American Road Trip: Jerome, Az – "a Very Lively Ghost Town"

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Founded in 1876, Jerome was for a time the fourth largest city in Arizona Territory, and was reported to be “the wickedest town in the west,” by some knowledgeable (if not particularly reputable) sources.

Once a thriving copper mining town that grew up from a settlement of tents, it was also home to some of the area’s most popular prostitutes, and more than a few colorful Western characters.

Jerome sits above one of the richest copper mines in Arizona. It once produced an amazing three million pounds of copper per month. Men and women from all over the country–sometimes the world–flocked to Jerome to find work or adventure.

The population peaked at 15,000 in the 1920’s. The Depression of the 30’s slowed the minding operation and the claim was passed on to Phelps Dodge, who owns it to this day. Would War II brought increased demand for copper, but after the war, demand for the metal slowed markedly. The mine was closed in 1953.

The few remaining souls (50-100) later began to promote the town as an historic ghost town, and in 1967, the town was designated a National Historic District. Today, Jerome is an artsy tourist town, with a population of about 450 people…and officially the largest ghost town in America.

Many of the buildings still standing and used by present day businesses are actually those built after the fires in Jerome in 1894 and 1899. Also, due to the 30 degree incline of the mountainside, gravity has pulled a number of buildings down the slope. To the delight of some, one of these buildings is the city jail. Another interesting area is the “Cribs District,” an area where all the buildings were one part of Jerome’s prostitution row.

Best Bets

There is much to see in Jerome, especially for a hamlet of its size. There are extremely unique shops, such as “Moey Christmas and More,” which features a host of Christmas cow decorations, and…well, more. And there is the “Nellie Bly,” a quaint art and gift shop that was once one of the town’s more notable whorehouses. Just taking a walk is something of an adventure down the winding old-town streets.

Bring your camera. There are beautiful examples of ruined architecture, wild sunflowers growing on the sides of hills, art everywhere, and a colorful crowd that includes hippy artists, big city folk who migrated in and stayed, and a strong biker contingent in leather and patches.

If you get a chance, and are in good shape, take a walk up the old residential streets to glimpse some gorgeous old Victorian houses, some in various stages of renovation, some old beauties just falling down the hills. The Artist’s Coop is a good place to start your art gallery hopping. It’s owned by a community of artists who display work for sale–ranging from painting, and photography to ceramics, and stained glass. Other galleries include Pura Vida, The Raku Gallery, and Spirit Art Gallery, among many others.

Don’t miss a peak at the studios in the Old Jerome High School–worth a look, and most artists are happy to talk for a while. It’s also just what you think–a group of artists took up residence in an old school building. Visit this link for more information on art galleries and the Art Walk in Jerome: http://www.jeromeartwalk.com/studiosgalleries/index.html.

Restaurants are top notch. Check out Grapes for an upscale, yet comfortable bar atmosphere with a great wine list, plus some of the best Bruschetta you will ever have. Don’t miss the Haunted Hamburger, a Jerome classic. Situated in an old house, and decorated as such, the funky vibe will draw you in. The burgers are gourmet classics in themselves.

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