Arizona Centennial: Vulture Mine

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Discovered in 1863 by Henry Wickenburg, the Vulture Mine was Arizona’s most productive gold mine. Now, a group is trying to raise money to renovate the mine’s historic buildings. Bernadine McCollum and Penny Pietre, of the Vulture Mine Preservation and Restoration Association, discuss the mine and efforts to save its crumbling infrastructure.

Ted Simons: Tonight we continue our series check rating Arizona's first hundred years of statehood by taking you to the Vulture Mine in Wickenburg. Discovered in 1863, by Henry Wickenburg, the Vulture was the most productive gold mine in history. Since the mine closed in 1942, its historic buildings have fallen into a state of disrepair. The store is off limits to visitors because of safety concerns. It's walls are crumbling and the roof is near collapse. The 1880s head frame isn't much more than a pile of rubble. But concerned citizens have formed a nonprofit to try to save the Vulture Mine. Here to talk about their efforts are Bernadine McCollum, president of the Vulture Mine preservation and restoration association. And Penny Pietre, a member of the board of directors. Good to have you both here, thanks for joining us. Bernadette, it stopped in 1942, how long did the mine go?

Bernadine McCollum: Henry Wickenburg discovered it in 1863 and it periodically closed down, but pretty much stayed open until 1942 when it 14 was closed because the government shut all nonessential mining down.

Ted Simons: How much gold was mined there?

Bernadine McCollum: Supposedly about $200 million dollars' worth.

Ted Simons: It just sits there and no one's out there?

Penny Pietre: It's sitting there falling party. Can I just say I first went to Vulture Mine 26 years ago almost. Almost all of the buildings were standing still and it looked like the workers had just dropped their tools and walked away, thinking they would be back next week. There were tools, plates on the tables, it was amazing. Through the years I started to take my grandkids out there and taught them all about Arizona history. We'd go out and imagine how the miners lived, what the kids did, what they played. It was a great lesson for them but now it's falling apart.

Ted Simons: Talk to us about the property. How big a property are we talking about here? How many buildings? What needs to be done?

Bernadine McCollum: The total property is about 250 acres more or less, and that's the privately owned section. And it's surrounded by Bureau of Land Management property. We're really interested in both of those pieces because the privately owned portion has about 23 buildings on it, and most of those are in a state of disrepair where you probably couldn't restore them. But there are about seven to ten that can still be restored. The assay building being one of them, sort of the signature building of the whole property.

Ted Simons: Who owns the property? Is there someone who has it for sale right now?

Bernadine McCollum: Yes. Right. There's recall ture mine properties, the actual owner of record and it is for sale. I don't believe it's listed on the multiple listing services but it is for sale and has been for quite some time.

Ted Simons: How long?

Bernadine McCollum: Well, 40 years.

Ted Simons: 40 years. And the plan now is for your group to buy this property and then do what? Make a museum out of it? Interactive displays? Like Williamsburg in Virginia?

Penny Pietre: Everything. This could be one of the largest Arizona history sites in the state because that's where Arizona history sites in the state, because that's where Arizona history, part of it, started. If we lose it, that part of Arizona history is gone.

Ted Simons: Talk to us about how the history of Phoenix really is encapsulated here. Because Mr. Wickenburg wound up playing a part in Phoenix, correct?

Bernadine McCollum: Right. So a lot of the people who were associated with the mine were also financing different parts of the growth of the valley. One specifically the canal system, Jack Swilling associated with the mine saw the Hohokam canal system and got Henry Wickenburg and other people associated with the mine. They opened up those canals and Phoenix blossomed and here we are looking at 100 years of statehood.

Ted Simons: Ok, we talked about the fact that it's for sale. How much money does the group need? You not only have to buy the property and buy the buildings, you have to find a way to fix them up and get these dreams to come true.

Penny Pietre: Bernadine can tell you about the sale price. Once the place is in the hands of a nonprofit organization we're in line for a lot of federal and state grants to help with stabilizing, developing the educational centers, the tourist centers and so on. We're looking at a few million dollars to actually acquire the land. And then we're already lined up for three or four grants that we're going to be getting soon. There will be a lot more once we have the land.

Ted Simons: How is the fund-raising going so far?

Penny Pietre: Very well.

Bernadine McCollum: One of the things we're doing right now is the national trust for historic preservation has a contest "this place matters". 100 historic sites were chosen for the contest and we're one of the 100. We're the only Arizona site so we really need the state of Arizona is really need to do support us on that so we can win the prize. The top prize is $25,000. There's a $10,000 and $5,000 but we would sure like Arizona to rally around us to win that $25,000.

Ted Simons: Can we get information on that particular contest?

Bernadine McCollum: If you go to savevulturemine cargo, go to the home page and click on that.

Ted Simons: Let me be a contrarian for a second. Why do we need to save the Vulture Mine?

Penny Pietre: It's the history of half of Arizona. It's there. If these buildings disappear, we can't preserve a good look at what Arizona history looked -- was 100 years ago. It's gone. So many things came out of this mine, and actually it's the history of the West, as well. The miners, a lot of them came from California after the gold rush there. Chinese, Mexican, Yugoslavians, people from all over the world came to Arizona to work the Vulture Mine and eventually other mines. So we need to preserve the history. The gold that's out there now is its history. And that's more valuable than anything that might be scratched out of the earth at this point.

Ted Simons: Again, you're part of this organization, this group to save this mine. It's in pretty bad shape and looks like it's been neglected and abandoned. You try to get people to care but a lot of folks don't care or don't know bit. Why is it so important to you?

Bernadine McCollum: It's important to me. Well how I really got started, I took my sister out there. I'd been out a couple of times before. All of that history just crumbling to the ground and no one doing anything about it. I got Penny and other people I know, if someone's going to save this it needs to be now. Because if we wait two or three years, there's not going to be anything left to save.

Ted Simons: Is there any thought of turning this into a functioning mine again? That is just too far-fetched right now?

Bernadine McCollum: That's not what we are about at all. We want to preserve the history of the people out there, the hard work that went into making the state a state. You know, it's the whole history of the western United States out there.

Ted Simons: That is how you see it, as well?

Penny Pietre: Absolutely.

Ted Simons: Some people say, let's -- and again, how much commercialization do you want to see for this thing? You get a museum and people wearing period costumes, you might attract a bigger crowd than maybe the place can handle.

Penny Pietre: We'll handle them. We want this to be educational. As I've said I've taken my grandchildren out there, Charlie and Lucas are now 13 and 11. They know the place well. They have learned all about Arizona history throughout the talks that we had going through this mine. How people lives, what they thought of, what they wrote. Looking at the schoolhouses. There's an old piano in the schoolhouse than probably 100 years old. The keyboard is locked up and rusted but you can still feel the history of the people who lived there. It's pretty amazing, you need to come out and visit

Ted Simons: Last question, I believe I saw an19 edition of ghost adventurers? Is the place haunted? They looked like they were out there with their equipment and I think they found some ghosts.

Bernadine McCollum: We had a ghost tour out there. We've got a little movement on the needle.

Ted Simons: Good. Thank you both for joining us tonight.

Penny Pietre: Thank you very much.

Bernadine McCollum:Vulture Mine Preservation and Restoration Association, Penny Pietre:Vulture Mine Preservation and Restoration Association

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