35 miles NE of Prescott; 28 miles W of Sedona; 130 miles N of Phoenix
Few towns anywhere in Arizona make more of an impression on visitors than Jerome, a historic mining town that clings to the slopes of Cleopatra Hill high on Mingus Mountain. The town is divided into two sections that are separated by an elevation change of 1,500 vertical feet, with the upper part of town 2,000 feet above the Verde Valley. On a clear day, the view from Jerome is stupendous -- it's possible to see for more than 50 miles, with the red rocks of Sedona, the Mogollon Rim, and the San Francisco Peaks all visible in the distance. Add to the unforgettable views the abundance of interesting shops and galleries and the winding narrow streets, and you have a town that should not be missed.
Once known as the billion-dollar copper camp, Jerome was founded in 1883 and by the 1920s was the fourth largest city in Arizona. In the early years, Jerome's ore was mined using an 88-mile-long network of underground railroads. However, in 1918 a fire broke out in the mine tunnels, and mining companies were forced to abandon the tunnels in favor of open-pit mining.
Between 1883 and 1953, Jerome experienced an economic roller-coaster ride as the price of copper rose and fell. In the early 1950s, when it was no longer profitable to mine the copper ore of Cleopatra Hill, the last mining company shut down its operations, and almost everyone left town. By the early 1960s, Jerome looked as though it were on its way to becoming just another ghost town -- but then artists who had discovered the phenomenal views and dirt-cheap rents began moving in, and slowly the would-be ghost town developed a reputation as an artists' community. Soon tourists began visiting to see and buy the artwork that was being created in Jerome, and old storefronts turned into galleries.
Jerome is now far from a ghost town, and on summer weekends the streets are packed with visitors browsing the galleries and crafts shops. The same remote and rugged setting that once made it difficult and expensive to mine copper has now become one of the town's main attractions. Because Jerome is built on a steep slope, streets through town switch back from one level of houses to the next, with narrow alleys and stairways connecting the different levels of town. All these winding streets, alleys, and stairways are lined with old brick and wood-frame buildings that cling precariously to the side of the mountain. The entire town has been designated a National Historic Landmark, and today, residences, studios, shops, and galleries stand side by side looking (externally, anyway) much as they did when Jerome was an active mining town.
Jail Brakes? -- One unforeseen hazard of open-pit mining next to a town built on a 30-degree slope was the effect dynamiting would have on Jerome. Mine explosions would regularly rock Jerome's world, and eventually buildings in town began sliding downhill. Even the town jail broke loose. With no jail brakes to stop it, the jail slid 225 feet downhill. (Now that's a jailbreak.)