High up on the side of a mountain is Jerome, Arizona. When I say on the side of a mountain, I literally mean that. The houses were built long ago and are practically suspended from Cleopatra Hill. In fact, through the years many of the houses have lost their adherence and have toppled down the slope.
We kept hearing stories about Jerome and its artists’ colony and the more we heard, the more we were intrigued and decided to take a look.
We left from our home base in Prescott, taking Highway 89A over Mingus Mountain. The lush forest scenery was breathtaking as we climbed to higher elevations along a very curvy road. One 12-mile section is said to have 158 curves and I believe it. I was glad when we reached our destination, as I was feeling a bit queasy from all those zigzags.
As we entered the city limits, we could see the town adorning Cleopatra Hill. It has been called “America’s Most Vertical City” and “The Largest Ghost Town in America.”
Jerome started off as a copper mining town and became known as the wickedest town in the West, with more than its share of saloons, opium dens and brothels.
The town overlooks what was once the largest copper mine in Arizona. It is said this mine produced 3 million pounds of copper per month. As mining operations slowed and then finally closed, Jerome went from a population of 15,000 in the 1920s to a mere 50 to 100 in 1953. These remaining folks preserved the town, which earned a National Historic District designation in 1967.
Today, the antique cobblestone streets are lined with well-preserved buildings, and the population has grown to about 450. Some are artists; others are in the tourist trade. During the hippie era in the 1960s and ‘70s, Jerome became a haven for a new generation of inhabitants who were nearly as colorful as their predecessors. Things haven’t changed much through the years as the townsfolk still consist of an eclectic group of artists, crafts people, musicians, writers, hermits, bed and breakfast owners and shopkeepers. It’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill small town.
Getting Around Town
As we entered town, we had to maneuver on narrow, hilly streets with occasional switchbacks. On the way we saw beautifully preserved buildings sitting next to abandoned ruins.
In some respects, Jerome must look a great deal as it did in the late 1800s. Many of the buildings have been restored and are used now as tourist shops,
Restaurants, T-shirt shops, and art galleries line the streets, competing for a piece of the tourist action. There was a great shop selling kaleidoscopes, another selling souvenirs related to the mining town’s soiled doves, and many watering holes where we could stop for a rest before climbing yet another hill to more shops.
We loved the Artists’ Cooperative and had lively conversations with several of the artists on duty. Patrick Lincoln, a digital artist from the Artists’ Cooperative, summed up his philosophy, in a way that may explain Jerome: “I am the gypsy grasshopper growing old, living from hand to mouth and month to month. I am 59 years old with no wife, no pets, no plants, no progeny, no MBA, no 401 (K), no health plan, no life insurance, no dental…but!! I got a head full of hair, en eye full of art, and a pocket full of poetry and damn few regrets.”
If your interests run more to history and less to tourist shops, head to Jerome State Historical Park not far from downtown. Inside you can find antique mining equipment and history exhibits along with a historic mansion.
Rumors of Ghosts
A few wandering spirits are said to be seen around town. The Town Community Center is often referred to as “Spook Hall” due to some strange happenings there by its resident ghost—a sporting lady who met her untimely death by a knife stabbing.
The Mile High Inn was home to Madam Jennie Banters’ popular bordello. As the town became more civilized, the bordellos were forced to move their businesses off Main Street at which time “Husbands’ Alley” was born.
The building has been home to many businesses through the years until it became the charming inn it is today. It not only caters to tourists, but also is said to play host to Jennie herself as well as a number of other resident ghosts, including a phantom cat that walks on walls and leaves its footprints on the beds. Jennie is reportedly most often seen in the Lariat or Lace rooms and also keeps an eye on the kitchen, causing a ruckus from time to time.
Marti French is a writer whose winter home is in Mesa, Arizona.
IF YOU GO:
For more information, contact the Jerome Chamber of Commerce by calling (928) 634-2900 or visit www.jeromechamber.com .
Jerome is 60 miles from Flagstaff and 90 miles from Phoenix.