Jerome, Arizona: America’s Ghost City

c 2016 by Jan MacKell Collins

Everyone, it seems, knows where Jerome is. From locals to tourists and people in far away places, this enigmatic little town—perched on Cleopatra Hill between Flagstaff and Prescott—draws visitors daily. There is an unexplainable charm about Jerome, ranging from its rollercoaster of historic mining eras to the unique shops scattered throughout town.

Jerome’s humble beginnings date to 1876 when the budding mining camp formed as claims were staked in the area. Copper was the name of the game, and in 1880, Frederick Augustus Tritle (soon to be Territorial Governor) and mining engineer Frederick Thomas began buying up claims. Soon after Tritle was named Governor, the partners brought in several eastern investors to form the United Verde Copper Company. One of them, attorney Eugene Jerome of New York, was made secretary and, consequently, the mining camp was named for him.

By 1883, Jerome had a post office and smelter. The “UV”, as it was known, also constructed wagon roads leading to Prescott, the Verde Valley and the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad at Ash Fork. A school opened in 1884. The miners of Jerome included those of American descent, but also Chinese, Croations, Irishmen, Italians, Mexicans and Spaniards. Their families mingled among each other and attended churches and social functions together.

The success of the UV was short-lived due to the price of copper falling by 50% in late 1884. Jerome suffered the first of many downward slides until about 1888, when William Clark purchased the mine, made improvements, enlarged the smelter and built the United Verde & Pacific Railroad to Jerome Junction some 27 miles from town. A public library opened in 1889, and by 1890 the population was up to 250 people.

Jerome eventually grew to be the fourth largest town in Arizona, but suffered from no less than four disastrous fires over time beginning in 1894. The town rebuilt after each conflagration, but also suffered issues as certain buildings occasionally slid downhill in the wake of jarring mine blasts. Hardy as it was, however, Jerome overcame these problems and incorporated in 1899. Local merchant and rancher William Munds was the first mayor, and within a year the population had reached 2,500 residents.

Being a large mining town naturally brought some unsavory elements to Jerome. Although there were plenty of upstanding businesses, there were also plenty of saloons, gambling halls and brothels. In 1903, the New York Sun dubbed Jerome “the wickedest town in the West”. Two years later, Mayor George W. Hull (who incidentally owned most of the land in town), ordered Jerome’s soiled doves to cease business along the main drag. The ladies complied, moving one street over—to Hull Avenue.

By 1917, Jerome’s mining industry was thoroughly broken in. There were roughly 20 working mines and during World War I, as copper prices reached an all—time high, miners went on strike for higher wages. Most of them were in turn deported from the district, some courtesy of two cattle cars belonging to the UV. The men were taken as far away as Kingman and even Columbus, New Mexico where they were released and advised never to set foot in Jerome again. Only a few of them ever returned.

The Great Depression once again slowed mining operations, and the UV was purchased by Phelps Dodge. Things picked up again due to high demand for copper during WWII, but the mine eventually closed again in 1953. Recognizing Jerome’s amazing and lively history, the Jerome Historical Society formed that same year. The Society began working with Phelps Dodge to preserve the town buildings, and even purchased numerous structures. In 1965, mine owner Jimmie Douglas’ palatial mansion on the outskirts of town was made into a state park, and two years later Jerome was designated a National Historic District.

Jerome’s history continues today with museums, shops and history spread all throughout the town. In 2012 the Jerome Historical Society formed the “Trilogy of Metals”, linking with Victor, Colorado and Virginia City, Nevada. Visitors can get a special passport, spend time and money in each town and return their stamped passport to the Historical Society for a wooden plaque with commemorative coins. A visit to Jerome is a great place to start, and end, an amazing journey about mining history.

Stories of Jerome’s wicked past can be found in Wild Women of Prescott, Arizona by Jan MacKell Collins.

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