Jerome, clinging to the slopes of Cleopatra Hill above the Verde Valley, may have Arizona's most unusual layout and history. For more than 70 years the town's booming mines produced copper, gold, and silver. Most residents departed after 1953 when the mines closed, but Jerome has come back to life with museums, art galleries, antique shops, and restaurants. Old-fashioned buildings—some restored, others abandoned—add to the atmosphere. Walking Jerome's winding streets is like touring a museum of early 20th-century American architecture.
Expansive views across the Verde Valley take in Sedona's Red Rock Country, Sycamore Canyon, the Mogollon Rim, and the distant San Francisco Peaks. Three very different museums will introduce you to the human and mining history of the area.
Prehistoric tribes came to dig brilliant blue azurite and other copper minerals for use as paint and jewelry. Spanish explorers, shown the diggings by Native American guides, failed to see any worth in the place. In 1876, several American prospectors staked claims to the rich copper deposits, but they lacked the resources to develop them. Eugene Jerome, a wealthy lawyer and financier, smelled a profit and offered financial backing to those who would mine the ore. A surveyor laying out the townsite named it in honor of the Jerome family, though Eugene himself never visited the area.
From the time the United Verde Copper Company began operating in 1882, the town's economy went on a wild roller-coaster ride dependent on copper prices. Mines closed for brief periods, then reopened. So many saloons, gambling dens, and brothels thrived in Jerome that a New York newspaper called it the "wickedest town in the West." Fires roared through the frame houses and businesses three times between 1897 and 1899, yet Jerome rose again each time, eventually becoming Arizona's fifth-largest city. Underground blasting and fault slippage shook the earth so much that some buildings keeled over and banks refused to take the average Jerome house or business as collateral. The town's famous sliding jail took off across the street and down the hillside, where it still lies today.
The community enjoyed its greatest prosperity during the Roaring '20s, when the population hit 15,000. The stock market crash and ensuing Depression spelled disaster for the copper industry; mines and smelter shut down and the population plummeted to less than 5,000. World War II brought Jerome's last period of prosperity before the mines closed for good in 1953. Many people thought Jerome would become a ghost town when the population shrank to only 50 souls. But, beginning in the late 1960s, artists, shop owners, tourists, retirees, and others rediscovered Jerome's unique character and setting.
A walk around downtown will turn up lots of history and art. You'll get some good exercise too, as there's little level ground. Locals use stairways as a shortcut to get from one part of this "vertical" town to another, and you can also. The two one-way streets, Main and Hull, in the center of Jerome make a good walking loop. Plaques on some of the buildings tell about their colorful history. When you need a break, pop into a cafe or have a picnic at one of the shaded tables across Hull Avenue from the visitor center. Carriage rides provide another option for sightseeing; they start near the visitor center.
In the upper part of town, visit the unusual 1894 Holy Family Church, a large brick building just above the switchback. While many old Jerome structures have a pressed-metal ceiling, this church has decorative metal panels on the walls as well. It's no longer used for services, but is normally open daily for visitors. You can read about its history inside and admire the statues and other artwork.
Jerome State Historic Park
The Douglas Mansion, built in 1916 by James "Rawhide Jimmy" Douglas, tops a hill overlooking the Little Daisy Mine. Today, the old adobe-brick mansion (928/634-5381, 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $5 adults, $2 ages 7–13) brims with Jerome mining lore. A video presentation portrays the many changes Jerome has seen. Old photos and artifacts introduce the miners and describe community life. An assay office, mining tools, and mineral displays show how the workers extracted metals from the earth. You can get a feel for what lies below in the three-dimensional model of Jerome's mineshafts, underground work areas, and geologic features. The elegant Douglas library looks much as it did when Rawhide Jimmy lived here.
At the viewpoints outside, you'll have a fantastic panorama of Jerome; signs identify many of the historic buildings. Walk around the mansion to see a giant stamp mill and the more primitive arrastre (drag-stone mill) and Chilean wheels once used to pulverize ore, plus other mining gear. Old vehicles rest in the carriage house. A small picnic area beside the mansion offers expansive views of the Verde Valley. Turn off AZ 89A at Milepost 345 at the lower end of Jerome (eight miles west of Cottonwood), then follow the paved road one mile.
Audrey Shaft Headframe Park
On the right just before Jerome State Historic Park, you'll see this 1918 headframe in a little park (8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $2 suggested donation). The wooden headframe is said to be the largest of its type still standing in Arizona, and from a glass floor, you can peer straight down the 1,900 foot shaft! Also on the grounds are the turbine and generator used at the historic Irving Power Plant, once powered by a flume from Fossil Springs, and a variety of mining equipment.
Jerome Historical Society Mine Museum
Exhibits in an 1899 building that once housed a fashion salon now illustrate Jerome's development with paintings, photos, stock certificates, mining tools, and ore samples. A gift shop sells books about Jerome's fascinating history. The museum (928/634-5477, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. daily, $1 adults, free for children under 12) is downtown at the corner of Main Street and Jerome Avenue; look for the two large half-wheels.
Gold King Mine & Ghost Town
If you've ever wanted to poke around a ghost town, or if you're fascinated by old machinery, you'll enjoy this collection (928/634-0053, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, $4 adults, $3 seniors 62–74, $2 children 6–12). The mine and the town of Haynes came to life here in 1890–1914, when miners dug a 1,200-foot-deep shaft to extract a modest amount of gold and silver. Among the hoists, pumps, engines, five-stamp mill, and ore cars, look for the prospect tunnel, a blacksmith shop, a schoolhouse, and an assay office. For a small fee, you can see and hear "Big Bertha" run; it's a three-cylinder, 10,154-cubic-inch engine that once powered a mine; the flywheel alone weighs 13,000 pounds! A small petting zoo attracts the kids. You can watch an antique sawmill in operation daily. More than 100 trucks and other historic vehicles line the streets. Many are Studebakers, including a 1902 electric that still runs. An antique truck and equipment show takes place here in May on the weekend before Mother's Day, and there's a VW bus show in mid-September.
Enter through the gift shop, which sells mining memorabilia and other souvenirs. From the upper switchback on AZ 89A in downtown Jerome, turn northwest and drive one mile on Perkinsville Road. On the way you'll pass a large open-pit mine on the left, where Jerome's smelter stood at the beginning of the 20th century.
This scenic back road drops from Jerome to the Verde River at the historic Perkinsville Ranch, then climbs into the ponderosa pine forests of the Mogollon Rim and on to downtown Williams. The first 27 miles are dirt, followed by 25 of pavement. Cars may be able to negotiate the road—bumpy and dusty in places—in dry weather. All vehicles should avoid the route after winter snowstorms or heavy summer rains. Allow at least three hours for a one-way drive, or more to stop for views, hikes, or a picnic. Stock up on gas and supplies, as none are available along the way. Turn northwest onto Perkinsville Road at the upper switchback in Jerome.
The high country seven miles southwest of Jerome offers many camping, hiking, and back-road drive possibilities. Contact the Prescott National Forest offices in Prescott and near Camp Verde for recreation information. Summit Picnic Area, at the 7,023-foot pass on AZ 89A between Jerome and Prescott, offers tables, paved parking, and restrooms; free.
Also at this pass, turn north a half mile on a paved road for Potato Patch Campground, which offers pull-thru RV sites with electricity and water in B Loop for $18, and non-hookup sites farther back in the forest at Loop A for $14; the season runs May to September. On the way in, you'll pass a trailhead on the left for the Woodchute Wilderness.
The turnoff for Mingus Mountain Campground is on the other side of the highway at the pass; head in three miles on unpaved Forest Road 104; sites overlook the Verde Valley and are open about May to September with electric hookups for $10, tent sites for $6; no drinking water at present, though water may be added in the future, in which case prices will go up. Groups can reserve nearby Playground at 877/444-6777 or www.recreation.gov. Besides these developed campgrounds, you can also find many undeveloped places off the forest roads.
The small, 5,700-acre Woodchute Wilderness protects the gentle slopes of Woodchute Mountain (7,834 feet), about 10 miles west of Jerome. Woodchute Trail heads north to the summit from a trailhead near Potato Patch Campground.
On to Jerome Practicalities
On to Prescott