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Swansea Townsite

Webmaster’s Note: I realized after reading a comment on this entry, which was originally published on February 15, 2002, that the photos that were once here were gone. Sadly, most of them were lost in a recent hard disk crash. I’ve replaced some of them, added a video podcast made before the photos were lost, and updated the entry a bit. If you take the time to visit this remote ghost town, please be sure to leave a comment here to let us know what you thought. – Maria

Swansea was a copper mining town around the turn of the century. It lies northeast of Bouse, AZ, south of the Bill Williams River. It has been abandoned for about 60 years and although vandals have stripped it of its dignity over the years, there are still many ruins that can be carefully explored. Best of all, the site is marked and described with a walking tour.

I’d visited Swansea once by car with Mike (my significant other), my brother, and my brother’s girlfriend. This was about two years ago. We didn’t know much about Swansea then — just that it was a ghost town in the middle of nowhere. We were pleasantly surprised when we got there.

At Swansea TownsiteI returned by by helicopter in February 2002, with Mike’s cousin Ricky, who wanted to explore a ghost town during his stay with us. We got to the townsite in less than 45 minutes from Wickenburg (a lot faster than driving!) and spent about two hours walking around and taking pictures.

History

Here’s a bit of history about Swansea, paraphrased from the brochure available at the townsite:

At Swansea TownsiteSwansea, located 30 miles northeast of Parker, AZ, started life in 1862 when prospectors first began working the area. In 1886, three miners struck a silver-lead ore vein. When the silver ran out, the only thing left was copper. The mining claims were sold in 1904 to the Signal Group, which saw that the future of the area depended on the Arizona & California Railroad’s line between Wickenburg and Parker.

In 1908, TJ Carrigan, one of the new owners, and George Mitchell, a potential investor, took a 21-mile buckboard ride from the railroad to the claim. Mitchell, a Swansea-born Welchman incorporated the Clara Consolidated in 1909, and began building the town. By the end of that year, the town’s population was 500 and included a smelter, power plant, water system, mine shafts, saloons, a general store, a post office, and a moving picture house. The first train arrived at the adobe depot in Swansea in 1910 and, later that year, the mine was producing 50 tons of copper a day.

While this might sound like a good start, Mitchell was heavily in debt and declared bankruptcy in 1911. A series of false starts followed. Then, in 1915, Ernest C Lane became the manager and successfully ran the mine for a number of different owners.

The mine fell victim to the Great Depression and a declining copper market. The last milling was in 1944.

Getting There

At Swansea TownsiteGetting there by car from Wickenburg is no easy feat and a compass and map would be very helpful. There are two ways to go. Both are illustrated on this map; click the map for a larger view.

Small Map

Via Bouse

The way with the most pavement (the orange route on the map) is to drive west on route 60 (West Wickenburg Way or the California Highway). At Hope, make a right on route 72 toward Parker. At Bouse, make a right turn, cross the railroad tracks, and find Swansea Road, which should be kind of to the left. By this point, the pavement has ended and you’re on dirt road. Continue northeast until you get to a major intersection — there may even be a stop sign. This is called Midway. Make a left so you’re going northwest. Continuing following the instructions “From Midway” below.

Via Transmission Line Road

If you don’t mind lots of dirt road, you can take a more direct route (the purple line on the map). Drive west on route 60 (West Wickenburg Way or the California Highway). At Wenden, make a right on Alamo Road. After going through Cunningham Pass, make a left on Transmission Line Road, which, as you might have guessed, runs northwest along the high-tension power lines. This is a bit tricky; although you can take the first left you find by the power lines, if you go a bit further, there’s an easier path. I don’t think the turn is marked, but if you take the right road, it should be well maintained and smooth, although it is a bit sandy in spots. Continue along this road through Butler Valley and through Butler Pass. You’ll get to a major five-way intersection called Midway. Go straight through so you’re heading northwest. Continue following the instructions below.

From Midway

Heading northwest from Midway, eventually, you’ll get to another four-way intersection. Make a right. You’ll climb up through the hills and then down toward the Bill Williams River. You’ll pass a natural arch on your right, which is quite visible from the road. Swansea is just past that.

At Swansea

At Swansea TownsitePark near the trail sign-in book, take a brochure, and leave a donation — someone is working hard to preserve all this!

I highly recommend the walking tour, which has numbered stops with descriptive plaques. Stops include various mine shafts and buildings built between 1909 and 1918. If you brought along an ATV, pay attention to the signs that prohibit vehicles from entering certain areas.

To explore the outer reaches of the town, a four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended, if not required. The pumping plant on the Bill Williams River is especially interesting. So is the Swansea Railroad route, which follows both the railroad grade and an old wagon road, and includes what’s left of the adobe railroad depot.

Returning Home

You can return home the same way you came or for variety, take the other route. If it’s late in the day, go through Bouse; you don’t want to be stuck out in the middle of the desert on Transmission Line Road at night. (At least I wouldn’t!)

Trip Details

Distance: About 200 miles round trip.
Time: About 6-8 hours, depending on how long you stay
Features: Mining town remains, including many standing walls and some standing structures.
Driving Conditions: About half the distance is on paved roads; the other half is on well-maintained dirt roads. Don’t attempt the drive during rainy weather.
Equipment: Bring your camera, good walking shoes, drinking water, and a picnic lunch.

Additional Notes for Helicopter Pilots

Swansea’s coordinates are roughly 34° 11′ North and 113° 51′ West. My course from Wickenburg took me over Alamo Lake, then down the Bill Williams River, almost to the Swansea pumping station. After scouting the area for a suitable landing zone and considering the wind (which was pretty calm), I landed in a large flat area just south of what’s left of the Manager’s House (marked with a blue X in the site map above). This landing zone kept me clear of delicate remains, visitor vehicles, and vegetation. And, because of its pea gravel-like surface, I blew up very little dust. On departure, I made a 180° hover turn and took off along the road. I can confidently say that this site can be visited by helicopter without any environmental impact.

Update

The worker’s cottages are being renovated for reasons I’m not quite clear on. I was there on March 4, 2007, but not realizing that my original photos were lost, I didn’t take any more pictures. Recent pictures are welcome; use the Contact Us link at the top of the page to let us know if you have any. I’ll be sure to take some the next time I’m out there.

Video

Swansea Video PodcastIf you’re interested in seeing some more photos from Swansea, check out this video I put together for Flying M Air, which offers a day trip by helicopter to Swansea.

Last 5 posts by Maria Langer

11 comments to Swansea Townsite

  • nettie van nieuwenhuize

    We visited Swansea yesterday and really enjoyed it.I found a gravesite by the Carrigan campsite ,but could not read the marker.
    Any chance you have more info?
    It had a heart shape rock formation around it a broken ceramic dishes laid around the cross?

    Thanks Nettie

  • No, I don’t have any more info, but what’s REALLY WEIRD is that I was out at Swansea yesterday, too. What are the chances of that?

  • Marilyn Gocksch VanHoose

    I have visited Swansea many years ago by land. My Father worked there as a young man. He told me about it.

  • shawn cole

    The part in your article about them renovating the cottages, I read that in another website about a year ago on ghost towns. That seems to be a waste of resources, I dont understand either why they would restore it, I like it better as a untouched historic site + its not a high traffic area. I havent been to that town yet but I will try to go this winter.

  • I visited Swansea on Aug. 13, 2008. Plenty hot at this time of year ,the thermometer in our truck varied from 107 to 111. Not the best time of year to go obviously but we took plenty of water and soft drinks.As to the renovating of the cottages referred to above and in the main article it consists only of putting roofs over some of the walls ,at least at this time. I belive these walls are adobe and without the roof would be gone in a few more years as a good many already are. I visited Swansea while still in high school in Blythe,CA in about 1959 and there were many more walls standing at that time.

  • Richard Balcom

    I found your website about Swansea by chance when I Googled “Earnest C. Lane Arizona”. My father Ernest C. Lane grew up in a remote mining town in Arizona and operated a copper mine during the the early 1940’s before joining the Army during WWII. He died in 1950 when I was only 2 and my mother died shortly thereafter therefore I don’t have that much information about him except for some photos that my grandmother showed me when i was a boy. The photos showed a mine, a small town in the desert and a steam locamotive pulling a flatbed car with a Dusenburg on it. Your history and description of Swansea seems to fix except that Earnest C. Lane was born in 1915 therefore he couldn’t have managed the mine at that time. My father took over operating the mine only after my grandfather die in the late 1930’s. I believe that I was name after my grandfather’s who was Richard Lane.

    • Jelayne Haight

      Richard Balcom- My mom, Arnita White, and I came across your posting while also googling “Ernest C. Lane”. Your father was my mom’s uncle. Her mother was Dorothy Lane White. Ernie was her brother. We have some family history if your are interested so please contact us. I believe you stayed with my mom, Arnita, and her family in Silver City, NM.

      • Richard Balcom

        Jelayne Haight: I recall meeting both you and your younger brother when I was visited your mom’s home in Las Crusas, NM in 1959 while I was staying with Aunt Dorothy for 6 months in Silver City, NM. I recall that you brother had just shot his first deer the day we arrived. You can contact me at richard.balcom@gmail.com. I would like to finding out more about my father’s side of the family including the name of my third Aunt since I’ve been writing my memories which include my family history. I confirmed that my father Earnest grew up in Swansea after finding two articles on-line from Desert Magazine of the Southwest from June-July 1985 and January 1941 that had pictures of him and a letter he wrote to the Department of Mineral Resources that discussed the small mining operation he was managing in Swansea in 1943 just before he left for WWII and Swansea became a ghost town.

  • Bob Dieterich

    Good Morning:

    I live over at Signal, north of Alamo Lake. I’ve been trying to determine the origin of the old town name of “Signal”. I know there was a Signal Mine Group involved in purchasing the Swansea Mine but that was well after Signal was establish. One rumor says that it was named after Signal Mountain which was name “Signal” because the Army had a heliographic station on that mountain. I have flown carefully over that mountain and there is no sign of development. Any ideas where the nane “Signal” used for the Signal Mill Site and the McCrakin Mine came from?

    Thanks

  • John Fisher

    My wife Marge and I visited Swansea yesterday, the second time in 26 years. It was a beautiful, mild, perfect day to make the journey. Couple of differences from 1985, the previous time we were there (!): 1) the Swansea Road is MUCH improved from what it was back then. For the msot part, it is wider, better graded, and way less rutted or pocked. The only “challenge” for our 4X4 Jeep Cherokee, really, was the last portion — the climb through the hills and then back down toward the Bill Williams River, passing the natural arch on the right. During this phase, the road narrows fairly dramatically (to a 1-vehicle width), is much rockier, and therefore a whole lot riskier to tires. And 2) at the site itself, the markers and trail are a nice bonus compared to our previous visit, though the place is by no means in danger of becoming too “touristy.” It’s still primitive and sparsely visited — thank goodness. On the way back to Bouse, we saw what we believed to be a family — male, female and juvenile — of 3 feral burros on the right side of the road, just after coming out of the rocky, narrow section. And, after our experience yesterday, we very much recommend that you come prepared for a flat tir — which we had. Basically it happened just before the first crossroads on the way back, so we still had 20 miles to get to Bouse, and very little light to change the tire. Happily, that proved to be just enough to do the job, and we were also lucky enough to find a guy back in Bouse willing to fix the flat and change back the spare, pretty much in the dark [Marty Mattice, owner of Bouse Tires and More – on 72, going west from the cafe]. The bad tire had a clean, straight slice about 1/2 an inch long, right in the middle of the tread, as if done by steel. Probably we caught some small bit of sharp metal on the road, and that’s all it took. So drivers beware! But all in all, a GREAT day and visit!