The tiny Arizona town of Jerome has quite the history. Back in its heyday, copper mining attracted about 15,000 workers and residents.
Today, those mines have long since closed, and only about 400 people live in what’s now known as a ghost town set high up into the side of Cleopatra Hill.
“I could tell you stories of a lot of the buildings that (will) literally scare the pants off of you. It's a ghost town,” says Rick Moore, who retired in Jerome. “Years ago, (it) was the old hippy town that turned artist, to the biker, back to the artist.”
Currently, Jerome’s famous Sliding Jail is a top tourist attraction but is locked in a standoff between the town and the historical society.
“The jail itself is a historical gem for the city,” explains Allen Muma, the president of the Jerome Historical Society, who also happens to be Jerome’s chief of police.
Decades ago, explosions from the mines caused the ground to shift, and in the 1930s, the jail cell slid from its foundation and later ended up in the middle of Hull Avenue, one of the town’s main streets. The Arizona Department of Transportation later pushed it out of the road where it slid yet again.
Today, the historic structure sits about 225 feet from where it once stood. It’s now surrounded by weeds and bars of its own, so it can’t escape any further.
“It's become kind of an embarrassment now if you look at it. It's overgrown. Besides, it looks like a toxic waste site," said Muma.
In 1964, the Jerome Historical Society deeded the jail to the Town of Jerome. The town was supposed to make it a recreational facility for the general public and maintain it. With looming liability issues, that hasn’t happened, so the society wants it back.
“We want to fix this. Get these ugly fences down and make this pretty again,” explains Muma.
In recent years, the ground has continued to shift. Muma says insufficient drainage and an unstable hillside are to blame.
“As it stands right now, it's like a giant open wound and it sucks in this water and if we see an unusual rain, we're gonna see more slide if we're not careful,” said Muma.
He says the main problem is all the fill dumped in the area over the past several years. Muma, who’s also a former construction worker, says the debris and dirt were improperly placed, making the ground unsettled.
He says those are issues his group can fix faster and cheaper than the town, avoiding all of the government red tape. That's why he's hoping the Town of Jerome will give the property back to the historical society since it's not living up to it's stated purpose in the Deed of Transfer.
“We'll take it back. We'll fix this and if you want it back, all you have to do is pay the cost for us to repair it and you can have it back,” said Muma.
Muma estimates the work to restore the Sliding Jail and surrounding area would cost between $20,000 and $30,000. He says there would be zero profit made on the job and no interest charged to the town for as long as they take to reimburse the historical society for the work if they want to take custody of the property back.
Other options currently being considered in a Memorandum of Understanding are for the town to budget for the work and complete the job on its own, lease the property to the society to finish the restoration, or do nothing and let nature continue to take its course.
In a statement, the Town of Jerome tells 3TV, “Nothing has been formally agreed to yet, but all parties seem to be working in a cordial desire to get the slide area back to a stable, more usable more presentable condition.”
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