It was Demolition Weekend here in El Paso. First up early Saturday morning were those two iconic El Paso landmarks — The ASARCO Smokestacks. Demolition was set for 6:45 A.M., but road closures near the demolition site meant that Ursula and I would have to be up, dressed, and in position well before 6:00 to get a viewing.
The smaller of the two chimneys was built in 1950 and stood 612 feet (186 meters) above the ground. It was the first to go, but not by much. The 828-foot (252-meter) chimney built in 1966 began its long fall before the 1950 stack finished toppling to the ground. It was a spectacular sight indeed, but one with held for many a sense of regret.
Mining, smelting, and refining dragged small, ragged El Paso out of the Old West of the late 1800s and transformed it in just a couple of decades into a modern city known for being the most progressive in the Southwest. If not for that ASARCO smelter El Paso would have remained a mere stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad rather than a major switching point for multiple routes. It’s a true tragedy that the taller structure could not be preserved for its historic value. Alas, political correctness and the unfortunate propensity for today’s historically intolerant and illiterate to judge past events by today’s standards rather than keeping them in the context of the age in which they dwelled sealed that chimney’s fate. Rather than seeing that stack as a symbol of what mining did for El Paso and the American Southwest, it was deemed an embarrassing relic of a polluting past unworthy of preservation.
Indeed, mining and smelting led directly to the founding of the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad, which connected El Paso to another major smelting operation in Douglas, Arizona, and the vast and lucrative copper mines of Bisbee, Arizona. If you drive Arizona State Route 80 and New Mexico State Road 9 (as Ursula and I did just a few weeks ago) you’ll still find running alongside this route the abandoned rail bed, numerous trestle remains, and even what appear to be old telegraph poles long fallen into disuse.
The whole drive made me think of those television classics The High Chaparral (set in the 1870s southeastern Arizona Territory) and The Rifleman (tales from the 1880s in the south-central New Mexico Territory). Look for photos of this particular driving adventure in an upcoming blog.
I did say it was Demolition Weekend. Saturday’s destruction of the ASARCO stacks was followed Sunday morning by the implosion of the El Paso City Hall (built in 1979) to make way for a AAA baseball stadium.