March 26, 2023

The Forgotten, Lost Town of Val Verde


The evening of September 24, 1904 was windy, and the smelter’s open building provided some relief from the heat of the furnace. Around 9pm, as part of their routine, workers wet-down the furnace and began to remove, or “undrape” the liquid slag. This time however, there was too much of the by-product and the slag poured out of the furnace too quickly for the men to control it. 

“It spread over the floor, in front of the smelter,” the Weekly Journal-Miner explained, “and the molten slag, coming in contact with the water, caused [an] explosion, sending the hot metal all through the building; setting it on fire in a number of places.” While there was an abundance of water on hand, it was impossible to check the progress of the blaze as the strong winds fanned the flames. 

Not only was the building doomed, but so was the five year-old town of Val Verde. 

It all started July 13, 1899, which was a happy day for the mining community of Yavapai County. The Val Verde Company announced that they would construct a smelter “on the line of the Prescott & Eastern road at the Aqua Fria Falls,” the Arizona Republican reported. “The site selected is a good one and the construction of a smelter…ought to prove a paying investment…[as it’s] the only large and modern custom smelting plant in the West.”

One of the costs of mining was the cost of transportation to the nearest smelter for processing. Now that this smelter was being constructed, Yavapai County’s lower grade ore would become profitable and a renaissance in mining was expected.

It was hoped that the construction of the new smelter would cost $100,000 and would take only months to complete. However, the final cost would be three times that amount (about $10.6 million today.) An additional $10.000 was paid to the railroad to construct a 1.5 mile spur which, according to the Oasis, met the P & E main line near the Bowers ranch.

The latest in smelting technology was purchased from the Colorado Iron Works of Denver and would be delivered as soon as the railroad spur was completed. Originally, a 100 ton per day furnace was going to be purchased. Instead, a furnace with twice that capacity was ordered.

Although construction was taking longer than hoped, by mid-September, the Val Verde camp had 40 men working on the grading and framing of timbers. Telephone lines were being installed and “foundation excavations were complete,” the Arizona Daily Orb reported. “A number of buildings are also rapidly taking shape at the townsite adjacent to the smelter.” 

The Weekly Journal-Miner noted that “ten large buildings on the townsite have been prepared and work commenced on five of them.”

On November 1st, the same paper proudly exclaimed that the smelter was “equaled by but few in the United States, and surpassed by none in the world…” 

Originally the townsite was known as Sybil and was plotted-out a quarter-mile north of the smelter in early October, 1899. Governor Powers visited the site around that time.

In mid-November, the paper reported that “the name of the town at the Val Verde smelter has been changed from Sybil to Hecia.” However, there was never a post office using either of these names.

Albert L Waters, metallurgist, inspected the smelter in November, 1899. He told the Arizona Star Belt: “At the smelter site there are laboratories, officers’ houses, a boarding house and bunk houses. I was advised that the company will not allow gambling…and will keep saloons from opening” on company property.

“The plant consists of a well-built and roomy building containing a Mitchell blast furnace of the very latest design,” he continued, including “a big No. 7 Connorsville blower, a 100-horse power Corliss engine, an automatic sampler, and other machinery. The entire plant is equipped with car tramways by which nearly all the transportation to the works will be done by gravity.”

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Unfortunately in Early November, “the laboratory and assay building and entire outfit for [the] same, including one of the most expensive balances made, was entirely consumed by fire… The total loss [was] about $2500,” the Journal-Miner reported.

At the end of 1899, a visiting Journal-Miner reporter was impressed: “No expense seems to have been spared to make it complete in every detail.” The tramways were “equipped with automatic dumping appliances for the cars and the ore and coke is loaded into them automatically and emptied in a similar manner. In addition to the tramway…an elevated road has been constructed for use by teams bringing in ore from adjacent mines. Over 300,000 feet of lumber was used in its construction. All the timbers are large and capable of sustaining great weight.”

“An elaborate and complete water system” was constructed to serve both the plant and the new town, and was “now rapidly being built,” the paper continued.  A mammoth 30,000 gallon tank was installed “on top of the hill where the town is located.”  A series of fire hoses was placed “at convenient places throughout the plant,” and pipes were laid out to provide water to every house in town. The assay and laboratory, which were destroyed by fire were rebuilt and refurbished. The scales were replaced with “the most expensive kind made” and could “almost register the weight of a pencil mark on paper.”

The Val Verde company also built an office, a fine two story boarding house, and a commodious two-story bunkhouse with a capacity of sixty. The company also plotted-out a large tract of land for town lots. However, the company was running out of money which was needed to purchase the ore and other ingredients necessary in the reduction process. The Standard Smelting and Refining Co. would eventually take over, but the smelter kept the old company name.

On January 1st, 1900, the first post office opened using the name Val Verde. JL Davis was appointed postmaster. Still, it would be two more years before the smelter would begin operating.

October 1901 saw the first baby born in the new town—named Val Verde Delaney. “The public is waiting with great anxiety for the next bulletin,” the Arizona Republican cracked, “which will probably tell whether it’s a boy or a girl.”

It took until January 1902 before the furnace finally blew in for the first time. “Everything was running in full blast and apparently very satisfactorily,” the Arizona Republican observed. The ore came in on the railroad which ran right along side the building. It was then shoveled into a powerful ore crusher set to smash it into two inch pieces before moving on in the complex reduction process. In September, a concentrator plant was constructed 300 feet south of the smelter and the electric light plant started up.

Business boomed for the smelter and in February, 1903, ores were being processed from outside Arizona. A few months later, the smelter had so much ore, “that a second furnace [was] put in…to meet the increasing ore receipts,” the Republican explained.

The Bradshaw Mountain Copper Mining and Smelting Company bought the smelter in January, 1904 for $175,000 (nearly $6 million today.) In February the smelter was closed down for some repairs and upgrades. When it restarted, it operated 24 hours a day.

The new company desired to increase its capacity to 1700 tons per day expecting to be able to furnish two-thirds of that amount from their own mine. A new tramway was run to the town of Middleton. 200-300 men were being employed in May ’04 and it was expected that the smelter operations would eventually require 600.

But disaster struck that fateful September night when the exploding slag started the conflagration. The extra heavy timbers used in its construction burned so hot that the interior machinery melted! The loss was $100,000 more than the $60,000 insurance. Many men were injured from the exploding slag, but incredibly, none seriously.

“The importance of the Val Verde smelter to the mining industry of this section was never fully appreciated until it burned down,” the Journal-Miner lamented. “Some of the properties which shipped their product there for treatment have been compelled to close their mills, while others have had to seek a new outlet and taking it all in all, it has proven a serious blow to mining in this section.”

Management already had a new furnace on order and it was hoped that operations would be running in as little as 90 days. Instead, it would be the end of February 1905 before a different company would be formed to erect “an entirely new and modern smelting works near the location of the former plant,” the Journal-Miner reported.

In 1905 the Arizona Smelting Company stepped in to build a smelter, but not in Val Verde. “The location of the new smelter has been staked out [and] plans prepared for the moving of all houses over the brow of the hill, closer to the railroad tracks,” the Journal-Miner explained, “and the building of new brick quarters for the officials; these to be located on the high point of ground south of the proposed smelter site.” 

The new smelter would spring-up a new town around it and it would be called Humboldt. In October, the same paper announced: “The Arizona Smelting Co. now has its main offices in Prescott, but will later have the headquarters at Humboldt which is situated near Val Verde.”

However, the new Humboldt smelter would not blow in until March 17, 1906, nearly a month after the town was officially recorded.

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Weekly Journal-Miner; 9/28/1904, Pg. 3, Col. 4.

Arizona Republican; 7/14/1899, Pg. 1, Col. 6.

Arizona Republican; 7/16/1899, Pg. 1, Col. 6.

Oasis (Arizona AZ); 7/15/1899, Pg. 9, Col. 1.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 11/1/1899, Pg. 2, Col. 5

Weekly Journal-Miner; 7/19/1899, Pg. 2, Col. 6.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 8/9/1899, Pg. 1, Col. 5.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 9/13/1899, Pg. 3, Col. 1.

Arizona Daily Orb; 9/16/1899, Pg. 3, Col. 2.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 9/27/1899, Pg. 4, Col. 1.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 11/1/1899, Pg. 2, Col. 5.

Arizona Silver Belt; 10/5/1899, Pg. 7, Col. 1.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 9/27/1899, Pg. 3, Col. 5.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 11/8/1899, Pg. 1, Col. 7.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 11/15/1899, Pg. 3, Col. 1.

Arizona Star Belt (Globe); 11/16/1899, Pg. 3, Col. 2.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 12/27/1899, Pg. 2, Col. 5.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 12/20/1899, Pg. 4, Col. 1.

Arizona Republican; 4/23/1900, Pg. 3, Col. 3.

Arizona Republican; 10/16/1901, Pg. 5, Col. 3.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 3/19/1902, Pg. 1, Col. 2.

Arizona Republican; 9/24/1902, Pg. 3, Col. 2-3.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 11/12/1902, Pg. 3, Col. 3.

Arizona Republican; 2/16/1903, Pg. 3, Col. 3.

Arizona Republican; 5/26/1903, Pg. 3, Col. 4.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 1/27/1904, Pg. 1, Col. 7.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 2/10/1904, Pg. 4, Col. 2.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 3/9/1904, Pg. 1, Col. 2.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 5/18/1904, Pg. 3, Col. 6-7.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 5/18/1904, Pg. 3, Col. 5.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 8/24/1904, Pg. 5, Col. 5.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 2/22/1905, Pg. 7, Col. 6.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 12/28/1904, Pg. 5, Col. 2.

Weekly Journal-Miner; 6/7/1905, Pg. 7, Col. 3.

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