Clarkdale stands out among Arizona mining towns because it was a planned community owned by the United Verde Copper Co. It's named for mining baron William Andrews Clark, who bought United Verde not long after he arrived in Jerome in 1888.
Clark (1839-1925) moved the smelter from Jerome to a site where Bitter Creek flows into the Verde River and built the town named for him nearby. A huge slag pile towers over the river now.
The company town included a business block, built in 1914, that's largely intact on Main Street in Upper Clarkdale. Lower Clarkdale and Patio Town near the Verde River had homes for workers while Upper Clarkdale housed United Verde's white-collar officials.
United Verde built the Verde Valley Country Club in the early 1920s with a 9-hole golf course on Peck's Lake. The course closed in October 1991 but the dilapidated clubhouse remains.
The mines and smelter closed in 1953 and a New York real estate company bought the smelter and much of the town for $2.5 million. Clarkdale was incorporated in 1957. But it took the town several decades to recover from the shutdown of the mines and smelter.
A cement plant, built for construction of the Glen Canyon Dam, brought jobs and dust to Clarkdale.
The Yavapai-Apache Nation has a small community adjacent to Clarkdale.
Nearby Tuzigoot National Monument attracts close to 100,00 annual visitors to the Sinagua ruins above the Verde River.
In recent years, Clarkdale has taken advantage of its spot on the Verde River with a boat launch for kayakers near an old power plant. The town has also tapped into the Verde Valley's growing wine scene with tasting rooms and a viticulture program at the Yavapai College Verde Campus.
Clarkdale now has the Park Hotel that opened in May 2020 with seven second-floor rooms overlooking the Town Park. The beautifully restored 1915 building includes the Smelter Town Brewery, which opened in the late summer of 2020.
Clarkdale Lodge, built in 1912 as lodging for mine and smelter workers, has been serving overnight guests for the past few years north of the park.
'The Last Train to Clarkdale'
In 1990, Clarkdale tourism got a big lift from the Verde Canyon Railroad, a scenic 40-mile trip that makes daily runs from Clarkdale along the Verde River to Perkinsville and back. The four-hour run attracts about 90,000 passengers annually.
As a footnote, there's an unverified story about "The Last Train to Clarksville," a 1966 hit song by the Monkees. Songwriter Bobby Hart said he used to pass through Clarkdale on the way to Oak Creek and he originally used Clarkdale in the chorus. But he and his songwriting partner Tommy Boyce decided to change it to Clarksville, a town in Tennessee.
In any case, the last train to Clarkdale arrives late in the afternoon every day at the depot in Lower Clarkdale.
At home in small town Clarkdale
I have a fondness for Clarkdale. I lived there for three years in the 1980s and have good memories of my time there. I had a nice brick home at 1213 Main Street I rented from historian James W. Byrkit (1931-2011). Professor Byrkit, born in Jerome and raised in Clarkdale, was my mentor at Northern Arizona University.
His Clarkdale house had long been the home of Paul Keefe (1885-1951), a chemist and safety engineer for Phelps Dodge Corp. Keefe also served in the Arizona House starting in 1920 and later became president of the Arizona Senate, serving until 1946.
My rented home was just few doors away from Verde Valley historian Herbert V. Young (1887-1988), who went to work in 1912 for the United Verde Copper Co. as secretary to the general manager and served for 41 years. I visited with him one afternoon in the early 1980s. He had limited sight but his memory was sharp and he shared stories of Clarkdale and Jerome.
When I lived there, Clarkdale was so small the police chief was the dog catcher. It's still a charming town with a gazebo in the park, a tidy business block and homes with wrought-iron fences.
Mingus Market, the Black Hills Cafe, the Texaco station and the First Interstate Bank were all open back then in the early 1980s. The bank, with its teller cages, beautiful wooden partitions and vault was frozen in time of the 1920s.
I was working for the Verde Independent newspaper and happened to be on the scene for two spectacular fires. One was an arson of a railroad bridge. The other was a devastating blaze that destroyed the historic Clarkdale Elementary School.
The police scanner woke me up that morning with a frantic message that the school was engulfed in flames. The volunteer firefighters said they were withdrawing quickly because of the intensity of the fire. It was a sad day and a big loss for the town. A new school was built at the upper end of Main Street.
I left in 1984 but I always enjoy driving along on Main Street past my old house and the town park.
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