Miners in Pinal County: The Growth and Death of Company Towns

Updated: Jan 16

Hayden is a small mining/smelter town located partly in Gila County and partly in Pinal County in southeast Arizona. Along with the neighboring town of Winkelman it is the community and worker base for ASARCO’s smelter, the last operating smelter in the U.S. Hayden has a complex history. Originally founded as a company town, it was shaped by patterns of immigration and ethnic discrimination over many generations. The community has endured discrimination, the volatility of strikes and union-management relations, and the ever-growing dreary and dramatic evidence of health and environmental damage.


Hayden’s development is inextricably connected to the broader history of mining in the region. The town was founded in 1909 as a wholly owned entity of the Ray Consolidated Copper Company, part of the Guggenheim corporate group which also held the controlling interest in ASARCO. It was based near the confluence of the Gila and San Pedro rivers to provide housing for primarily Mexican workers who migrated to the region to build the smelter. In 1912 the company completed construction of the Hayden smelter and began processing ore from the Ray underground copper mine 17 miles down the road. Ray Consolidated was purchased by Nevada Consolidated, and then by Kennecott Copper in 1933. Through this purchase Kennecott acquired ownership of the company town of Hayden. In 1958 Kennecott began operating a second smelter in Hayden, but it closed in the 1980’s.

Hayden, Arizona smelter, 1940's

In its earliest days the Ray copper mine was owned by Mineral Creek Mining Company. In 1910, the year after Hayden was founded, it was purchased by Hayden’s owner, Ray Consolidated. In 1933 ownership of the mine passed to Kennecott Copper. By then three segregated communities had grown up near the mine. Beginning in 1906, the town of Sonora housed Syrian and Mexican workers and their families. The town of Ray was built in 1909 to provide housing for Anglo and Irish workers. In 1911 a third town was founded by Spanish miners and named “Barcelona” after their city of origin. A former resident of Sonora remembers the racial barriers that separated their communities:


"Even the cemeteries were segregated. We couldn't even be together in death" (Frankie Olmos, former Sonora resident who later moved to Kearny).

Labor historian Philip Mellinger discussed the significance of the Ray mine to labor organizing in Arizona:


"Arizona’s first World War-era labor activism began with a series of incidents at Ray … Ray, Sonora and Barcelona became a hornet’s nest of social activism which would not subside until after the First World War" (quoted in Seefeldt 2005, p. 7).


By 1912 Sonora's population had grown to 5,000 people. Mining operations were influenced by the fluctuations in price and demand in the copper industry; closures of the mine, in turn, affected the ability of people to ive and work in the region. In the early 1930’s when the mine suspended operations, Kennecott agreed to send miners back to Mexico at company expense, and the population of Sonora diminished to 600. Then in 1937 the mine re-opened, and the population once again expanded.

Two 1950s developments transformed the lives of the residents of Sonora and Ray; Barcelona had already been abandoned. Kennecott began to rid itself of the company towns that surrounded its mining and smelting operations. The cost of operating a company town had become prohibitive; “it was a competing business that drained energy and resources from mining.” In 1954 Kennecott sold off its residential communities in the region: the entire town of Hayden, its downtown districts and homes of Ray and Sonora (but not the land beneath them) were sold to John W. Galbreath Development Corporation (Seefeldt, p. 7).


In the same period Kennecott’s underground mine was converted into a vast open-pit mine, and as it grew, the communities were wiped out. A news article published in 1959 reported,


"Gradually the pit expanded. The Old Man of the Mountain, the great stone face on the hill between Sonora and Ray, disappeared one day in a thunder of dynamite. Bulldozers and shovels crawled all over it,” (quoted in Seefeldt, p. 28).


The open pit enveloped the towns. In 1958 some residents of the former communities of Sonora, Ray and Barcelona relocated to Kearny, a planned community created by a real estate developer under contract to Kennecott. Others moved to surrounding communities, including Hayden.


The developer, Galbraith, was in the business of purchasing company towns and redeveloping them as municipal entities, selling off lots and homes to individual residents. His company incorporated Hayden as an independent municipality in 1958. Galbreath also built the town of Kearny to provide housing for the displaced residents of Ray and Sonora; it was incorporated as an independent municipality in 1959.

Sonora and the Expanding Open-Pit Mine

In 1962 Kennecott sent eviction notices to the remaining 2700 residents of Ray and Sonora, with a warning to be out by December 1965. Parts of Kearny were still under construction, with 216 homes available. This was not enough to house the dislocated population, and some Sonoran families complained that they could not afford to buy one of the newly built Kearny homes (Seefeldt, pp. 29-30). In 1963 the Ray business district was destroyed. By 1965 an estimated 2,712 people had moved to Kearny, Hayden, and other mining communities in the region. In 1982 Kennecott closed its Hayden smelter, and in 1986 ASARCO purchased Kennecott’s Ray mine, consolidating its control over the region.

Although the towns of Ray, Barcelona and Sonora have been engulfed by the vast open-pit Ray mine, memories of tight-knit community life persist. A former resident remembers what it was like to grow up in Sonora:


"When I was a kid, you could be on the other side of town doing something wrong and any older woman could scold you and you had to mind them. Everybody was your mother. You respected all the people there. When anybody was in some kind of trouble, all the people would pick up as much funds as necessary and help them (Susan Wootton, Copper Basin News, Sept. 1988).


Sonora's School

Shaped by the serious and sometimes unforgiving demands of hard labor, industrial combat and deep patterns of race/class division, the Hayden-Ray area was, and continues to be, central to the production of copper in Arizona. Hayden, Winkleman and Kearny have maintained close community ties and pride in their labor/union traditions even while enduring dislocation and changes brought on by shifting patterns of ownership and corporate functioning.


Wedding Procession in Sonora

Thanks to Frankie Olmos for permission to use photographs of Sonora.


Next: In Search of Hayden's Past


Sources:


Lopez, Leonor. Forever Sonora, Ray, Barcelona: A Labor of Love. n.d.


Seefeldt, Douglas. “Creating Kearny: Forging a Historical Identity for a Central Arizona Mining Community,” Faculty Publications, Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2005, http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1025&context=historyfacpub


Teer, Johanna Seeley, “Hayden Takes Steps to Have Its Own Identity,” Copper Basin News, 1988 series.


Wootton, Susan. “Sonora Querida! Beloved Sonora,” Copper Basin News, 1988.


Sonora Photographs from the collection of Frankie and Chuy Olmos, Kearny, Arizona.