Up in the Black Hills of Yavapai County in the State of Arizona, overlooking the Verde Valley, lies the ghost town of Jerome. But before Jerome was Jerome, it was the site of a small mine where the local Yavapai tribe mined copper for their jewelry. The town’s history goes back to the late 1800s when the first miners began digging for the rich ore deposits. During the 70 years they were in business, Jerome’s two copper mines made hundreds of millions of dollars for their investors.
The town was named after Eugene Jerome, a New York lawyer who financed the United Verde Copper Company, but who actually never set foot in Jerome. When gold was discovered in the area people from all over the world began flocking here. The town’s population grew from 250 residents in 1890 to over 15,000 in 1920s.
To keep their employees entertained, the mining companies built a lot of saloons, restaurants, brothels and even an opera house. At one time, it’s said there were 14 Chinese restaurants in town. But all was not well in Jerome. With the growth of the population also grew the town’s bad reputation for wickedness, gamblers and bad boys. Jerome was so filled with corruption that it was named the “Wickedest City in the West” by a New York newspaper. People in Jerome were dying in gunfights, stabbed, strangled, beaten to death, overdosed on opium, or committing suicide.
In 1953 when gold and copper deposits vanished and the last mine shut down, only about 50 people stayed behind. Jerome was on the verge of turning into a veritable ghost town, but the stubborn western city desperately hanged on to life. Jerome had a long history of tragedy and was not ready to disappear. On several occasions fire destroyed large parts of it, but Jerome was always rebuilt. In 1938 an underground blast rocked the town’s center, collapsing the business district, including the city jail which slipped 225 feet down the mountainside. But against all odds, the town survived. Ghostly remains of these buildings can still be seen today.
During the 60s and 70s some artists discovered the decaying ghost town and began moving in. Then, some residents founded the Historical Society and proclaimed Jerome largest ghost city in America. But for their efforts of preserving and restoring it, the town would have become totally extinct. Today the town’s population is about 500 residents, mainly craftsmen, inn-keepers, restaurant owners, writers and musicians. Many of the old buildings from the late 1890s still stand today and are occupied by their owners, while some of the old structures are just remains from the town’s early days.
There are several fine galleries, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, bars and some very unique gift shops in town. The buildings have a lot of charm and character and the town’s atmosphere is that of a bygone era.
In time, Jerome underwent a curious transformation: from a thriving mining town in the 1890s, to a deserted town in the 1950s, to an artist colony in the 1960s. You could say the town of Jerome is actually alive and well today, but what was once the fifth largest city in Arizona, has now been reduced to a ghost of a city.