Brief History of Jerome
The historic town of Jerome is located on the steps and cliffs of Cleopatra Hill, a foothill of Mingus Mountain, one mile above sea level. Once a booming mining town, famous for a rich copper industry at the turn of the twentieth century, Jerome is now a rich historical wonder, a step back in time to days long gone.
Mining in the Jerome area began in the 1850’s, and the structures built then were functional, but hardly durable; the town wasn’t meant to last, mining towns were always just flashes in the pan, made to turn a quick profit and then abandon as a ghost town. Appropriately enough, most of the original structures were destroyed during a fire some forty years after mining began, in 1894, and then again in 1899. By then the town was working around the clock, boasting more than ten hotels, twenty bars, and eight houses for men’s pleasure. Jerome survived the flash in the pan, but not without some damages.
A number of buildings built after the fires, or having survived them altogether, have slipped down the 30-degree slope the town sits on, and continue a slow slide down the slope. Regardless of that, most of the buildings used by present-day businesses were built after the blazes—restored and renovated for the modern age. These old buildings all have particular historical significance, as most Jerome residents are happy to share. One of the most notable sections stands across the street from Bobby D’s BBQ in the old English Kitchen building, in a back alley forming the town’s Cribs District, more infamously known as “prostitution row.”
As the twentieth century plowed on, Jerome only grew. World War I brought prosperity and growth, but also brought labor unrest. The town’s major industry constantly teetered on the verge of disaster: Dynamite, open mine shafts, rusted elevator cages, cave-ins and complicated, heavy equipment were an extremely dangerous combination. Production slowed in 1930 during the great depression, and the continued use of explosives in an attempt to squeeze more copper ore from the mountain with fewer hands to dig for it finally took its toll on the unsteady town when a particularly powerful blast caused an entire block to crack and slide down a full level, creating the town’s famous “sliding jail,” which now rests, intact, a full block away from its original location.
World War II broke the Depression and revived the mines for a short while, but by 1953, after 70 years and $800 million of copper, the mines finally went silent and still. The town fell to the same fate as all mining towns in the old west eventually did—it became a ghost town at last. However, the people who remained on the hill, mostly officials from the now-defunct mines and retirees from the same industry, realized the potential for making Jerome a place worth visiting on the way to Phoenix or California.
Jerome became “America’s most unique ghost city,” and with that the town that had been all but left for dead rose up to haunt the hills with a bustling tourist industry, and lives on to this day.