Jerome’s Mining Camp Was Once “The Baddest Town in the West”

JEROME, Arizona (3TV/CBS 5) – The historic mining town of Jerome in Yavapai County is perched on the side of Cleopatra Hill, where some of the richest copper ores were mined from the earth. The ancient inhabitants were familiar with the rich colored copper-bearing minerals of the region. The Hohokam lived and farmed in the area. Conquistadors in search of cities of gold noticed rich copper ore when they explored the area in 1585. But their quest was for gold, not copper, and they moved on.

Atop Mingus Mountain and in the switchbacks of town, or approaching Verde Valley and climbing the SR89A, the historic mining town of Jerome offers a glimpse into the past. Either approach offers an easy day trip from Phoenix, but perhaps an extended stay in historic 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 after one of the financiers, Eugene Jerome of New York.

Jerome, circa 1927, was backed by rich copper mines.(Grand Hotel Jerome)

In a short period of 5 years in the late 1800s, 4 devastating fires tore through major sections of the city. The mountainside town needed a fire department and to get one, it had to be incorporated. 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 1880s and early 1950s, Jerome survived the mass exodus of citizens after the local mine closed in the 1950s. A few hardy people remained in the “ghost town abandoned, and over the following decades the town transformed into the tourist destination it is today. There was a time when the city had a reputation for being an unruly place. It even held the title of “wickedest city in the West” in 1903 when the New York Sun declared it as such. They had good reason to do so, there was a big red-light district, full of saloons and even an opium den. They also had an opera house and as many as fourteen Chinese restaurants in operation!

The nation’s attention turned to Jerome in July 1917 when the striking miners received a strong arm from the mine owners. At the time, armed vigilantes, organized by the owners of the Phelps Dodge mine, rounded up 67 striking miners, loaded them into cattle cars and shipped the men out of state to Needles, California, leaving without any provision. A similar roundup was carried out in Bisbee where more than 1,000 strikers were taken and left stranded in the desert in Mexico. No one has ever been convicted in connection with the evictions, but a presidential commission investigated the actions and in its final report described the eviction as “completely illegal and without legal authority, either at the level of the state or federal government”.

Yet Jerome continued to prosper as he grew with the demand for copper. It reached its peak in the 1920s with a population peaking at around 15,000. The beginning of the end of the good times began when the depression hit in the early 1930s, slowing down mining. By then the place was starting to slide down, both literally and figuratively.

Geological fault activity, exasperated by blast vibrations from mining activity, slid dozens of buildings down the slope as the land below gave way. The problem only got worse over time.

There was a brief surge in demand for copper during World War II, but when the war ended demand slowed, leaving the mine to close in 1953. Jerome’s population dwindled to around 50 to 100 people, they called the city a dead city. In 1967 Jerome was designated a National Historic District by the federal government. Today Jerome is a thriving tourist and arts community with a population of approximately 450.

Today Jerome is home to artists, artisans, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, antique shops, bars, wine tasting rooms, museums and gift shops. The architecture preserves the buildings of the early 19th century and offers many opportunities to explore unusual corners and meeting places!

Entering the city on SR89A from the top of Mingus Mountain, the first significant building that stands out is the Jerome Grand Hotel. It sits at the top of the city, giving guests some of the best views around! Jerome State Historic Park (link) sits below the slopes of town, housed in the owner’s former home, the Douglas Mansion. The historical story of Jérôme is fully told in this establishment.

As you wander the streets of the city, you’ll find unique interests at every turn, but remember to wear comfortable shoes as most of your time wandering will be spent up or down!

About Jefferey G. Cannon

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