January 30, 2016

That Smokestack in Mayer Is an Antique

Cynics say it's a memorial to a boondoggle. Locals say it's a memorial to Mayer's mining history. In an unwitting way, it's also a memorial to the end of World War I.

Whatever one wants to call it, the old smokestack becomes an official "antique" in 2017, celebrating its 100th anniversary then.

For commuters it marks that one is 17 miles away from Prescott Valley. To tourists it's an oddity. But the 129.5 foot-high tower which sits as a silent sentry over the town of Mayer, has an interesting history.

It was meant to carry smoke into the sky from the smelting of precious metals mined around Mayer. It was never used for that. In fact, it was never even finished!

It was used to separate metals, but just for several months.

It's only other use ended in 1985, and that involved local teen-agers building annual bonfires in it to celebrate homecoming. (*1)

Henrietta Crosman
It all started with the finding of the Henrietta Mine by the Walker Party, 8 miles west of Mayer. This gold mine was eventually named after Henrietta Crosman, an attractive actress at the time. (*2)

Three miles NW of Mayer was a copper mine called the Buttercup. Its production was considered "spotty." (*2)

In 1916, the Big Ledge Mining Company bought both area mines as well as the Great Western Smelters Corporation plant. (*3)

“However, finances were tricky then...and (as prices for metals dipped,) Great Western found itself in the position of either enlarging its plant to handle more ore at a cheaper rate, or closing its doors.

"Additional stock was sold and…financed the construction of the stack and several buildings.” (*4)

“A railroad spur…of the Prescott and Eastern Railway ended at buildings near the stack." (*5) Foundations of those buildings can still be found.

The birth of Watson Lake brought a region-wide celebration. It was originally intended to irrigate grain crops!

Back east, speculation on the stock of the company soared so much that there was enough capital to buy 3 producing mines. When the stock price hit $6 a share, Many in the know sold their stock short and the minority stock holders were left holding the bag. (*2)

With the World War winding down, demand for these metals was decreasing, causing downward pressure on the prices.

“In fact, the birth of the structure itself was a surprise to some. Construction began in 1917 after the Mayer ore began to pinch out. And when promoters sought to end construction of the stack, the Weber Chimney Company of Kansas City (refused to cancel it, saying) 'a contract was a contract and a deal is a deal.' They continued (construction.)” (*6)

One must offer props to the chimney company for the quality of their work; it having lasted this long. They guaranteed that it would withstand 100 mile-per-hour winds and 1300 degree heat. (*6)

IN CASE YOU WERE CURIOUS:
An inside view of the smokestack
"Men worked for 36 cents an hour on the structure, pouring reinforced concrete in five-foot sections. The walls were made to taper in thickness with the inside diameter 16 feet at the foot and ten feet at the top.” (*6)

But, “the end of World War I and its effect on demand and prices curtailed the life of the…mine.” It finally shut down in 1918, never to reopen. (*5)

COLORFUL STORIES:
The afore mentioned homecoming bonfires were no small thing. “They put up a chainlink fence at (the smokestack’s) opening to prevent anyone from being pulled in from the draft of the heat of the fire burning.” (*2) Originally, old tires were used as fuel. Later, they switched to wood to avoid the acrid pollution of the burning rubber.

The last homecoming bonfire occurred in 1985, and actually happened twice. Before the wood was set inside the stack, someone set it ablaze the night before, causing several residents to erroneously believe that the school caught fire. (*1)

Knowing that this would be the last Mayer Homecoming, (Mayer students began attending Spring Valley the following year,) another large pile of wood was collected quickly.

“Seniors were excused early and those with pick-ups collected fuel from various backyards. Old sheds were dismantled and donated. Fire hazards were cleared from lots and restocked in the ravine while the early morning ashes still smoldered.” (*1)

“Their unified efforts created a stack of wood higher than the original one, which burned hot enough to cause fire-watchers standing on the football field, many feet away, to feel the heat.” (*1)

At some point in the mid ’70’s, there was talk about “transforming the stack into a space needle restaurant designed to resemble the one in Seattle, Washington…However, the structure’s 10 to 12 inch thick walls (were) cracked from the tire burnings because fire brick was (never) installed.” (*7)

The story of an early Mayer, AZ industry that manufactured toothpicks from cactus needles and what happened to the popular product.



Early in the stack's history, a bride on her wedding day placed a bet with several miners that she could climb the stack. Little did the miners know that she was raised in the Swiss Alps and had absolutely no fear of heights. Not only did she climb the stack, but she walked around the top of the rim! (*7) The shock of the miners could have only been exceeded by the scenic view the new bride beheld.

THE SMOKESTACK'S FUTURE:

The smokestack is as iconic to Mayer as Thumb Butte is to Prescott. It has been used by local businesses in advertising. (*3) Call me a dreamer, but it would be terrific if the town embraced and developed it. Access to it from Route 69 should be made with a parking lot available. Call it a historic park or a scenic view; it would be both. Informational plaques could be erected explaining the historic curiosity of the smokestack.



For More Information, See:
The founding and early history of Mayer, Arizona is inseparable from the biography of the man who founded the town--Joseph Mayer.




Tourist Tip:

Mayer, AZ is on Facebook!
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SOURCES:
(*1) Prescott Vally Tribune 10/10/1985 (Mayer Tribune insert p1 c1)
(*2) The Daily Courier 10/20/1996 p 6A c 1
(*3) Prescott Courier 3/7/1975 (Westward insert p 3 & 4)
(*4) Prescott Evening Courier 3/9/1965 p 7 c 1
(*5) Prescott Valley Tribune 5/8/1985 p 2 c 3
(*6) Prescott Courier 3/22/1971 p 2 c 2
(*7) IBID. 6/18/1990 p 8A

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