Mining for History in Jerome [Summer Travel 2019]

When I was a kid, my dad would come into my room early on a weekend morning and demand I get up. We would be leaving soon, destination to be revealed. We’d load up into the car, and soon, we’d be at some site of historic or cultural significance in Arizona. It could be Montezuma Castle, Bisbee, the Painted Desert or maybe Jerome.

A copper-mining camp that sprung up in the Black Hills in the late 1800s, Jerome lives on as a tourist destination catering to fans of the Old West. When the town was incorporated in 1899, it was named for Eugene Jerome, the secretary of United Verde Copper Co., which owned the local mining claims. As the copper deposits were excavated, the town boomed. But its foundations also began shifting; reportedly, some underground blasting weakened the earth supporting Jerome. Buildings began to crumble and, as in the case of the town jail, slide. You can still see that jail (betweeen Main Street and Hull Avenue, Jerome), its concrete structure about 200 feet from where it once stood.

And this relic of the Old West was the perfect stop for my little cowgirls during an excursion through the Copper State. Though I didn’t exactly drag them from their slumber in the same manner as my dad, I did keep what I already knew of the town from those long-ago trips under wraps until they could discover it on their own.

Waiting for your order or a game of Faro at the Mine Museum. (Photo by Patrice Marsters)

We started with a history lesson at the Mine Museum (200 Main St., Jerome, 928-634-5477). Just a dollar or two, which benefit the Jerome Historical Society, gains you admission to the secrets behind the onetime Wickedest Town In the West. In addition to the expected ancient mining equipment, old school desks and typewriters, you’ll find a complete bar set-up, including a ubiquitous Faro board. Among photos of the town throughout its toddler years are examples of its Old West violence, including the Colt pistol used by Marshal Johnny Hudgens to stop three vigilantes on the town’s main drag. Perhaps the most exciting, though, was the mysterious phone booth—well, it’s really only a mystery to kids who’ve never seen such a thing in the wild. Without a communication device inside, both girls insisted on posing with cellphones, as though they needed to make private calls.

As is the case at most museums, you’ll exit through a gift shop, which is loaded with the usual tourist-desired finds of items emblazoned with the city name and images of cactus and Old West heroes. Somewhere in my mug collection is a brightly colored vessel that proclaims, “London. Rome. Paris. Jerome.” But on this trip, I instead headed into Mooey Christmas & Udder Things (111 Jerome Ave., Jerome, 928-634-2604; www.mooeychristmas.com). Inside, multiple Christmas trees are decorated year-round, with music boxes and ornaments filling the shelves of the green-paneled store. There’s also a collection of Egyptian glass pieces, each one accented with 24-karat gold.

More glass treasures can be found at the nearby Nellie Bly Kaleidoscopes (136 Main St., Jerome, 928-634-0255; www.nellieblyscopes.com). Named for the journalist who traveled around the world in just 72 days in 1889 and ’90, the shop claims to be “the largest brick-and-mortar kaleidoscope store in the world.” The ’scopes are everywhere you look, designed by more than 90 artists in different shapes and offering a seemingly endless variety of patterns. Visitors are encouraged to give each one a whirl, but be gentle, as some of these beautiful shape-shifters are worth thousands of dollars.

The view from Bobby D’s patio. (Photo by Patrice Marsters)

All this eye candy made us hungry, so we went in search of food. We followed our noses and ended up at Bobby D’s BBQ (119 Jerome Ave., Jerome, 928-634-6235; bobbydsbbqjerome.com). It’s located in the English Kitchen, a Chinese restaurant that, until 2007, was the longest continuously operated restaurant in Arizona. Despite the copper-colored tin ceiling and casual, modern vibe inside, we opted to sit outside on the large wood deck overlooking the hills. The barbecue platters come with cornbread and a side; we went with the thick-sliced brisket and upgraded to the crisp onion rings, both of which I slathered in sauces from the selection of six on the table. The amazing Arizona burger (which is served as a two-patty construction unless you ask for just one 4-ouncer) is topped with green chiles and sauteed onions, pepperjack cheese and a chipotle aioli; it’s a meal in itself even without the accompanying side! If you’re traveling with kids, Bobby D’s offers generous portions for them, too, as well as a prickly pear margarita, made with homemade sweet and sour, or a Jerome Donkey, made with Copper City bourbon out of Tempe, for you.

Illustration by Jouvon Michael Kingsby. Design by Federico Medina

With a hearty meal filling your belly, take a walk, noting the deep cracks in historical structures, one of the more famous of which is the Liberty Theater (110 Jerome Ave., Jerome, 928-649-9016). Perhaps the most amusing abandoned building is the Bartlett Hotel (Main Street and First Avenue, Jerome), which has been repurposed as a penny-shooting gallery, thanks to the creative minds at the Jerome Historical Society. From the gates above the hotel’s grounds, you can toss pennies (and other denominations) at targets, knowing your coins will be used toward preserving and restoring the town. Actually, throwing your money here makes sense: Over the course of its history, the building housed a bank, a drugstore and the town’s longest-running newspaper.

If you’re staying in town, I hear the Jerome Grand Hotel (200 Hill St., Jerome, 888-817-6788; jeromegrandhotel.net) is amazing, but I also hear it’s haunted, so . . . rather than deal with any potential night terrors, we headed for more stable ground. But on the way out, we had to stop at the Douglas Mansion at Jerome State Historic Park (100 Douglas Rd., Jerome, 877-MY-PARKS; azstateparks.com/jerome) because you can’t leave a mining town without seeing some glow-in-the-dark rocks. It’s, like, a rule or something. At the very least, it would have been letting my father down.

Patrice Marsters started at OC Weekly as an intern, just before the first issue was published. She is now the associate editor of the paper, serves on the board of the Orange County Press Club, and mentors aspiring writers and editors at Newport Harbor High School. In her spare time, Ms. Marsters co-leads a multi-level Girl Scout troop, creates baked goods, and rants at inanimate objects (including her computer) about her grammatical and writing pet peeves.

One Reply to “Mining for History in Jerome [Summer Travel 2019]”

  1. Great story, Ms. Marsters! I am an Arizona native, born in Miami, AZ on top of a mountain of copper. Our family used to take road trips all over the state back in the 1950s and 1960s. We went toboganning in the winter on Mingus Mtn a couple times (which is near Jerome), and I remember seeing a mountain lion bound across the highway in front of our car. One of my earliest memories at age 3 or 4 was at a Miami Copper Company picnic around a bonfire with a couple of young miners playing guitars and banjos, singing “Clementine”. Attending rodeos on the San Carlos Apache Reservation… then as a middle schooler, going javalina hunting in the Superstition Mtns. Wow! Those were definitely the “good ol’ days”… Regards, Gordy Pardee

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