A company town always ready for company. That was Copperton.
It was a model of its kind. No saloons; a pretty town park with greenhouse; and streets lined with trees and well-built homes, nicely maintained. Copperton, in Salt Lake County, was a showplace for the Utah Copper Company, a place to bring visiting managers.
It was a place to show off copper, as well. In constructing the town the company demonstrated how the metal could be used for roofs, rain gutters, window frames - even for complete pre-fabricated homes.Roger Roper, of the Utah State Historical Society, conducted a tour of the town two weeks ago. He was instrumental, in 1986, in getting Copperton put on the National Register of Historic Places.
Copperton wasn't the largest of Utah's mining company towns, Roper says. However, it was one of the most well-run and is one of the few left.
And architecturally, Roper finds it important. This was tract housing of the 1920s, he explains. Every floor plan is the same. "But I challenge you to find two houses alike." Architects from the Salt Lake firm of Scott and Welch flipped the plans and changed the exteriors, adding porches, turrets, stucco or brick details.
The original copper roofs were too thin and bent and cracked eventually. But one thicker-style copper roof, 50 years old, remains in Copperton. And two totally copper homes, painted now, are still standing.
"When the Utah Copper Company did it they did it right," Roper says, pointing out the details of landscaping, lathe fences, and round clotheslines installed in each back yard.
Begun in 1926 with 18 homes, a town park and a baseball field - Copperton grew to 200 homes by 1958. That year Kennecott owners (who took over UCC in 1947) decided to give the town park to Salt Lake County and let the people who were living in the homes buy them for little more than what they cost to build.
UCC officials built the town in the first place because they wanted to keep as many workers as possible in the area to minimize tardiness and absenteeism on the snowy days of deep winter.
In the early 1920s, the Utah Copper Company already owned some homes in Bingham, the town nearest to the Bingham Canyon mine. Built in narrow Bingham Canyon, Bingham was hopelessly crowded. Managers decided not to build any more homes in Bingham and chose "Rattlesnake Flat," a grassy plateau not far from the mine's milling operation, as the perfect site.
Daniel C. Jackling was president of UCC at the time. He approved the first plans for superintendent's home (at a cost of $18,983) and nine five-room and eight four-room houses (to cost $5,804 and $5,065 each).
Except during the Depression, UCC built more houses each year. To qualify for a home miners had to be married, good family men, loyal and hard-working employees. The waiting list was long. Life in the company town must have looked good.
In the old days Utah Copper Company sent workmen to paint and paper each little bungalow each year. For the most part, though, the residents were to keep up their own homes and yards.
At no time was community pride more apparent than when Louis Buchman was superintendent. Then, during the late 1930s and early '40s, Buchman was in the habit of driving down each street in town on his way to work - inspecting things.
Buchman had come from Russia as a child and started working in the Bingham mines for $2.50 a day. He had worked his way to superintendent and was well-loved by the miners.
Townspeople shared his pride - and sometimes paid the bill for it. If he found a lawn that needed mowing while he was making his rounds of Copperton, Buchman would send the park's gardener out to do the work and charge the resident for the service.
For 32 years Copperton was a company town. For the last 32 years it's been just a town, a small town, but a town that in style and spirit hasn't quite lost that "company" feeling.
Mary Lou Lyon Tanner grew up in Bingham and went to junior high and high school in Copperton during the company town days. She calls it "the prime time of Utah copper. Copperton was a proud town." Her father was the local bishop for both towns for many years.
Tanner recalls the friendship between her father and the local Catholic priest. In those days, in those small mining towns, different religions and nationalities came together. "I still feel a bond with the people I lived near and went to school with," she says. "The Greeks - always such fine people, community leaders. And the Italians and the Bohemians - the boys had beards in seventh grade. They were just so big and mature, which is why we had such good football teams at Bingham High."
She remembers how UCC used copper color paint for the wooden trim on some homes; she remembers the company policy of giving retired miners light work to do - so they felt useful, still a part of life at the mine; she remembers safety posters, touting the number of accident-free days; the Fourth of July parade and breakfast at the Copperton park; and she remembers that the UCC always gave college kids a summer job.
During the Depression the company cut back hours, wages, and rent rather than fire workers. Copperton miners paid rent of 75 cents a day, only for the days they worked. All over town, bridge clubs and jigsaw puzzle parties sprung up to help fill the long winter days.
Tanner remembers her father, a civil engineer, reassuring her mother that he wouldn't lose his job. People had enough to eat, she recalls, though "miners often bought things on time and I remember the trucks coming to take back the sewing machines that they couldn't pay on anymore.
"Most of my memories, though, are of roaming the hills with my friends, all summer long. We'd pack a lunch. Be gone all day. There was always plenty of time. It was a very ideal way to grow up."
And although 28-year-old Shannon King Lucas grew up in Copperton a generation after Mary Lou Tanner did, when Copperton was no longer a company town, she remembers the same thing. "We all had BB guns and we'd go in the foothills and hunt birds. Or we'd just pick flowers. In the winter we'd go sleigh riding. Now you can't do that because Kennecott had the hills fenced off."
Still Lucas came back to Copperton. "After I got married we lived in Salt Lake for a year and a half. But I wanted to move back. To raise my kids in Copperton."
She remembers games of flag football and Fox and Geese, games every child in town joined. She remembers the Lion's Club where children went for arts and crafts in the summer time and for pool or ping-pong tournaments on winter evenings. The Lion's Club still hosts a Fourth of July breakfast and many Copperton and Bingham's former residents come back.
Lucas works for Hercules. When she was a child, though, most everyone in Copperton worked for Kennecott. "I remember the strikes. Especially the one in 1968. People gave us hand-me-down clothes and we had deer meat to eat."
Today Copperton's fortunes may not be tied to mining, but its feelings are. In Copperton, still, Lucas says, people can be counted on to help their neighbors, regardless of religion, and attended church dinners together at the Catholic, LDS or Methodist Church.
One other thing hasn't changed. Shannon Lucas' house still looks as solid as the day it was built and the tidy lawn would please even Louis Buchman.