Encampment Museum houses unique history | CraigDailyPress.com

Encampment Museum houses unique history

Dan Olsen
Dallas Wells with the Grand Encampment Museum in Encampment, Wyo., shows off a portion of the 4-foot pipe that brought water four miles to power an electric turbine in 1902. Photo by Dan Olsen.
Dan Olsen

— History is all around Moffat County.

And it lives in its northern neighbor, Carbon County, as well.

It takes a couple of hours to drive to Encampment, Wyo., from Craig.

Encampment’s history starts with light.

The introduction of electricity to Encampment came because of the booming copper industry, despite the fact that Thomas Edison visited the valley on a fishing trip 25 years earlier.

In 1902, hydro-electricity became reality as a 4-mile pipeline brought water from the Encampment River to turbines to light the town’s smelter, which extracted copper from the tons of ore brought in from the mines.

“The 4-mile long pipe was made of 2-by-6 staves held together by steel bands,” Dallas Wells said at the Encampment Museum. “The pipe was 4 feet in diameter and crossed the river four times coming to town.”

The copper business was seasonal, and the pipeline sometimes froze in the winters, so crews had to repair the damage each spring.

On Nov. 15, 1902, the project was completed and the power turned on lights at the Encampment smelter.

At a cost of $100,000, the plant included a 1,000-horsepower motor to generate electricity.

A 175-foot-long dam with a 60-foot spillway supplied water for the electricity-generating turbine, but the dam created a problem for another business in the area.

Tie hacks were using the Encampment River to send railroad ties downriver to where the Union Pacific was building tracks along the North Platte River.

Because of the new dam, crews were now needed to remove the ties from the river, and re-float them after transporting each slab of wood below the dam.

By 1904, Encampment was booming, boasting a bank, barbershop and saloon. A number of copper companies had offices downtown, and stage and freight outfits made regular runs to the town.

The North American Copper Co. employed 25 men at its facility and the smelter sat on 50 acres of Encampment real estate.

The very nature of extracting copper from ore using extremely high temperatures may have contributed to the downfall of the business.

The smelter burned three times in five years, and combined with falling copper prices, the business was closed in 1907.

It would be more than 20 years before electricity would return to Encampment, when E. H. Parkinson brought power back to the valley in the 1930s.

The Grand Encampment Museum houses not only photographs and sections of the water pipe, it also has three towers and carts from the 16-mile aerial tramway that carried tons of copper ore from the mine to the smelter.

Ore carts used in the Ferris Haggerty Mine that were found underground when the mine reopened in 1998 are also on display at the museum.

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