Mining DisasterFor a few months, Kentucky Camp was a literal goldmine. And then one of its co-owners fell to his death from a third-story window.
By Claire Rogers
Sonoita Camp Verde, Kentucky Camp, Camp Tontozona ... two of these three camps are well known in Arizona. The other is not.
Located 7 miles northwest of Sonoita in the Nogales Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest, Kentucky Camp offers an interesting glimpse at history and serves as a great base for exploring area ghost towns, bird-watching or hiking among the cool, rolling grasslands surrounding the Santa Rita Mountains.
Originally constructed for placer gold-mining, the spacious headquarters, humble cabin and other adobe structures of the camp are remnants of the Santa Rita Water & Mining Co., which was established in 1902.
Mining engineer James Stetson came up with the idea of piping water from 8 miles away to make the operation work. Partnering with investor George McAneny, Stetson built a network of canals and tunnels to rollercoaster water across drainages to the processing pits at Kentucky Camp. In the spring of 1904, he hit the mother lode, so to speak, thanks to heavy rainfall that filled the canals and reservoirs. By Christmas, "many thousands of dollars' worth of gold had been taken," said William Phipps Blake, a renowned geologist and Stetson's colleague. The operation was a success.
The following spring, however, things went downhill. Literally. On May 20, 1904, while in Tucson for a stockholders' meeting, Stetson fell to his death from the third-story window of his room at the Santa Rita Hotel. Meanwhile, McAneny was mired in a bitter divorce, which tied up his finances. As a result, the short-lived mining venture collapsed, and after McAneny died in 1909, the complex landed in the hands of Louis Hummel, McAneny's family attorney. Hummel eventually turned the camp into a cattle ranch, where the adobe buildings and water facilities served the operation well into the 1960s.
Since 1991, the Coronado National Forest, with help from Friends of Kentucky Camp, Passport in Time volunteers and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia of Hermosillo, Mexico, has been working to restore the site. And every October, Friends of Kentucky Camp hosts an annual open house, during which visitors can tour the buildings, walk the gulches, watch gold-panning demonstrations and learn about adobe brick-making. This year's event takes place on October 10.