A friend and I visited Jerome, AZ in February 2016. We arrived mid-morning and left mid-afternoon. We spent our day learning about the town’s history and walking around looking at the old buildings and the new art.
The town’s website says,
Located high on top of Cleopatra Hill (5,200 feet) between Prescott and Flagstaff is the historic copper mining town of Jerome, Arizona. Once known as the wickedest town in the west, Jerome was a copper mining camp, growing from a settlement of tents to a roaring mining community. Four disastrous fires destroyed large sections of the town during its early history, resulting in the incorporation of the City of Jerome in 1899.
Founded in 1876, Jerome was once the fourth largest city in the Arizona Territory. The population peaked at 15,000 in the 1920’s.
My friend and I started our day at the Douglas Mansion museum in the Jerome State Historic Park. Adults pay $7 admission to the park, but there is no additional charge to visit the museum.
The Jerome State Historic Park website has information about the mansion.
The Douglas Mansion has been an eye-catching landmark in Jerome since 1916, when James S. Douglas built it on the hill just above his Little Daisy Mine. This former home is now a museum devoted to the history of the Jerome area and the Douglas family. The museum features photographs, artifacts and minerals in addition to a video presentation and a 3-D model of the town with its underground mines.
I thought the admission fee was money well spent to learn about the history of the town. This museum was a joy to visit. The exhibits are nicely laid out and consideration obviously has gone into choosing artifacts to share. The items on display were very well-organized. It wasn’t overrun by stuff that was just old but not very interesting. Maybe because this is a state-run museum, there are funds and expertise available to do the exhibits well.
The rock room was GREAT! It housed a large variety of specimens Don’t miss the glow-in-the dark minerals in the
small room on the side. Once you’re in the room, you press a button, the lights go out, and rocks light up in a variety of amazing colors. WOW!
I highly recommend the short (half an hour or so) documentary about Jerome shown in the master bedroom. I learned a LOT about the town’s history from that video. When you arrive, ask the ranger when the next showing starts.
Parts of the documentary (like the ghost of a miner who narrates the movie) are a little cheesy, but the information I learned outweighed the silliness. (Perhaps the ghost character was there to make the film more interesting to children. Perhaps the filmmakers decided a movie about a ghost town required a ghost.)
Something I really appreciated about the documentary at the museum and the historical plaques s around town is the mater-of-fact presentation of Jerome’s rowdy past. The present-day citizens of Jerome don’t try to gloss over or clean up the town’s rough history. The good people of Jerome are proud of the town’s past as part of the Wild West. Yes, there were saloons in the town. There was gambling, yes sir, there was. Jerome had brothels and in those brothels were prostitutes, doing what prostitutes do. Jerome was a town of ruffians, and the current inhabitants want visitors to know all about it.
Jerome’s modern history began in 1876 when three prospectors staked claims on rich copper deposits. They sold out to a group which formed the United Verde Copper Company in 1883. The resultant mining camp of board and canvas shacks was named in honor of Eugene Jerome, the venture’s principal backer. Hopes for the enterprise ran high, but the costs of operating, especially for transportation, outstripped profits, and the company folded in less than two years.
The makeup of early Jerome differed greatly from the 21st-century version of the town. The original mining claims were filed by Whites, but as the mines were developed, workers of many nationalities arrived. Among these were people of Irish, Chinese, Italian, and Slavic origin who came to Jerome in the late 19th century. By the time of World War I, Mexican nationals were arriving in large numbers, and census figures suggest that in 1930 about 60 percent of the town’s residents were Latino.
The ratio of females to males also varied greatly over time in Jerome. Census data from 1900 through 1950 show a gradual rise in the percentage of female residents, who accounted for only 22 percent of the population at the turn of the century but about 50 percent by mid-century.
As of the census of 2000, there were 329 people, 182 households, and 84 families residing in the town.
Jerome is a fun and fascinating place to visit for anyone interest in the history of the Wild West, mining, or Arizona.