The Town with the Billion Dollar View
by Howard A. Sheldon
A friendly glow greets the Central Arizona town of Jerome, Arizona. Visualize the warm morning sun rising over the cool mountains of the Mogollon Rim, "Plateau Country." The shop owners open their doors for the tourist trade and put some of their wares outside. The timbre of wind chimes and the essence of incense fills the air. Travelers from all over the world with brightly colored clothes, cameras around their necks and children in tow, file up and down the narrow streets and sidewalks. Later in the day, you may also find a few vintage Harley Davidsons parked outside one of the local watering holes. Jerome draws people from all walks (and rides) of life.
Jerome's personality has changed dramatically in the past 30 years. Once a thriving mining camp between the late-1880s and early 1950s, Jerome is now a bustling tourist magnet and artistic community with a population of about 450. It includes a modicum of artists, craft people, musicians, writers, hermits, bed and breakfast owners, museum caretakers, gift shop proprietors and fallen-down-building landlords.
Before the first Europeans visited the Verde Valley in the 16th century, the Sinaguas, Hohokams, Anasazis and Apaches called this area home. The rich mineral resources of the Black Hills were well known by these native peoples. When Antonio de Espejo and his companions traveled through these parts looking for gold and silver, the Indians readily showed them their mining operations. While the Indians were primarily mining for copper, there were rich deposits of gold and silver in those mines as well. But the Spaniards, noting only that there was silver, but no gold, moved on.
Nearly 300 years later, in 1876, the renowned U.S. Calvary scout Al Sieber saw the potential for gold in these crudely worked mines and staked a claim. When word got out about his mining claims, others followed. Such notables as Angus McKinnon and M. A. Ruffner filed claims on some copper outcroppings, becoming at the same time pioneers of the mining town of Jerome.
In 1883, investors bought the McKinnon claim for $15,500. In 1888, Montana Senator William A. Clark leased the mining rights and in 1889 bought control of the claim and formed the United Verde Copper Company. Within two decades, after much hard work and ingenuity, this entrepreneur became one of the richest men in Arizona.
The United Verde Mine produced in excess of $1 billion in copper, gold, silver, zinc and lead from the northeast side of Mingus and Woodchute Mountains. Just below those two mountains rises a well-known hill by the name of Cleopatra. On the northeast side of this hill, the town of Jerome is precariously anchored. This part of Arizona's Black Hills harbored some of the best capitalists of the territory and, in contrast, a collection of some of the world's poorest as well. Early on, Jerome became a melting pot of settlers from abroad, immigrants from every corner of the globe seeking work and chasing the dream of quick fortune.
The town of Jerome was incorporated on March 8, 1889. Oddly the town's namesake, Eugene Murray Jerome, a New York investor in the early mining operations of the United Verde, never visited the town named after him.
Jerome was ravaged by a number of fires in its early beginnings. The main part of town was leveled four times by the fires of 1894, 1897, 1898 and 1899. With the ill-famed title of the "Wickedest Town in Arizona" (according to the New York Sun of February 5, 1903), many observers attributed these fires to divine retribution. After a building code was established at the beginning of the 20th century, most buildings were constructed of masonry. Many of these buildings still stand -- or lean -- today. The towns' reputation for gambling, prostitution, alcohol, drug abuse and many other base human behaviors was well known.
What is the Town of Jerome like today? Is it worth your time to visit? The answer is a resounding yes! Jerome is an enchanting town, and a photographer's paradise. From its external appearances it hasn't changed much in nearly 100 years. Many of the buildings used by present-day business folks are those built after the fires of 1894 and1899. A number of the buildings have been restored and more are planned for restoration. Due to the 30-degree incline of the mountainside, gravity has pulled a number of buildings down the slope. To the delight of some, one of those buildings was the town's jail. Those buildings still standing make for interesting visiting and with a little research you can find their historical significance. One notable section is the "Cribs District." You will find this area across the street from the English Kitchen, in a back alley where all the buildings were are part of Jerome's ill-famed "prostitution row."
A World-Class Mine Museum in a Ghost Town Setting
A further attraction to visitors and photographers alike is the Gold King Mine. Today, the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town is what was originally Haynes, Arizona. Situated about one mile north, Haynes was a bustling suburb of Jerome in 1890. The Haynes Copper Company dug a 1200-foot shaft in search of copper, but hit gold instead. This tumble-down community has a petting zoo, a walk-in mine, demonstrations of antique mining equipment, the world's largest gas engines, an authentic 1901 blacksmith shop, a 19th-century sawmill and a billion-dollar view of the Verde Valley within a ghost town setting.
Jerome State Historic Park: The Douglas Mansion.
Another notable individual to come to Jerome was "Rawhide Jimmy" Douglas. In 1912, James S. Douglas purchased and developed the Little Daisy Mine. In 1916, Jerome had two bonanza mines, the United Verde and the Little Daisy. Copper production peaked in 1929. Back then Jerome was boasting a population of 15,000. The Great Depression of the 1930s and low-grade ore deposits brought an end to the Little Daisy Mine in 1938. After the official close of the mines in 1953, Jerome became a veritable ghost town. At its lowest point, the population dwindled to about 50 "survivors."
In 1916, just above the mine, Mr. Douglas built his residence, which is now known as the Douglas Mansion. "Rawhide Jimmy" built the house as a hotel for mining officials, investors and his own family. The house was complete with a wine cellar, billiard room, marble shower, steam heat and a central vacuuming system. Amazingly, the mansion was constructed of Adobe bricks made right on the site where the house now rests.
A short distance south of the mansion is the abandoned Little Daisy Hotel which was a dormitory for his miners. The concrete shell still stands today.
Mr. Douglas' former house is now a museum devoted to the Jerome area, its mining history and the Douglas family. In 1965, the Douglas Mansion became an Arizona State Park Museum. The museum features exhibits of photographs, artifacts and minerals. There is a video presentation of Jerome's history that you can view as well. You will also find a 3-D model of the town showing its underground mines. After you park your car, you will notice around the outside various displays depicting mining history along with a picnic area and another billion dollar view of the Verde Valley.
Landmarks and Historical Buildings
Some buildings and landmarks that you may find of interest include: United Verde Hospital (now the Jerome Grand Hotel), Club House Hospital, Chief Surgeon's House, the 'Cribs District,' United Verde Apartments, Powder Box Church, United Verde Railroad Depot, Clark Elementary School, Jerome Hotel, Cleopatra Hill, the Open Pit area and the Gold King Mine.
Lodging and Food
There are seven bed and breakfasts, nine eating establishments and the renovated hospital. When we visited Jerome we had a hearty lunch at 'The Jerome Palace / Haunted Hamburger.' They are always busy, so expect to wait.
Jerome has two museums: The Douglas Mansion and the Jerome Historical Mine Museum on Main Street. There are also four art galleries, three parks, an Archive Research Center, a Chamber of Commerce and a US Post Office.
Other Scenic Attractions in the Verde Valley Area
Jerome and the Verde Valley are surrounded by the Prescott and Coconino National Forests. Periodically camping is 'off limits' due to extreme dry or wet conditions. Always check ahead of your proposed camping days by calling the Prescott or Coconino Forest Service.
- Tuzigoot Indian Ruins, Clarkdale, Arizona
- Montezuma's Castle and Well, McGuireville
- Fort Verde National Park in Camp Verde, Arizona
- Verde Canyon Railroad, Clarkdale, Arizona
- Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Cottonwood, Arizona
- Jeep and Gold Panning Tours, Sedona, Arizona
- Mountain Biking
- Horseback riding
- There is cool-water recreation at Slide Rock and Oak Creek in Sedona.
How To Get There
Jerome is about a 2-hour drive north of Phoenix, or a 1 1/2-hour drive south of Flagstaff, Arizona. From Interstate 17 take the off ramp at the Cottonwood-Camp Verde exit. Travel west on State Route 260 to the Town of Cottonwood and follow the signs to Jerome. If you are headed to Jerome from Prescott, you can take the scenic route over Mingus Mountain via State Route 89A. It is not recommended to travel SR 89A in the winter. From November through April it is often closed due to icy road conditions.
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