.
6. Cement factory.
7. Restored company housing.

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Copper Art Museum

Although Arizona is called the Grand Canyon State, it was copper mining and processing that built the state in the 1960s before tourism began to flourish. Tremendously rich deposits of copper ores, supplemented by lesser amounts of gold and silver, have been harvested in locations as far apart as from Bisbee in the south to Jerome in the north. The Copper Art Museum (www.copperartmuseum.com) has been founded as a tribute to the positive aspects of what the copper-based economy has done to and for Arizona.

Drake, the personable founder and owner of the Copper Art Museum, selected Clarkdale has a site for Arizona’s newest art museum. The former Clarkdale high school, built in 1928, was purchased and extensively renovated while retaining the basic and primary features of the high school. Seven rooms and hallways on the first floor are filled with tastefully displayed copper art.

The staff of the copper art museum designs and builds the displays. The basic goal of the museum founder is to share the wonders of copper art and the multiple uses of copper in a creative and distinctly pleasing fashion. This is a unique and positively different kind of museum. Patrons are encouraged to touch and take photos of the displays.

Further, their questions are answered by Drake as he circulates through the museum to ascertain that visitors enjoy and understand the art. Much, but not all, of the copper art in the museum was made from copper that was mined in smelters in Arizona.

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Of particular interest to me are the displays of military or trench chart. During the breaks in action in World War I many soldiers effectively created art using copper casings from shelves lobbed at the enemy. Drake indicated that most of the intricate designs are made by using just a hammer and punch. Some really fascinating art work is displayed on hundreds of casings ranging is size from a few inches in length to more than 2 feet long.

The Cooking Room has cookware molds, coffee grinders and steam irons. Other visitors may be more interested in the Drinking Room with beer stein’s and tankards or in the Distillery and Winery Room and the copper-into-wine display. I very much enjoyed the ceiling and wall panels made from copper, especially for the museum displays.

New items are being purchased and added has they are discovered on the Internet. Drake indicated the word of mouth is the best form of advertising the Copper Art Museum. This mode has attracted visitors from throughout the United States, Canada and worldwide. With an entry fee of $10 per person ($8 for seniors), this art museum is a bargain in Clarkdale.

Another unique feature of the art museum is that there is nothing for sale in the museum. No artifacts, no art, no food– nothing is for sale. Drake wants the visitors to support the local shops and cafes. He directed us toward two restaurants a block from the museum where we enjoyed good food.

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Clarkdale Historical Society

Located in the center of town, the Clarkdale Historical Society (www.Clarkdaleheritage.org) is a volunteer organization dedicated to the presentation of the history of this company town. New and recycled displays and exhibits are explained by docents, many of whom were raised or have lived in Clarkdale for 30 to 50 years or more. The primary focus is on the Clark family and the historical enterprises of the town and immediate area. Books and informative pamphlets are available for purchase.

Tuzigoot National Monument

This national monument has been a project of Clarkdale and Cottonwood citizens since the early 1930s and before. In the 1930s, the ruins of the basic structure was reconstructed to show the many rooms located across the entire hill which provided a clear view of the surrounding fields. Any approaching enemy forces could be easily viewed from the hilltop. Further, the ruins were excavated and many typical artifacts, art and tools used daily were saved. Many of these materials are on display in the museum attached to the office.

Tuzigoot National Munument is administered by the National Park Service and supervised by the rangers at the Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well headquarters.

(Photo courtesy of Verde Canyon Railroad)
(Photo courtesy of Verde Canyon Railroad)

Verde Valley Railroad

The spectacular views from the comfortable, well-appointed railroad cars receive high ratings from railroad buffs who have enjoyed the 40-plus, four-hour trip from Clarkdale to Perkinsville, Ariz.

Food, drink and wildlife are available as are vivid descriptions of the river, canyons, tunnel and Red Rock scenery. The ticket office, gift shop and railroad artifacts are located in Clarkdale. Prices vary by the quality of the coach. Even the caboose can be reserved by interested groups. If you time your visit right, you can help celebrate National Train Day each May 9. www.verdecanyonrr.com.

A slow and careful sightseeing drive or walk around the town square, through the residential area and among the shops on the main streets will reveal that this company town was very well constructed and has stood the test of time. Clarkdale is an important link in the copper mining and smeltering history of Arizona.

About Dr. Bob Gorden

Dr. Bob Gorden is an RVer, hiker and writer. He has a PhD in microbial ecology from the University of Georgia in Athens. He is a retired research scientist from the University of Illinois Natural History Survey. He has owned and operated more than 55 RVs of various types, and has visited every state, except Hawaii, in his RV. He also traveled by RV in New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. He currently owns and travels in a 1978 GMC 26-foot Class A and 2013 Thor ACE 30.1 Class A motorhome. He has a compelling desire to be “On the Road Again!”

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