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Settlement began in the Lost River Valley in the late 1800s, and as the year
1900 came to a close there were already several homesteads and ranches dotting
the valley floor. As 1901 began, the area was bustling with traffic and activity
that was primarily the result of major expansion plans scheduled by White
Knob Mining Company, a copper mining enterprise.
In preparation for the railroad, which by the early summer of
1901 was about to enter the Lost River Valley, the new community
had already been planned in detail and was in the process of
being physically laid out. Wayne Darlington, a renowned engineer
and superintendent of mining activity for White Knob Mining Co.
was given the responsibility of planning and platting the town.
Darlington had permission to plan any kind of town he wished.
Darlington’s plans called for a thoughtful and orderly
layout of wide streets, blocks designated for parks, a school,
church, and an extensive water supply system. And, showing loyalty
to his boss and the largest investor of the company, John W.
Mackay, Darlington selected the name “Mackay” for
the new village.
In August of 1901, the town was dedicated and, after gaining
the signature of 250 residents petitioning for incorporation,
county authorities appointed a governing body. On October 14,
1901, the community was incorporated and Mackay officially became
a town. By 1904, Mackay boasted two churches, a brick schoolhouse,
one bank, an opera house, two major hotels, a number of lodging
houses, and dozens of company-owned homes.
By 1919, an aerial tramway for transporting mined copper had
been built near Mackay and it was soon transporting record amounts
of ore. At that time, the Mackay area was the largest copper
producer in the state and was often referred to as “Copper
City.” The economic health of the community, however, wasn’t
entirely dependent on mining.
Mackay was the location of an active railhead, and was established
as the center of the valley’s agricultural industry. By
1926, the area was home to some of the largest Holstein dairy
herds in the state, and cheese factories were constructed both
at Mackay and Darlington to process their harvest. At that time,
Mackay was also the leading shipper of livestock in the entire
state. The first pumping of ground water for irrigation came
in 1927, along with the introduction of major potato crops.
With Prohibition in 1916, many a Mackay entrepreneur was able
to find profit in distilling a little “shine.” “Mackay
Moonshine” became so well known throughout the country
that it led to Mackay’s dubious honor of being a “Moonshine
Capital.” It took the repeal of prohibition in 1933 to
put an end to Mackay’s notorious moonshine industry.
By 1918, the dam creating the Mackay Reservoir was completed
and the canal system to the lower valley was moving significant
water, but not enough to maintain all the valley’s ranches
and farms. On June 22, 1933, during a time of desperate water
conditions, dynamite was used by unknown individuals to destroy
the dam’s control tower and diversions. Following that
incident, Utah Construction Company, which owned the dam, reduced
the asking price they had placed on the dam and irrigation systems.
In 1935, the voters of the valley approved the sale of bonds;
and in 1936 the “Mackay Miner,” reported: “Ownership
and control of the dam [and] irrigation system is officially
in the hands of the people of the Lost River Valley” (now
the Lost River Irrigation District).
In celebration of the transfer of ownership of the dam, the
first of many annual community barbeques was held that September.
Presently, the Mackay dam has survived over 90 years since the
first load of fill blocked the river’s natural flow. It
has remained stable in spite of dynamite, extraordinary flood
run-offs, and the earthquake of 1983.
After completion of the dam in 1918, the reservoir was enhanced
by a vigorous fish-stocking program and contributed to the Mackay
area being known for some of the finest fishing in the West.
From as early as 1914, anglers traveled great distances to fish
the Big Lost River. Many came by auto, but many traveled to Mackay
by rail, taking advantage of “Fishermen Special” trains
of the Mackay Branch.
During the depression, metals prices dropped dramatically and
the local impact forced a near complete shutdown of mining activity
on “Mine Hill” for most of the 1930s. The war years,
however, were prosperous ones for Mackay, as war dictated increases
in demand for copper. By 1944 the mines were working two shifts.
The late 1940s marked the end of any significant mining industry
on Mackay’s “Mine Hill,” although limited activity
continued until about 1975. This loss was offset in 1949, when
the Atomic Energy Commission located a major complex in the desert
east of Arco. By 1951, buses began transporting local workers
to and from the site. To this day, site workers living in the
area are a stabilizing factor in Mackay’s economy, along
with a consistent livestock, farming, and tourism industry.
The closing of the Union Pacific Railroad depot in 1971 marked
the end of a historic Mackay institution in place since 1901.
The depot was a major factor in the birth and growth of the community.
The South Custer Historical Society provided the above information.
The Historical Society is active in restoring and maintaining
sites on Mackay’s “Mine Hill” and throughout
the City of Mackay. If you would like more information concerning
the History of Mackay or about the South Custer Historical Society,
call Lowell Frauenholz at 208-588-3133, or Earl Lockie at 208-588-3148.
The Mackay Mansion, built by William Darlington, celebrated
it's 100 year birthday in 2003.