JEROME, Ariz. — The mountainside hamlet of Jerome, Ariz., is a chiming, one-of-a-kind town with a deep history worth exploring.
After a quick drive through this town, located about 20 miles west of Sedona, it’s hard to believe this was at one point one of Arizona’s largest cities.
The winding road that visitors use to travel to the former mining community of Jerome is half the fun. The other half is in the city’s colorful history and the people who call this place home.
By the late 1920s, the city’s population peaked at roughly 15,000. Today, the town boasts 444 residents, according to the 2010 Census — a 35 percent increase in population from a decade earlier. The median age of residents is 54.6 years old.
The three most fascinating facts to know about Jerome:
— If not for copper, Jerome may never have existed
— If not for tourists, Jerome wouldn’t be the town it is today
— The town is today home to great wine and a vibrant arts community
If not for great wineries and fantastic Mexican food, tourists wouldn’t feel so refreshed in this town that touts itself as the “Town too Strong to Die” or the “Largest Ghost Town in America.” Thankfully such indulgences nicely complement the town’s vibe and make the visit well worth the trip.
Jerome, named for New York investor Eugene Murray Jerome, once sat above the largest copper mine in the state. Founded in the mid 1870s, Jerome, nestled in the eastern Yavapai County area known as the Black Hills, was once one of the Arizona Territory’s largest cities.
History suggests Native Americans first mined the area long before Europeans came to the region. Although the Spanish knew for years the town was home to silver ore deposits, the first mining claims for the area dates to 1876.
It wasn’t until 1883 when the United Verde mine started its operations that Jerome was a well-known mining community — a position that was further entrenched shortly after that when the Little Daisy mine started operations.
Although other Arizona mining towns (case in point: Tombstone) are better remembered, Jerome garnered a reputation for its raucous atmosphere. A New York newspaper at one point dubbed the community “the wickedest town in the West.”
Despite significant fires over the years, mining continued until 1953. However, the population dwindled to about 50 people, making the city known as the country’s largest ghost town, and it appeared Jerome might turn into a ghost town.
The best place to learn about the city’s unique history is at the Jerome Historic State Park. Douglas Mansion, which mining executive Jimmy Douglas built circa 1916, is home to the state park.
The mansion opened as a state park in 1965 and today features a plethora of artifacts. A video history and a 3-D model of the town and its mines help bring the story to life.
In 1967, the town was named a Historic District (its National Historic Landmark came about in 1976). In the 1970s, the community began attracting a counter-culture population. Today, Jerome is as much known for its art scene as its mining past.