Ghosts, artists, a hilltop location, and an eclectic mix of shops make Jerome, Arizona a fun and interesting day trip from Greater Phoenix. Located two hours north of Phoenix in the Black Hills of Yavapai County, the former mining town sits at an elevation of more than 5,000 feet and overlooks the Verde Valley.
To get to Jerome from Phoenix, take Interstate 17 north to the the Cottonwood-Campe Verde exit and travel west on State Route 260. At Cottonwood, continue west on Route 89A. You will see Jerome in the distance, built into the hillside atop Cleopatra Hill.
Jerome has been called "America's most vertical city" because it is built at a 30-degree incline. The main streets of this tiered town wind up the mountain, each several feet higher or lower than those it parallels. Many of the buildings in the downtown area date to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The position of some may make you wonder why they haven't fallen down the hill. In fact, one did in the 1930s. Dynamite explosions from copper mines caused Jerome's small jail to shift off its foundation and it wound up in the middle of Hull Street. It was later pushed out of the road, but it slid further. It now sits as a tourist attraction on the east side of Hull Avenue, down the hill from the parking area for the Jerome Visitor's Center.
The small downtown area is best explored on foot, but be advised -- it is not a flat walk. A number of staircases linking streets create shortcuts for pedestrians. There are several free public parking lots along the streets and a lot across from the Visitor's Center.
Maps available at the Visitor's Center highlight current and historical owners of buildings. The Center is open from 11 am to 3 pm most days, depending on volunteers. Plaques on buildings also provide historical information.
Jerome exists because of a vast deposit of copper underneath it. Prehistoric Native Americans were the first miners, followed by the Spanish, who were looking for gold but found copper. In 1876 American pioneers became interested in the area. The first mining operations began in 1883, and Jerome grew rapidly from a tent city to a prosperous company town. Its population peaked at 15,000 in the 1920s. The tiers of the city represented more than a climb up the hill, with the wealthiest building their abodes higher up -- a literal hierarchy.
You can explore the town's mining history at the Mine Museum and the Jerome State Historical Park. The Mine Museum on Clark Street depicts the timeline of Jerome's past amid displays of assorted artifacts. Jerome Historical Park is a little over a mile up Douglas Road, and is the site where James S. Douglas built his 1916 mansion up the hill from his Little Daisy Mine. The house doubled as a hotel for mining officials as well as a home for his family. Today, the Douglas Mansion hosts a museum devoted to the history of the Jerome area and the Douglas family. The park offers views of abandoned mining operations around town.
Jerome has been called "the largest ghost town in America." It was nearly abandoned altogether, and now claims to be haunted by numerous spirits.
The Great Depression of the 1930s slowed mining operations and the claim went to Phelps Dodge. Demand for copper picked up during World War II, but diminished again after the war. Mining operations shut down in 1953. Phelps Dodge, who owned most of Jerome and didn't want the liability, planned to bulldoze the town. A small group of residents formed the Jerome Historical Society and stopped the bulldozers, but the town's population shrank to just 50 people.
Today, the population is about 450 and its economy centers around tourism. Many people come to explore the ghosts of history. In 1903, a New York newspaper called Jerome the "Wickedest Town in the West." Nefarious activities and foul play have supposedly left behind tormented souls. You can seek the spirits of the past on your own or take a guided, two-hour walking tour.
The Connor Hotel dates to 1898. Two of the spectres said to haunt the building are the Lady in Red and a Male Spirit, who make their home on the second floor. Guests have also reported odd and strange "feelings" in other parts of the hotel. Another notable location for paranormal activity is the Cribs District, also known as "Prostitution Row" and "Husband's Alley." This back alley was once filled with brothels and bordellos.
Other buildings are thought to be hainted. One of the most well-known is the Grand Hotel, situated at the top of the town. The Spanish Mission style building was originally a hospital, opening as one of the most modern and best equipped hospitals in Arizona in 1927. It operated until 1950 and was restored as a hotel in 1996. Paranormal activity has been cited throughout the hotel. Take time to browse through the front desk register where guests have recorded their experiences, such as sounds of wailing at night, sudden gusts of cold, and rattling windows.
If you'd like to explore Jerome's history without the ghosts, a more traditional guided historic tour is also available. Jerome became a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
During the 1960s and 1970s, artists discovered Jerome. Old building and mining sites offered materials for a variety of art forms, and there were affordable places to live and work. A mix of artists, craftspersons, writers, and musicians made Jerome their home. The town remains a thriving artist community today.
One-of-a-kind creations by these artists that can be found in galleries, working studios, and shops throughout town include pottery, paintings, jewelry, woodwork, blown glass, photography, and wearable art. Other specialty shops carry candy, minerals, antiques, collectibles, leather goods, gourmet food items and kaleidoscopes.
If you're in Phoenix and looking to get out of town for a day, we hope we convinced you Jerome is worthy of your consideration. Just be sure to let us know if you see any ghosts!