One renowned but short-lived smelter town in Arizona was Sasco, an acronym for the Southern Arizona Smelting Co. that operated the nearby smelter in 1908.
Located along the route of the Arizona Southern Railroad between the town of Red Rock (seven miles east) and the Silverbell Mountains (five miles west), the Sasco smelter processed low-grade copper ore mined from the Silverbell Mountains. The area is just northwest of Marana.
The Imperial Copper Co. owned 61 claims in the Silverbell area by March 1904. The company was formed in 1903, a product of several business ventures under the umbrella of the Development Company of America (DCA). The DCA, initiated by mining and railroad entrepreneur Frank M. Murphy, was known for developing the Congress Mine in Central Arizona.
The Arizona Southern Railroad connected the Silverbell mines to the Southern Pacific railroad at Red Rock. A smelter site was selected in 1906 by the newly formed Southern Arizona Smelting Co., and construction began on the smelter the next year.
The Sasco smelter operated 24 hours a day, smelting ore using two 350-ton blast furnaces (large steel ovens). Large amounts of coke acted as charcoal for fuel, providing the necessary temperature in excess of 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit to melt the ore.
By the fall of 1909, 245,540 tons of copper ore had been processed by the smelter, with the excess gases vented through a prominent 175-foot-high smokestack.
By 1910, Sasco had a population of more than 600 and included hotels, saloons and restaurants. The basalt rock remnants of the Rockland Hotel, operated by Heimbach and Decker, are evident today.
Sasco was noted for some lawless activity, including the robbing of a $10,000 company payroll by Wells Fargo agent J.G. Eades and the shooting of Deputy Sheriff S.O. Thompson as the law officer attempted to disarm town miscreant Frank Hill. An altercation between Charley Coleman and saloon owner "Mr. Wilson" also left the former dead by the bullet fired from a .30/30 rifle.
The June 1909 flooding of the mines in Tombstone ultimately led to the demise of the Sasco smelter and the town. The DCA'S investment included both the silver mines at Tombstone and the Sasco smelter, and the debts the company incurred forced the Sasco smelter's closure.
The smelter and the town were briefly revived after they were acquired by the American Smelting and Refining Co. (ASARCO) in 1917. However, with the end of World War I and the declining price of copper, along with the closure of the Silverbell mines, the smelter shut down for the last time, and the Arizona Southern Railroad stopped operating along the route.
An influenza outbreak in 1919 further reduced the number of inhabitants at Sasco. During the 1930s, the train tracks and smelter buildings were dismantled and removed.
The remains of the Sasco smelter can still be seen to this day. It's a hot spot for paintball aficionados and off-road-vehicle drivers, and the concrete base of the smelter stack and the catacombs of the smelting furnace complex draw local interest to a smelter town of an era long since passed.
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"Mining Tales" writer William Ascarza is working on a book about the history of mining in Arizona, and he's looking for historical and modern-day photographs depicting mining operations, towns and camps to include in the book. If you'd like your photos included, email him at email@example.com
William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Sources: "High Hopes and Hard Rock" by Erik Berg, Journal of Arizona History, spring 1996; "Ghost Towns of Arizona" by James E. and Barbara H. Sherman, 1969; "The Geology and Ore-Deposits of the Silverbell Mining-District, Arizona," American Institute of Mining Engineers Bulletin, 1912.