Jerome mining camp was once “The wickedest town in the West”
JEROME, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The historic mining town of Jerome, in Yavapai County, sits perched on the side of Cleopatra Hill where some of the richest copper ore was pulled from the earth. Ancient dwellers knew the area’s rich colorful copper-bearing minerals. The Hohokam lived and farmed in the area. Conquistadors searching for cities of gold noted rich copper ore when they explored the area in 1585. But their quest was for gold, not copper, and they moved on.
Over the top of Mingus Mountain and down into the switchbacks of town, or approaching from Verde Valley and climbing up SR89A, the historic mining town of Jerome offers a glimpse into the past. Either approach offers an easy day trip from Phoenix, b ut perhaps an extended stay in the historic town of Jerome is worth the time to explore one of Arizona’s unique destinations.
The first mining claims at this location were filed in 1876, seven years later, in 1883, the newly formed United Verde Copper Company owned the operations and named the growing camp Jerome in honor of one of the financiers, Eugene Jerome of New York City.
During a short 5-year span in the late 1800′s, 4 devastating fires ripped through main sections of the town. The mountainside town needed a fire department and to get one they needed to incorporate it. In 1899 Jerome officially became a town with established building codes and an organized fire department. Jerome was one of the first towns to adopt building codes designed to minimize the risk of fire.
Once a thriving mining camp between the late-1880′s and early 1950′s, Jerome survived the mass exodus of citizens after the local mine closed in the 1950′s. A few hardy folks stayed in the abandoned ‘ghost town’ and over the next few decades saw the town transform itself into the tourist destination it is today. There was a time when the town held a reputation as an unruly place. It even held the title “the wickedest town in the West” in 1903 when the New York Sun declared it as such. They had good cause to do so, there was a large red-light district, plenty of saloons, and even an opium den. They also had an opera house and as many as fourteen Chinese restaurants operating!
The nation’s attention turned to Jerome in July of 1917 when striking mineworkers received the strong arm of the mine owners. At the time, Armed vigilantes, organized by the Phelps Dodge mine owners, rounded up 67 striking miners, loaded them up into railroad cattle cars, and shipped the men out of the state to Needles California leaving them without any provisions. A similar round-up was conducted in Bisbee where more than 1000 strikers were hauled off and left stranded in the desert in Mexico. No one was ever convicted in connection with the deportations, but a presidential commission investigated the actions and in its final report, described the deportation as “wholly illegal and without authority in law, either State or Federal.”
Still, Jerome continued to thrive as it grew with the demand for copper. It reached its heyday in the 1920′s with the population peaking at around 15,000. The beginning of the end of the good times began when the Depression hit in the early 1930′s slowing the mining operation. By that time the place was beginning to slide downhill, both literally and figuratively.
Geologic fault activity, exasperated by blast vibrations from mine activity, caused dozens of buildings to slide down the incline as the earth beneath them gave way. The problem only worsened with time.
There was a brief bump in copper demand during World War II, but when the war ended, demand slowed leaving the mine to wind to a close in 1953. The population of Jerome dwindled to about 50 to 100 folks, they took calling the town a ghost town. In 1967 Jerome was designated a National Historic District by the federal government. Today Jerome is a thriving tourist and artist community with a population of about 450.
Now Jerome is home to artists, craftsmen, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, antique stores, bars, wine tasting rooms, museums, and gift shops. The architecture retains the early 19th century buildings and provides numerous opportunities to explore quirky corners and hangouts!
Entering town on SR89A from the top of Mingus Mountain, the first prominent building that stands out is the Jerome Grand Hotel. It sits at the top of the town offering guests some of the best views around! The Jerome State Historic Park (link) sits beneath the slopes of the town, housed in the old owner’s home, the Douglas mansion. The historic story of Jerome is fully told at this facility.
As you wind through the streets of the town you’ll find unique interests upon each turn of the corner, but remember to wear comfortable shoes because most of your time wandering will be spent either walking up or down!
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