Jerome, Arizona: The Wickedest Town in the West!

America’s desert southwest is an unforgiving place. Between scorching summers and frigid winters, with too little rain in either, life is challenging. There are reminders of failed attempts all around, from cow skulls and cactus skeletons, to rusted-out cars in the middle of nowhere, all slowly camouflaging themselves to the color of the desert landscape. And yet, those who call the region home have an undeniable fondness, pride even, for their ghost towns. And few have had a better boom to bust than Jerome, Arizona.

Photo: J for Jerome on Cleopatra Hill

J for Jerome: It’s a “thing” in Arizona that many cities have a hill with their initial. Jerome’s J overlooks the town from Cleopatra Hilll.

Founded in 1876, Jerome sits atop Cleopatra Hill in northern Arizona, just about halfway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. Life began for Jerome as a copper mining camp, which grew to become one of the largest cities in the Arizona Territory. In the 1920s, the population had swelled to 15,000 and miners were pulling as much as three million pounds of copper out of the mountain every month. After World War Two, however, demand for copper dropped quickly, as did production at the mine. Phelps Dodge, one of Arizona’s largest mining companies, closed the mine 1953, and the few remaining residents – less than 100 by then – began to promote their city as the largest ghost town in America.

For decades, Jerome clung to life. In 1967, the area was designated a National Historic District, attracting tourists and a few artists, craftsmen, and historians. Today the permanent populate is near 450 and includes restaurateurs, bed and breakfast operators, and gallery and gift shop owners catering to visitors. Many of the buildings they operate in today are part of the original 1900s construction, including the Douglas Mansion, built by mining magnate “Rawhide Jimmy” Douglas in 1916. The mansion today is home to the Jerome State Historic Park, and includes a museum focused on the Douglas family, the city, and the area’s mining industry. By the way, the Douglas Mansion still stands as the largest adobe structure in Arizona.

Photo: Douglas Mansion in Jerome, Arizona

The 1916 Douglas Mansion looks some of the smaller open mines scattered in and around Jerome. The Douglas family’s large United Verde mine is just to the west of town.

So why was it the Wickedest Town in the West? If popular history is to be believed, the prospectors, miners, and frontiersmen who lived in mining camps throughout the American west were a particularly rough and rowdy bunch. And typically, where you have a camp full of hard working men, a hotel filled with “hard working women” is soon to follow. A tour of Jerome would not be complete without a visit to the back alley known as Prostitution Row. Coupled with saloons and gambling, Jerome had its fair share, if not more, of vice and wickedness. Perhaps not surprisingly, the city jail is one of several buildings that eventually gave in to gravity and slid off its foundation. (Being built on a hill, there is an average 30-degree slope which buildings must accommodate.)

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At one point, Jerome actually has a suburb or sorts. Just as Jerome was built on a mine, another claim about a mile north had failed to produce much copper, but miners did find gold! Soon, the hamlet of Haynes sprung up and, just as quickly, died away once the mine dried up. Today, the historic Gold King Mine and Ghost Town operates as a tourist attraction offering a walk into one of the mine shafts, along with a mining museum, petting “zoo” and a collection of, as they put it, “thirty years of great stuff.” (Which includes what is purportedly the largest gas engines in the world.)

Photo: Jerome Grand Hotel

Some claim the Jerome Grand Hotel was once an asylum. Actually, it was the most modern and well-equipped hospital in Arizona when it opened in 1927. It closed in 1950 and stood vacant for 44 years, rehabilitated as a hotel in 1994. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s not haunted, as claimed. After all, it is a ghost town!

While Jerome’s historic Main Street is fun to wander, there is much more to see only slight further away. In nearby Clarkdale is the Verde Canyon Railroad, and the ancient Tuzigoot Pueblo National Memorial. (If you like Native American art and crafts, the Tuzigoot gift shop is not to be missed.) Internationally known Sedona is less than an hour from Jerome, with the Red Rocks State Park and the striking Chapel of the Holy Cross. From Sedona, head north and you’ll arrive at the Grand Canyon National Park in just about two hours.

From the Wickedest Town in the West to America’s Largest Ghost Town, to a great stopping point (or base camp) along Arizona’s famed Highway 89, known for unparalleled beauty and fall color, Jerome turns out shine brighter than any of the precious and semi-precious metals pulled from its mines.

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9 comments on “Jerome, Arizona: The Wickedest Town in the West!

  1. It doesn’t look THAT ghostly in the photos here. I thought the J on the hill is pretty cool – kind of like ‘HOLLYWOOD’? Arizona people sound like a fun bunch – carving their town’s initials into the hills. And marketing their hometown as ghost towns. #TravelTuesday

    • It’s really not all that ghostly, although that hotel has a bleak past. I never really thought about J on the hill – quite a few towns and cities in America have a hillside with their initial or name on it. And if there’s no hill, we’ll paint a water tower or just about anything really tall! Hmmm…maybe that’s a whole story right there! Thanks for stopping by, Bumble Bee Mum! Oh, and Arizona people ARE a fun bunch! (That’s my home state, too!)

  2. I love Jerome! The town and setting is so charming and the history is incredible. As a matter of fact, my husband was telling me the other day that he wants to return. We also had a great BBQ lunch there.

    • Hi Ruth – It is fun! I like a lot of the small, older towns like Bisbee, Tombstone, and Jerome. Arizona just has so much character in its towns! Where are you off to next?

  3. Pingback: The Wickedest Town in America – Jerome Arizona | JoHanna Massey

    • It’s one of several “ghost towns” in the area that are fun to wander through. Some more “ghosty” than others. 😉 Thanks for the comment, Elaine!

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