Once upon a time, when Copper was king, a settlement was born in the Verde Valley, atop Arizona’s largest copper mine. Founded by Eugene Murray Jerome, an investor from New York, in 1883, this tiny tent settlement soon became a burgeoning mining community of workers from the United Verde Mine. Well hidden in the sprawling Coconino and Prescott National Forest lands about 20 miles from Sedona, Jerome became known for having very little virtue, and a whole lot of vice! It was once called the “wickedest town in the west”, but that was then.
Jerome has been labeled the largest ghost town in the country. Once recognized as the Arizona Territory’s fourth largest city (boasting 15,000 residents at peak), today, as a haven for artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and other free spirits, the population has dwindled down to less than 1000.
Examination of Jerome’s past uncovers some extraordinary figures of the numerical and human variety. When Jerome was still in fancy, three major fires destroyed much of the town between 1897 and 1899. Fire bed that it was, Jerome would see much more destruction at the hands of this merciless element. In 1915, the luxurious Montana Hotel was destroyed by flames, and in 1918, underground fires overtook some 22 miles of the mines, with one fire burning for nearly 20 years.
Fire wasn’t the only villain in town. Jerome was built on shaky ground, resting on the mountain’s 30 degree incline. With regular blasting from the mines and gravity as constant foes, many a building would tend to creep down the mountain side. Even the town’s jail tried to escape in the 1930’s; it slid nearly 300 feet down the hill fully intact. These somewhat natural forces were no match, however, for the unnatural greed heading towards town.
During the United Verde Mine’s peak production years, it was said to have produced over 3,000,000 pounds of copper per month, ultimately making billions of dollars over the course of its 70-year life span. In 1914 James Douglas, owner of the Little Daisy Mine, hit the big time when his search for the mine’s natural extension struck copper-colored gold. Unrest soon settled over the weary miners. In 1917, the Jerome Deportation became history when mine owners forcibly removed union organizers and workers, herded them onto railroad cattle cars, and after a less than friendly goodbye, dispatched them directly outside of Kingman, Arizona.
While the mines remained productive for the next few decades, time rendered them useless, and by 1938, one mine had closed and the other had been purchased by Phelps Dodge. Though war increased demand for copper, by 1953, mining took its last breath in Jerome. By the late 1950’s, less than 100 people remained, keeping watch over what was left. In 1967, Jerome became a Historic District, and by 1976, it was designated a National Historic Landmark, earning its place in the history of Arizona.
Today, while a few establishments have popped up to mark the town’s past, Jerome is better known for its artisans, craftsmen, musicians, loners, rebels, hippies, and other colorful sorts, who are breathing a new life into the once decaying remains. Buildings are being restored, remodeled and fortified. Art and culture are painting over the grit and grayness of the past.
Jerome, resting within easy access to many of Arizona’s natural wonders, offers excellent opportunities for discovering some of Arizona’s best artisans of today right in town. Jerome offers unrivaled creativity during its monthly Artwalk, which brings the sleepy streets alive once a month. You can also catch an eyeful at the Jerome Artists Cooperative Gallery, located in the renowned Hotel Jerome, and other galleries scattered throughout town.
While searching for the ghosts of yesterday, stay at one of Jerome’s historical lodging facilities, such as the Jerome Grand Hotel. This 5-story architectural marvel was built, in 1926, at the highest point in the Verde Valley, originally housing the United Verde Hospital. After decades spent wasting away, the Spanish Mission-style building was purchased and renovated in 1994, and today offers some of the area’s most breathtaking views. For those who prefer an appetizer of history with their dinner, a visit to Belgian Jennie’s Bordello Bistro & Pizzeria, named after Jerome’s most notorious Madame, serves up the best of pizza pies and stories of the town’s rowdier past.
Whether you wish to be haunted by the past, or revived by the colorful spirit of present-day Jerome, you won’t leave here empty handed.