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Arizona's tumble-down town.

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If a person questioned five different Jerome, Ariz., residents about the elevation of their little city, one might receive five different answers. All of them would be accurate, depending on where each person was standing at the moment. Highway markers indicate the official standing of the rambling community to be 5,246 feet above sea level while U.S. Geodetic surveys record various other elevations.

Constructed all over the ridges and slopes of Cleopatra Hill, the town's higher structures are as many as 1,500 vertical feet above the cabins in the lower gulch. Overlooking the fertile Verde River Valley, the town appears either to be struggling to climb up or waiting to drop down the steep inclines. In fact, a large number of Jerome's buildings actually have bowed to the pull of gravity, skittering a few feet along the 30-degree mountainside since its tumultuous birth in the 1880s, when copper was crowned king in what was once Arizona's fourth largest city.

Some blame extensive blasting for the shifting of the town's buildings since the town grew to existence atop a large network of tunnels. Many of the structures that have slipped through the years have been razed for the sake of safety, but the old jailhouse has been allowed to remain where it settled after skidding a few hundred yards from its original site across Hull Avenue to a vacant lot. While its barred windows remain intact, visitors can easily walk in and out where a back wall should be.

An estimated $800 million in copper was mined from the mountain, and fortunes were found and lost in the precarious shafts and pits where miners worked, in constant danger from cave-ins and fires. Wealth was often only a pick strike away, and countless people placed themselves in harms' way for the promise of a high-grade vein of ore. With the 1929 stock market crash, prosperity faltered, and by 1932, only a few footsteps echoed hollowly on Jerome's wooden streets.

In 1967, the federal .government designated the old mining town a National Historic District. A museum is housed many in a sprawling stone building locally referred to as the Douglas Mansion. It was once home to "Rawhide Jimmy" is in Douglas, owner and operator of the Little Daisy Mine. The Jerome State Historic Park building contains exhibits, three-dimensional dioramas and photographs to take visitors through the fascinating days of the town's glory years. A three-dimensional model of Jerome depicts the location of the 85 miles of tunnels that spread in all directions underneath the town.

A carriage house, assay office and ore train are among the displays that provide authentic glimpses into a time when the roar of explosives and dust from the mines infiltrated the pure mountain air. Stone wheels, weathered wagons and out-dated mining equipment hint at the boom days that gave birth to Jerome.

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The skeletal remains of the Little Daisy Hotel remain. Wanting to provide his workers with comfortable quarters, Douglas had the lodge constructed in 1917. But the men were unaccustomed to luxurious surroundings, and before long, they abandoned the hotel for less plush surroundings.

During Jerome's more populous years, numerous other hotels, both modest and ornate, lined the haphazard avenues. Many of them have disappeared, some demolished for salvage while others burned in fires that ravaged the city in three successive years from 1897 to 1899.

Fire was one of the most dreaded threats to the residents. There were too many tents, wood shacks and hastily built restaurants and saloons. The mines also were plagued periodically by flames, and one shaft reportedly burned continually, for 20 years.

An inadequate water supply was another hazard. This precious commodity had to be hauled up the steep, winding road from the valley by pack mule. One particular pack master, who operated a train of 200 burros, later made a name for himself as the infamous Pancho Villa.

Churches in the town show that not all miners trusted solely in the riches gained from copper. Prior to the mine closures, Haven United Methodist Church listed 300 members. The Powder Box Church was constructed from old dynamite boxes, and as with many other buildings, it has served a number of uses since the days when its Spanish-speaking congregation worshipped within its flimsy walls.

Tramping upward from the lower limits of Jerome, it is easy to imagine the busy mining-camp life that once thrived there. Portions of stone walls, stairsteps leading nowhere, vacant cabins and lonely remnants of empty foundations stand as mute reminders of the town's past.

Awe-inspiring views of the Verde Valley, in the heart of Northern Arizona, are fringe benefits when living in or visiting Jerome, and scenic panoramas of red rock country and the snow-kissed San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, almost 60 miles away, add to the view.

Jerome is just far enough off the beaten path to be easily located, yet isolated enough to possess a true ghost-town aura. The retention of mining paraphernalia and structural properties is salvaging a large part of American history, and Jerome's recognition as a historic landmark has given it attention as a great outdoor museum that depicts the history of copper mining.

Gift shops, art galleries, bed and breakfast inns and restaurants now inhabit the vintage buildings, and many craftspeople have established homes and studios there. Today, around 450 people call it home.

For additional information about Jerome, Ariz., call Jerome State Historic Park at 1 (602) 634-5381 or visit the Web site at www.azjerome.com.
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Title Annotation:Jerome, Arizona
Author:Bamburg, Glenn; Bamburg, Maxine
Publication:Grit
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:922
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