The town of Jerome was built on a hill above a vast deposit of copper, propped on a thirty-degree mountainside two thousand feet above the Verde Valley. As the boom town grew it attracted miners, smelter workers, freighters, gamblers, bootleggers, saloon keepers, storekeepers, prostitutes and preachers. Americans, Mexican, Croatians, Irish, Spaniards, Italians and Chinese made the mining camp a cosmopolitan mix. At its height the United Verde Company earned a million dollars profit a month. Over its 77-year life (1876 to 1953), this mine produced nearly 33 million tons of copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc ore. The metals produced by United Verde and UVX, the other big mine in Jerome, were said to be worth more than $1 billion.
High above the town were the company houses. On Company Row prim Victorians housed the mine’s managers and their families. If you were in Arizona during this period, Jerome was the place to make your fortune. Jenny Jerome, cousin to Eugene Jerome (who lent the town his last name), was Winston Churchills’ mother.The average miner however had to settle for boardinghouse rooms, which were occupied corresponding to the miners’ hours—sometimes three men sharing a bed in eight hour shifts. Prostitutes rented small apartments, or brick “cribs,” which were located in back alleys behind the town’s saloons, while basements were rumored to hide opium dens.
Changing times in the Arizona Territory saw pack burros, mule drawn freight wagons, and horses replaced by steam engines, auto and trucks. Fires ravaged the wooden buildings again and again and again. Jerome was always rebuilt. In 1918 underground mining was phased out after uncontrollable fires erupted in the 88 miles of tunnels under the town. Open pit mining brought dynamite. The hills rattled and the buildings cracked. The surface began to shift and sections of the business district slid downwards. Jerome was rebuilt again. You can still see the sliding jail which moved 225 feet and rests across the road from its original site. Jerome's mines finally closed in 1953 and the population went from its peak of 15,000 in the 1920's to some fifty people in the late '50's. Those folks that remained tended to be the eccentric types that often choose to live at the end of a long, long road. In the 1970’s groups of artists moved into the empty buildings and the ghost town was rebuilt as an arts community.
Once we made the scenic drive to Jerome today, we both decided we had been here before, we think with another couple. We have racked our brains trying to remember when we were here. If you went to Jerome with us, please let us know!
We recognized the winding streets full of tiny restaurants and gift shops selling vintage clothing, used goods and T-shirts with slightly profane sayings. But we didn't recognize the state historic park, located in the restored Douglas Mansion. Inside we saw a great film, mostly composed of photos showing the various stages Jerome went through over the years. Considering how many fires and land slides the town endured, we wondered how they had located all the old pictures. Scale models of the town showed the mine shafts deep below the hills as well as the buildings above ground. A collection of bottles found on site showed that Coca Cola was bottled here.