Wind your way through Jerome, Ariz., and you might feel like you’ve reached the edges of the Earth.
Perched a mile above sea level along a 30-degree slope on the rim of Cleopatra Hill, Jerome sports heart-stopping switchbacks along narrow roads that snake along the mountainside. It has historic ruins that hark back to an 1800s mining heyday. It even has a rap as a ghost town, a reputation that’s drawn paranormal investigators looking to scare up TV ratings by conjuring spirits.
So it’s no wonder Jerome, with its jaw-dropping scenery and its quirky past, has staked a modern-day claim as a tourism destination. It also has a Southern Nevada connection: William A. Clark, the Montana copper magnate and former U.S. senator after whom Clark County is named, built a railroad into the town in the 1880s to slash freighting costs. Clark’s investment transformed Jerome into one of the biggest copper-producing districts in history.
Jerome works as a morning side trip from Prescott, 30 miles to the southwest, or from Sedona, 20 miles to the northeast. But consider spending a day or two to see why Jerome, declared a National Historic District in 1967, has become a hotbed for arts lovers and history buffs alike.
Jerome got its start in the 1870s as a center for copper mining and grew into the Arizona Territory’s fourth-largest town in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, a decade after Arizona became a state, Jerome had 15,000 people. Like most mining towns, Jerome — now with a population of just 450 — has lived through plenty of peaks and valleys. At its height, Jerome’s copper mines yielded 3 million pounds, or the weight equivalent of four 747s, every month. Legend has it that Jerome produced $1 billion in copper by the time its copper well ran dry in the 1950s.
As with many frontier outposts of the late 1800s, Jerome had more than its share of lawlessness as well, grabbing the title of the “Wickedest Town in the West.” There were fights, tragic mining accidents and nearly half a dozen major fires.
The scars of its ups and downs cut through the heart of Jerome. As you approach from the west, the Jerome Grand Hotel rises from a hill overlooking the town. The Spanish Mission-style building opened in 1926 as a hospital; today, it’s capitalizing on its past to draw ghost hunters and hobbyists. The hotel offers a “Ghost Hunting Package” that comes with a $20 ghost tour. Make the trek, and you’ll get to borrow a digital camera, an infrared thermometer and other sensors designed to help you spot and record apparitions.
The hotel’s notoriety drew the paranormal investigators of the Travel Channel series “Ghost Adventures” in 2011. They noted that Jerome’s spirits may outnumber its residents, with 9,000 people alone dying inside the hotel during its days as a hospital. The crew also reported recording ghostly voices on special equipment.
The Jerome Grand isn’t the only hotel that trades on Jerome’s spooky past. The Connor Hotel started taking room reservations Feb. 11 for its 2014 Halloween Party. And a local tour of haunted Jerome takes you past sites such as the Mile High Inn, where a woman was murdered, and the remains of buildings that have tumbled down mountainsides.
If you want your history ghost-free, then consider signing up for the annual Jerome Home Tour, scheduled for May 17 and 18. Or stop by the Douglas Mansion State Park, an adobe-brick museum with photos, artifacts and minerals. Also, The Jerome Historical Society Mine Museum on Main Street displays photos, equipment and ore samples.
But those tours touch on only one part of Jerome’s appeal today.
The town has become a haven for artists, including photographers, jewelers, leathermakers, painters and potters. Nearly two dozen local artists participate in Jerome’s Art Walk, scheduled for the first Saturday of every month. The Jerome Artists Cooperative Gallery on Main Street sells works from roughly 35 arts and crafts makers who live and work in the area. Also on Main Street, Gallery 527 sports large-scale paintings and ceramics inside a 100-year-old building complete with a faux tin ceiling and an outdoor sculpture garden.
Other notable attractions include Clark Street’s Jerome Winery, which sells both its own wines and classics from other parts of the world, and Liberty Theater on Jerome Avenue, which showed silent movies until 1929 and serves today as a cinema museum and gift shop.
Or you can stroll through Jerome’s central business district and window-shop at more than 40 stores. The eclectic mix covers everything from tattoo parlors and Christmas shops to antiques stores and gourmet grocers.
Jerome also has more than a dozen restaurants for visitors who work up an appetite chasing ghosts or collecting art. The Mile High Grill features skillet cornbread, fish and chips, chili pork stew and other comfort foods. The higher-end Grapes offers monthly, $40 wine dinners (February’s event is Tuesday and the menu includes fig and prosciutto salad, braised pork chop and raspberry tiramisu). And Gisele’s Bakery specializes in cappuccino, cupcakes and chocolate eclairs.
If you decide to head to Jerome, keep in mind that the town does have a winter season, and we’re in the middle of it. While Jerome is warmer than Flagstaff in winter (and cooler than Las Vegas in the summer), it’s vulnerable to snow and fog from December through March. So check the weather before you go by calling Jerome State Historic Park at 928-634-5381.
Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.