I first discovered Jerome, Arizona, quite by accident in the summer of 2007 when Nick and Boone and I came to Phoenix to see my second grandson, Sebastian, who was just a few weeks old. We rode the train - Amtrak - from Topeka to Flagstaff and then rented a car for the drive down into the Valley of Hell and Phoenix. I had just put in an application to work at Luke Air Force Base, and though I didn't expect to get the job, we left Phoenix going west instead of north so that I might get a look at the air base.
We missed Luke by about five miles, but I did get a good look at the desolate and evil-hot Sonora Desert and the West Valley of Phoenix. We drove west for awhile and then headed north knowing that we could eventually make it over to Sedona and Flagstaff. During that jaunt we began climbing into the mountains of Arizona - large brown hills that would not be classified as mountains anywhere but in Arizona. Suddenly we found ourselves winding through the crooked streets of a quaint tourist town called Jerome - old and unique buildings desperately clinging to the side of Mount Cleopatra and offering breathtaking vistas of Arizona at its rugged best. Jerome quickly brings to mind the town of Eureka Springs in Arkansas.
That was six years ago and I had not made it back up to Jerome since - until today.
The drive from my house in Glendale to the old mining camp of Jerome is a little over 120 miles and about two hours in length. Much of it was along U.S. 17 which connects Phoenix to Flagstaff, but the turnoff to Jerome is at Camp Verde, about thirty miles south of Flagstaff. Highway 17 was crowded with motorists escaping the Valley, probably in hopes of finding more humane weather in the higher elevations. Once I took the turn toward Cottonwood, Clarkdale, and Jerome, the traffic thinned out and I was able to enjoy the beautiful scenery much more easily.
Almost at the instant that I passed by the Jerome city limit sign, a mule deer jumped out in front of my car and ran across the road. I took that as an omen that I would have a good visit to the mountain community - and I did.
My first stop was at the Jerome State Historic Park which includes a museum located in an old mansion that once belonged to one of the town's leading families. As I walked up to the museum, a brown Arizona lizard began walking along beside me on the sidewalk. When I stopped he would stop, and when I resumed walking, so would he. The little lizard finally peeled off and went his own way as I got close to the museum entrance. He did not try to sell me any car insurance!
While at the museum I watched a short film on the history of Jerome. It was founded as a mining camp in 1876 (more than 30 years before Arizona became a state), and at times had several thousand people living in the community. The primary mineral that was mined in Jerome was copper, but gold and silver were also found in the area in significant amounts. The town was named after a mining executive whose last name was Jerome. He was a cousin to Jenny Jerome who became the mother of Winston Churchill.
Several bad fires, landslides, and depletion of the copper led to Jerome almost becoming a ghost town, and the few resident locals dubbed it a "ghost city" in the 1950's. Hippies arrived in the 1970's and began resurrecting the community by fixing up the old historic buildings and coming up with unique businesses, many dealing with art, that drew in tourists with fat wallets. There is still a big hippie presence in the local businesses, but it appears to be a new generation of much younger free spirits.
I had lunch at Bobby D's Barbecue which is housed in the old English Kitchen, the oldest restaurant in the state of Arizona. The pulled pork sandwich was tolerable, but the ambiance (and view) in the outdoor beer garden was exceptional. After that I did a walking tour of the town, stopping in many of the shops.
The only notable native of Jerome was, as far as I can determine, actress Rosemary DeCamp. (Her IMDB biography on the Internet said that she is a native of Prescott, AZ, but the locals in Jerome claim her as their own.) Miss DeCamp was a stage actress and radio star before moving over to movies and television. She was a regular in three memorable television series including The Life of Riley, The Bob Cummings Show, and That Girl.
Coming down off the mountain, I stopped at a flea market and a bookstore in Clarkdale. It was a great day for a road trip and I had a really enjoyable time. Now I'm thinking about heading down to Bisbee, another mining community, next week. Bisbee is south of Tombstone.
There is lots of history in Arizona.