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Kentucky Camp is a ghost town and former ranching site in Pima County in southern Arizona. Located just a few miles north of Sonoita, this ghost town holds promise for the future. The site is currently held and preserved by the U.S. Forest Service.
The story of Kentucky Camp begins in 1874. This was when gold was discovered just two miles north of here near Greaterville. This area quickly sprang to life. Over 500 miners lived and worked throughout the area. A series of gulches, including Boston Gulch to the south, Kentucky Gulch (home of Kentucky Camp), and Empire Gulch to the north, proved to be some of the richest placer deposits in southern Arizona. The gulches were thought to be named by immigrants from back east. Due to its proximity to the border, there were also a significant number of Mexican-Americans working here as well.
By the late 1880s, most of the gold had been played out, meaning it was viewed as worthless and not worth the effort. The population of the area thinned out and the future of Kentucky Camp looked grim.
It wasn’t until 1902 that a glimmer of hope appeared. This year marked the incorporation of the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company (SRW&MC). The goal of this new found company was to introduce a new type of mining, hydraulic mining, to the district. Hydraulic mining consists of using high water pressure to operate pieces of mining equipment and clearing away large amounts of rocks. Mining engineer James Stetson had introduced the idea and was financially backed by George McAneny.
Two years later, in 1904, the current buildings at Kentucky Camp were built to serve as the headquarters for the Santa Rita Water & Mining Company. Initial tests claimed that they were “tearing up the ground with splendid result.” The system actually delivering the water consisted of a water system 8 ½ miles long. This brought water to the 3 “monitors”, or giant nozzles (one of which was newly added as a display at Kentucky Camp) which then shot the water 100 feet.
Tragedy struck in May of 1905 when James Stetson, the company engineer, fell from a third-story window at a hotel in Tucson. He died as a result signaling doom for the company. With Stetson dead, McAneny, the president of the company was no longer able to keep the business afloat financially. He later died in 1909.
With the water project and company now gone, Kentucky Camp and the aspirations of mining were abandoned. In 1910, the camp was sold for back taxes and became part of a 3,000 acre ranch owned by Tucson Attorney, Louis Hummel. Hummel used the buildings at Kentucky Camp as the headquarters for his ranching operation. It remained this until the 1960s. At this point, the Hummel’s left and Kentucky Camp was now abandoned.
In 1989, as part of a land swap, Kentucky Camp and the 3,000 surrounding acres were transferred to the U.S. Forest Service. Preservation efforts began almost immediately and in 1991 and then improved in 1995 when the “Friends of Kentucky Camp” was established. “The Friends” have worked and continue working today preserving this National Historic place. They’ve been responsible for stabilizing and working on the five adobe buildings that remain today.
Kentucky Camp can be reached by taking State Route 83 south from I-10. Turn left onto Garner Canyon Road and follow the signs 5 miles off-road to the camp. You’ll have to park at the top of the hill and walk down to Kentucky Camp (an easy walk). If you’re interested, Kentucky Camp can be “rented” as part of the “Rooms with a View” program and you can stay the night there. There are several buildings to explore, a guest book, and several exhibits on mining and a history of the area. A caretaker did appear to live at least part time at the camp. Kentucky Camp truly is a fun and historic place that every ghost town enthusiast should visit!
Information signs at Kentucky Camp
Varney, Philip. Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. Phoenix, AZ: Arizona Dept. of Transportation, State of Arizona, 1994. 115. Print.
Preserved wall at Kentucky Camp
The mining headquarters building at Kentucky Camp. The guest book and museum are in this building.
The main cabin at Kentucky Camp