October 28, 2018

The Lost Ghost Town of Zonia

Main Street in Zonia as seen in the 1960s
Place name books that cover Arizona show no listing for the small little ghost town of Zonia. Google maps can locate the Zonia mine, but not the town itself. Even off-roading clubs that are well familiar with Arizona's backroads and ghost towns show no listing.

Yet this old mining town did indeed exist and flourished from 1899-1922.

A desire to locate this mysterious place created an odyssey for one Tom Barkdull, author of "Lonesome Walls."

"All the little-known mining camps are elusive, but Zonia, a tiny ghost town in Central AZ hid from me for many months," he wrote. "The search began along an old road which twists its way from Kirkland Junction through the forgotten towns of Wagoner and Oro to Crown King, high in the Bradshaw Mountains." However, this jaunt revealed no sign of Zonia.

"Backtracking 7 miles, I turned onto a side road which forked to the south, and I followed it for 5 tortuous miles, only to find myself in Placerita," he lamented, but his luck would soon change.

From there he "went east on a faint trail off the Placenta Rd…and found a mineral location post. (He) removed an old paper (that) read: 'This lode claim lies 2 miles west of Zonia.'" Finally, a definitive sign of the old town's location!

“For a mile the canyon walls remained precipitous'" he described. "In places I could barely crowd the car between the solid rock walls. Then the ground widened to a broad, sandy wash… Directly ahead of me, a swift, clear stream scurried by… I turned left and followed the road perhaps 500 feet where it veered right and forded the water. On the opposite bank I stopped. The search had ended, as before me lay the remains of Zonia. I left the car and walked into a world of dead mines and buried dreams.”

There he found a dilapidated cabin, a store, an old office, and a boarding house.

“The area fringing Zonia was heavily mined at one time. Many partly caved-in tunnels and shafts…testify to this,” he noted.

The colorful history of the ghost town of Placerita, AZ and it's founder, Anson Wilbur "Old Grizzly" Callen. It's a story of gold, goats, and killings.

The first Anglo workings in the area were by Charles Genung in the late 1860s. He staked the Sutler and the Montgomery (later renamed the Quartz Mountain) mines. He also built the first residence there. Unfortunately, lack of water stopped production at the Montgomery and while Genung was away, Native Americans burned down his house.

Twenty years would pass before the area was mined again. In 1889 the Zonia Mine and related town were founded and a smelter plant was built near Kirkland Station. A post office was established February 9th, 1900, but discontinued the last day of that same year. The postmaster was John M McCaffrey and the town was named after his wife, Zonia.

However, the copper ore from Zonia was low grade and smelting it was not profitable, so a leaching plant was constructed at a cost of $100,000.

By 1902 the town was large enough to hold a few social functions. “A very successful and enjoyable dance was given at the Zonia Camp on Thursday night (May 30th, 1902) under the auspices of Jud Paxton,” the paper reported. 

A poem was read during Memorial Day services there that was publicized in the newspaper: “No more shall the war cry sever, Or the winding river be red, They banish our anger forever When they laurel the graves of our dead—The Blue and the Gray.”

Market prices for copper did not always support the cost of mining in Zonia and work was sporadic from 1907-1918. It was early 1919 when operations began to flourish. Large workforces were assembled and plans were made to construct “a new wagon road from the Zonia to connect with the main highway into Kirkland. Mine machinery (was) also en route, while miscellaneous equipment of a modern character also (was) ordered…”

However, market prices again fluctuated and production was curtailed. Ownership changed hands several times and after 1922, Zonia began to become "lost," never again being mentioned in the newspaper.

The story of the first heavy use road to run from Kirkland to Wickenburg before there was a White Spar Road (Hwy. 89). It was built by Charles Genung in 1871.

When discovering the town in the 1960s, Burkdull also discovered something unexpected: a former resident of Zonia identified as Charlie B. "He was a miner who lived in Zonia in 1900, but lived in Prescott now."

Charlie described Zonia as a “nice, friendly little place—about 150 souls. 'We used to have dances in the store there on Saturday nights.'” 

Still, Zonia was generally a quiet place. “On days off I used to hike over to Placerita,” Charlie said. “More goin’ on there.”

Tourist Tip:
For those desiring to find this lost town by the directions given here by Tom Barkdull, keep in mind that the "faint trial" he found has had an additional 50 years to grow-over!

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“Lonesome Walls” by Tom Barkdull. Exposition Press, Jericho, New York; 1971. ISBN: 0-682-47298-0. PP 29-33. (Courtesy Micheal Spencer private library)

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