Dubbed the “billion dollar copper camp”, this mining town clings to the side of Cleopatra Hill
Clinging to the side of Cleopatra Hill is a one-of-a-kind town called Jerome. Jerome’s population once soared to 15,000 during the boom times and the dropped down to only about 50. On the verge of permanent closure, Jerome rebounded and turned into a major tourist attraction. With about two hundred full-time residents as well as plenty of tourists, Jerome stands today the largest ghost town in the United States.
Over 1,000 years ago, Sinagua Indians living at Tuzigoot National Monument mined azurite. The Spanish, led by Coronado, passed through the area in the early 1500’s seeking gold. Since gold was not abundant, but copper was in the area, the Spanish continued on. In 1583, another Spanish Explorer, Antonio de Esepejo, returned from the Verde Valley with promising silver samples. The Spanish took what they could get and in 1598, Governor Juan de Oñate sent Marcos Farfán to search for silver. He found many rich samples but there was one problem: how to get the minerals back home? Due to the remote location, the Spanish were forced to leave.
In 1876, Morris Andrew Ruffner filed two claims in the area after finding promising ore. However, he did not have the money for mining and turned to Angus and John McKinnon. With two-thirds of Ruffner’s interests, the McKinnon’s were happy; for a while. After four years, the McKinnon brothers realized that they were getting nowhere and considered selling their interests. At this time, Dr. James Douglas, a metallurgist and copper expert, was sent by Easterners to assess the claims in Jerome. He like what he saw but the location was so remote, he suggested they don’t invest.
Arizona Territorial Governor Frederick Augustus Tritle and Frederick Thomas wanted to buy claims in Jerome, but they needed Eastern capital to do so. By 1882, a group of investors were hired and founded the United Verde Copper Company. Secretary and treasurer of the United Verde was Eugene Murray Jerome, a successful attorney from New York. The town bared his name even though he never visited it!
In 1882, the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad was completed narrowing the distance from Jerome to a form of easier transportation to only 60 miles. Before this, Abilene, Kansas was the closest railhead. The United Verde was sold to William Andrews Clark in 1888. He later became a millionaire and a senator in Montana, where he was from. The mine began producing more and a town sprung up the best it could on a 30° slope. The smelter, which had to be put close to the town, destroyed all plant life on Cleopatra Hill.
In 1891, copper prices dropped forcing a budget cut in the ore transportation. A railroad was necessary to fit these needs. It was at this time when the United Verde and Pacific Railroad, the “crookedest line in the world”, was completed. The narrow gauge railroad had 186 curves!
The rich mine which produced 3 million pounds of copper a month finally began winding down in 1894. With a fire in the upper part of the mine, methods of operation needed to be changed. The smelter, which burned for 33 years, needed to be moved. Mining operations began to shift from underground mining to open-pit mining because this proved to be more profitable. This required a totally new set up for the town, which now had to become permanent with the starting of an open pit mine. Fires raged throughout Jerome at this time, but, the town was rebuilt; three times!
By 1900, Jerome was the fourth largest city in Arizona and had about 2,860 people living in it. People from all over came to Jerome to work. In 1912, open-pit mining began and Clarkdale (just north of Jerome) was constructed as a $2 million smelter town. The town bustled and buildings popped up, however, at this time, the town was fairly segregated. Also in 1912, James S. Douglas (son of Dr. James Douglas) and head of the United Verde Extension Mining Company, rival of the United Verde Copper Company, discovered a huge vein of ore. He called it the Little Daisy Mine and in 1916 built the Douglas Mansion. He designed it to be a hotel for family, mining officials, and investors. The mansion was very elegant and was far ahead of its time, with a central vacuum system and all. Douglas also built the Little Daisy Hotel, (the abandoned building west of the mansion) which served as a dormitory for his miners. Both structures still stand today and the Douglas Mansion has been turned into a state park. Audrey Head frame Park, just west of the mansion, gives visitors the opportunity to stand over the 1900 foot vertical shaft of the Little Daisy Mine.
Labor disputes in 1917 caused ruckus. On July 10th, 1917, 210 men stormed the city all looking for members of the Industrial Workers of the World (who were on strike at this time). 60 men were found and loaded into a cattle car. This event, called the Jerome Deportation, was followed by a very similar event in Bisbee; the Bisbee Deportation. Less than a year later, operations were back to normal and WWI brought an increase in demand for copper.
Phelps Dodge Corporation bought the United Verde Copper Company, the United Verde Extension, and the Verde Central Mines for $35 million in the 1930’s. WWII brought the demand for copper up once again, as well as wealth to Phelps Dodge. In 1938, the United Verde Extension Mine closed, followed by the United Verde in 1953. Explosions underground as well as shifts in the Verde Fault Line caused portions of the town to be destroyed, sending others sliding down hill. Buildings such as the movie theater and the famous “Sliding Jail” are good examples of this.
Jerome, the “billion dollar copper camp” really is something to see. It’s one of a kind, and as you can tell, has a lot of history. Jerome, “A town on the move,” is a great place to explore part of Arizona’s history!
Trimble, Marshall. Roadside History of Arizona. 2nd edition. Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2004. 260-264. Print.
Varney, Philip. Arizona Ghost Towns and Mining Camps. 10th printing. Phoenix, AZ: Department of Transportation, State of Arizona, 1994. 10-14. Print.
"Jerome State Historic Park" Arizona State Parks” Jerome State Historic Park, 2011. Web. <http://www.pr.state.az.us/parks/jero/index.html>