Clemenceau, once bustling, now fading from memory

The U.V.X. smelter site

The U.V.X. smelter site

COTTONWOOD (CLEMENCEAU)-- Few signs remain in Central Arizona of the once-thriving smelter community branded "Clemenceau" by Jimmy "Rawhide" Douglas to honor his hero, a French statesman who led his country during the First World War.

No longer is Clemenceau even a separate community. It does not easily roll off the tongue for people who now live here as it did at one time. Some people will not even connect the copper magnate or the French premier with Cottonwood.

The last significant symbol of the planned smelter town is the name 'Clemenceau' etched into the poured concrete of the Clemenceau Public School building. Today, we only know the place as Cottonwood, the name of the wildcat town that bloomed at river side.

Much of the Clemenceau town site built within sight of the UVX smelter was consumed by a bulldozer blade in recent years to make way for promised commercial development. Only a former bank and post office remain, moved from the townsite to the reservoir of Cottonwood education and history, the Clemenceau Public School building, which still stands at the historic crossroads of the former thoroughfares of Willard and Mingus.

Even the public school building had been threatened. School board members once discussed demolishing the building in order to build new offices, but the cost of demolition was staggering for the sturdy building. A resourceful superintendent moved offices back into the remodeled building and leased the balance to the Historical Society.

The Clemenceau Plaza also carries the name. The structure itself was once a mining era smelter- structure and also built of poured concrete, where Vinnie's Pizza recently moved.

The U.V.X. smelter site itself, perched on the highest hill in the community is nearly gone to memory. A drainage of bricks from the hilltop marking where the smelter was toppled has recently been swept as part of the hillside landscaping for the new River Community Church, which today replaces the smoke stack on the hill.

The former smelter administrative building on Willard is now the gracious home of Y.E.S. the Arc, and a former superintendent's home stands next door.

Clemenceau now joins Smelter City as place names that have little significance.

While it prospered, the community of Clemenceau was more important than Cottonwood. The City of Cottonwood today says that "Cottonwood became the haven for those people seeking to be free from the prejudice and regulation of nearby company towns."

A former resident of the Clemenceau community, Helen Killebrew says Clemenceau was entirely fenced in.

But, while in existence, Clemenceau joined the prosperity of the mining boom.

Transportation was easy when the mines filled the valley with workers.

In 1900, the United Verde & Pacific Railway posted its times in the Arizona Prescott Journal Miner both east into the Verde and west from the Verde area.

• United Verde & Pacific Ry

The circuitous rail line known for its steep climbs and curves, was proposed to be replaced by one that would skirt the mountains, The Gold Belt Railway.

• Gold Belt Railway

It was W.A. Clark, who would eventually to make the United Verde Company the copper star it would become, who ran a more direct and successful route along the Verde River from Drake. That is a line that continues today loaded with coal and tourists.

• Prescott Evening Courier 2-17-23

In 1924, The Verde Valley Stage Company plyed regular routes among the communities with a bus from Jerome to Clemenceau each hour, transit even more common that what is available in the 21st century.

• Jerome Evening Courier 5-5-24

The Clemenceau community and nearby Cottonwood shared in the society pages of period news.

In one society column, Sheriff Ruffner and famed bootlegger Joe Hall were mentioned for their activities the same week. They would eventually meet in jail.

• Prescott Evening Courier 3-1-1930

The United Verde Extension mine was tapped out and the U.V. X. smelter closed in 1937 while the United Verde would continue into the 50s.

In 1954, the Prescott Evening Courier was carrying the Clemenceau Mexican Independence Day festivities in Clemenceau.

• Prescott Evening Courier 9-15-54

Smelter workers would move on to active mines after the Jerome mine played out and in 1960, Cottonwood would incorporate including the Clemenceau smelter site and the Clemenceau airport. The city was later to acquire the Clemenceau water company, a remnant of the town, incorporating it into the Cottonwood system.

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