I had decided to back road it out of Prescott, AZ, and ended up cruising along unfamiliar mountain roads. I knew I only had a total of fifty miles or so to travel, as my tentative destination was Sedona. But it felt like a much longer distance once I realized I wasn’t entirely sure of my route. So, after spending a good amount of time feeling I was out in the middle of nowhere, it was hard to believe that any town was near, in spite of the signs indicating otherwise. The sun had almost faded away completely by now and I began hoping fairly desperately for some sign of civilization.
Gripping the steering wheel and maneuvering 15 mph hairpin turns amidst twilight shadows, I felt the road start to take me straight down a mountainside and, sure enough, I came around one last corner and suddenly found myself in the town of Jerome, an 1876 mining town.
Named after Eugene Jerome, who financed – though never visited – the area’s early mining, the town sits at a 5200 ft. elevation on the 30 degree incline of Cleopatra Hill. As an odd tidbit of trivia, Eugene Jerome’s cousin was Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Rudolph Churchill and was mother to Winston Churchill.
Had I done my research and planned my route, I would have known about this historic mining town, rather than falling into it haphazardly. But, driving in clueless as I was, it felt like I’d stepped into a movie set. Blinking in disbelief, I carefully made my way down the street past building after historic building, each appearing to be straight out of a history book. Lights flickered in windows of shops and artisan galleries, former housing for the copper miners who worked here in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The town felt like a mystical, western fairy tale.
I found lodging at The Ghost City Inn, an 1890’s historic structure, nestled – as are all Jerome’s buildings – against the sloping mountainside. I was given a small room that opened out onto the front veranda, where I could look out over the Verde Valley and across to the majestic red rocks of Sedona. Here I relaxed on the century old porch, laptop fired up – an odd mixture of old history and new technology.
I couldn’t help but wish the walls could talk. Who would have been sitting in the exact same spot 100 years before? Only the ghosts who are rumored to inhabit The Ghost City Inn would know.
There was much to explore in Jerome, so I decided to take advantage of doing so. Walking through the narrow streets I found photo opportunities everywhere – crumbling walls, quaint make-shift gardens and empty shells of buildings long gone.
The vacant structures of the “Crib District” told the tales of the many brothels and bordellos that existed in Jerome. After all, it wasn’t the copper mining that earned the town its reputation as being the “wickedest town in the west.” Don’t blame it all on the ladies of the night, though. It took combined effort to earn such a title. There was plenty of gambling and debauchery and very little law enforcement.
I had a little extra time on my hands, so I wandered in and out of stores, browsing galleries filled with work by local artists and eclectic shops of old and not-so-old antiques and odds and ends. I gave in to one purchase only – a small silver rabbit pendant with inlaid stones of turquoise, coral and lapis.
My energy level still high from the full breakfast served at The Ghost City Inn -blueberry-stuffed french toast, fruit, muffins, juice and coffee – I headed over to the Jerome State Historic Park, housed in the Douglas Mansion. This formidable structure was built in 1916 by James S. Douglas, above his Little Daisy Mine, which was developed in 1912.
Here I studied a 3-D model of the mining network – the closest I would be able to get to the 88 miles of tunnels that run under the town of Jerome. I learned about aspects of the mining industry that I would have overlooked in a regular classroom setting. History is much more interesting when the actual artifacts are right in front of the eyes.
Known as the “Billion Dollar Copper Camp,” Jerome’s mines produced copper from 1876 to 1953 and boasted a population of 15,000. During its heyday, Jerome’s mining district produced 3 million pounds of copper each month. As with many mining towns of the time period, the population dwindled along with the copper, eventually leaving very few residents, but – as it’s told – many spirits, hence the town’s nickname of “Ghost City.”
The Jerome Historical Society formed in 1953, just in time to save the town from disappearing. Thanks to the hard work of this organization, Jerome now has many preserved structures and offers visitors a unique chance to gain insight into the mining industry that was so important to the development of Arizona.
If I’d had a little more time, I’d have jumped aboard the Verde Canyon Railroad for a four hour excursion into the wilderness areas of the Verde Canyon. But there’s never enough time to do everything. I needed to move on.