Cochran and the Coke Ovens: Who Built Them?

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By John Hernandez

In August of 1904, the Florence Blade newspaper reported that “John Cochran has laid off a town site on the flat just east of the old Butte smelter site. The Phoenix & Eastern Railroad has made a station there and called it Cochran. John expects to put up a family hotel and establish a winter resort.”

The town of Cochran was settled in 1905 with the Post Office established on January 3. John S. Cochran was the first postmaster.

Cochran owned the land there and had mining claims in the area. His partners were A.L. Jones of Globe and Frank Harvey of Kelvin. The town was a small mining camp along the Gila River between Kelvin and Florence. It was a train station for the Phoenix & Eastern Railroad which was serving the local mines in the area and putting in track up to the Ray and Hayden-Winkelman area. The railroad would help the mines to prosper now that they had a cheaper and more efficient way of transporting their ore and supplies.

Residents of the town numbered 100 at its peak with a general store, boarding house and a few other businesses. John Cochran resigned as postmaster and was replaced by Charles M. Clark on April 27, 1909.

The post office was discontinued in 1915 and Cochran became a ghost town.

You can still see a few foundations of the buildings at the Cochran townsite. There is an old rusted water tank, a slag dump and water pipe laying on the grounds. On a hillside across the Gila River you can see the bee hived shaped charcoal kilns. Many people associate them with Cochran and call them the coke ovens but they were there before Cochran was built.

It is believed that the kilns were built by the Pinal Consolidated Copper Company in 1882 to supply their smelter furnace with charcoal. The site for the kilns was four miles from the smelter. The kilns were built along the Gila River to take advantage of the supply of timber, mostly mesquite which grew on the hill sides and along the river. A newspaper report from that year reported they were paying woodchoppers $2 per cord of wood.

Pinal Consolidated mined lead and silver ores in the Mineral Hill District. A mining camp known as Butte City grew around the mine. The community was started in late 1881 or January of 1882. A post office was established there in 1883 with Maurice B. Fleishman as its postmaster. During the first six months of 1883, the smelter turned out 2,000,000 pounds of lead and silver. The mine closed in 1885 due to litigation problems within the company. Butte City would be gone by 1886 when the post office was discontinued. All the equipment that was salvageable was removed from Butte. It is not known if there is anything to see around the ghost town site which should be in the hills somewhere above the kiln site.

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Jake Jacobson of Copper Basin Railway was the tour guide of the day, escorting reporter John Hernandez to Cochran. Here he shows a remnant of life in Cochran. (John Hernandez photos)

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