Jerome, Arizona is an old mining town, population of a meager 450 people, but it wasn’t always so lightly populated. It’s approximately a 2 hour drive northwest of Scottsdale in the Verde Valley. The tourist map recommends it as a must-see place to visit.
My husband and brother-in-law are fascinated with anything cowboy, so we decided to take a little road trip up there, one warm, but mostly overcast, cloudy day.
Jerome sits up on a cliff known as Cleopatra Hill. The elevation is 5300 feet. It was a lot colder up there than where we’d come from in Scottsdale. I can tell you that the one lane up and one down the mountain was a pretty narrow ride with barely a guard rail or lights. I remarked how I’d be scared to drive in or out of Jerome at night or in the rain, or worse, the snow.
A Brief History:
In the 1880s, Jerome was a billion dollar mining town full of ore. For 70 years, the two copper mines made hundreds of millions of dollars for investors. The town was named after a New York Lawyer, Eugene Jerome who formed the United Verde Copper Company.
By 1920 the population began to rise to 15,000. It hosted saloons, hotels and the town brothel, and of course a county jail. Through the years, many buildings had burned down from the two fires of 1894 and 1899, but were rebuilt.
The mines yielded millions of tons of copper, silver and gold. In 1938, an underground blast rocked Jerome’s foundation and much of the business district slid down the hillside 225 feet – most notably, the county jail. This event was the beginning of the downfall of Jerome, resulting in its becoming a ghost town.
With the depression and the advent of World War II, and fluctuating copper prices, the mines finally closed in 1953. By then, the remainder of the townspeople left, leaving a mere 50 people residing in Jerome.
Through the later decades, Jerome was rediscovered by artists who moved there for its magnificent views and cheap real estate. Now there are galleries, a few restaurants and gift shops and a few bed and breakfasts which are said to be haunted.
The town is quite small and doesn’t appear that much has been updated in decades.
There are a few updated bar/restaurants, and now ‘family’ saloons. The town brothel had been turned first into a restaurant, and has since become a store named ‘House of Joy’, carrying nostalgic items from the days of its original ill repute, full of girlie photos, flapper hats, pins and badges from earlier wars, and some old signs.
But what I found most interesting in there was a table with small cardboard boxes, each filled with coins representing various states’ brothels in the mid and southwest.
These coins were what gentlemen would purchase when entering a brothel that gave them access to a lady for the evening. Each coin had engraved the brothel name and state where it was from, and every one of them had engraved on the flipside, “Good for one night.” One could purchase these coins of choice as a souvenir for $3.00. I couldn’t help but wonder how much they paid for the service when purchasing these coins back in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
I wandered into some other gift shops and found items from natural stones to old signs to Tshirts, and found them all rather expensive compared to any other tourist place I’d been to in Arizona. I couldn’t believe that this tiny town with nothing more than a beautiful view and a bit of history charged such high prices for souvenirs. I didn’t see anyone walking around with bags.
I realize it’s now a small tourist town and everyone has to make a living, but it’s not like there’s a waiting list to get there. To me, these sky high prices were like ‘shooting yourself in the foot’ (a fitting phrase), by being a little more competitive, price-wise, I think that tourists like myself would have liked to pick up some souvenirs.
All in all it was an experience to go to Jerome and see a bit of this history. It felt strange being in that little store that was once a brothel and looking at some of the old hotels and remnants of burnt out buildings from the fires.
On the way back, I managed to capture some gorgeous sunset photos: