VIDEO VAULT | Desert remains contaminated around WWI-era manganese mine near Henderson

Three Kids Mine Works UNLV Special Collections.jpg

It's been three years now since the Three Kids Mine Remediation and Reclamation Act was passed by congress and signed by the President, but so far nothing has been done to actually clean up around a thousand acres of contaminated desert in the northeast corner of Henderson.

The history of Three Kids Mine dates back about a century. The Henderson Historical Society's Rick Watson remembers seeing the last years of mining and processing there when he was growing up.

"You drove by a bunch of old cement foundation where Carver Park was. And from there, you could see the smoke coming from the plant. Smoke and dust.

Today you can find the remains of some settling ponds, deep wide holes in the earth and broken down, rusted processing machinery. A series of UNLV Special Collections photos from 1972 show much of the factory still standing. This was a massive operation.

"Well, it was an open pit mine and they were mining for manganese" says Watson. "And I suspect they took trace elements of other minerals that were there, but mostly manganese."

Three Kids is the first substantive example of our area's many contributions to the nation's military.

"It provided manganese for the World War One effort," says College of Southern Nevada's Kevin Rafferty. "Because manganese is an important part of steel manufacturing. At least it was back then."

"Manganese is a strategic metal," adds Watson. "It's used as an alloy for steel. It strengthens steel. Makes it more flexible."

"And we got a lot of our manganese from Germany," explains Rafferty. "And since we were going to war with Germany, we needed another source of manganese."

Back in 1992, Rafferty was running an archeology business in addition to his duties at CSN, and prepared an environmental report on the area. He also found some background on its founders Edwards, Jefferson and Marrs.

"They named the Three Kids Mine as a joke. Because they were older gentlemen. And they said 'We'll just name it Three Kids' as kind of an inside joke."

The manganese was hauled first by horses--later a tractor all the way to the railroad depot in Las Vegas.

"It went right straight down Fremont Street, with all the kids in town chasing after 'em," describes Watson. "You didn't have to run very fast to keep up."

Operations were sporadic for a couple of decades, until the country went to war again.

"And then from 1942 to 1944, they pumped out a lot of manganese," says Watson.

"In 1944, they had sufficient stockpiles to finish the war, and they knew it," says Watson. "So they scaled way back at the plant, and they did at the mine, too."

Operations continued for another decade and a half--fouling the desert soil all the while--until both the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Henderson Home News chronicled its demise.

"In '61 it became cheaper to import manganese," says Watson.

Today the plant's remains are mostly out of view, south of Lake Mead Parkway between downtown Henderson and Lake Mead.

"I have no doubt that very few people know about the Three Kids Mine," says Rafferty.

The federal legislation passed in 2014 allows the land to be transferred to the Henderson Redevelopment Agency, which would oversee cleanup in a public-private partnership intended to eventually result in dense housing. For the moment, the project is dormant with no active plans to revive it.

More information: Full Text of Three Kids Mine Remediation and Reclamation Act

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