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Jennie's Place gets a new backbone: Jerome historical treasure finally finds some help

Mary Wills on the basement level of Jennie’s place, which she and Sally Dryer have been restoring. VVN/Jon Hutchinson

"Belgian" Jennie Bauter was a madam of enduring notoriety and love in Jerome and later in Gold Road, another mining hotspot southwest of Kingman in the last century.

Jerome would later abolish prostitution in the moderation of the mining town, but Jennie would die of multiple gunshots in Gold Road two years after leaving Jerome.

Now, 100 years later, "Jennie's Place," the Jerome hotel and one-time "cribs," where she built her fame and fortune in Jerome, has a new lease on life.

A new madam is now running the house, but Mary Wills peddles kaleidoscopes, not flesh. Still, she has also kept intact the history of what has became known as the Sullivan Hotel and given it a new backbone to support its four floors into the future.

Bauters became known as one of the wealthiest woman in the Arizona Territory with property from Main to Hull Avenue in Jerome and with a bar and hourly accommodations later in Gold Road.

She endured three fires in Jerome that destroyed successive frame buildings and it is said that tents made do for shelters until a new brothel could open. Bauters finally rebuilt with brick facing Hull Road since brothels were not allowed on Main. Jennie's place had 20 rooms.

But after she was killed by a former beau in Gold Road, an agent sold the Jerome land to John Sullivan in 1907. The new owner expanded the cribs with a second floor, and built out a hotel to Main Street with a total of 60 rooms.

The building remained in the Sullivan family through son Jerry and grandson Leo. But Leo had the cribs torn down in 1971 and 1972 as unsafe.

"He was not one who was preservation minded," mused Mary Wills.

The building passed through another ownership in 1986 before being purchased by Mary Wills and Sally Dryer.

When Mary and Sally realized their purchase could crumble to earth, they looked at restoring the grand hotel. But the endeavor was to be a monumental undertaking that would drag on for years. It called for architects, engineering and lots of expense.

Just this past week, the external structure was finally completed and awaits paint. Then the effort will move inside. If fire sprinklers are required, there could be more delays.

The story goes back to late 2007, when an oversized check was presented to the preservationists from a State Heritage Fund grant to save the historic building. The money passed through the town of Jerome. But that joyous mood didn't last, because the state began the first of its many "sweeps" of State Parks Heritage Funds (in this case) to save the state general fund from the economic collapse as the recession began to sink in.

Mary says they learned their grant had been cancelled just after they had issued a contract for the purchase of a ton of steel for $98,000.

Today, that steel stands four floors tall to support the building. They had earlier been holding the building in place with steel cables.

Eventually, the money was restored. Then it was taken away again before it finally was restored again just over a year ago.

"We have borrowed from friends, everyone we can think of ... even employees," Mary says.

No one is saying the building is finished. There is still plenty to do. The interior of the basement floor is likely to one day provide room for a spacious shop with all those windows that gaze out across the Verde Valley to the San Francisco Peaks.

But, what happened to Jennie?

The story goes, according to the Museum of History and Art in Kingman, in about 1903, Jennie Bauters left Jerome, and headed for a new boom town called Acme (after the Acme Gold Mine), now known as Gold Road. Jennie's gambling suitor, Clement C. Leigh, followed her there.

After a time, Jennie began to feel he was a threat. In September 1905, Leigh needed money to settle a bad debt. With anger and a gun in his hand, he headed to Jennie's place and demanded she hand over her cash. An argument ensued and Jennie tried to flee from the building. He chased after her, firing several shots, which wounded her as she ran into the street. He approached the paralyzed woman and fired a fatal shot to her head. He then pointed the gun to his chest and fired again. He lay down beside her to die.

But, instead, Leigh survived the suicide attempt and was carted off to jail. Jennie was mourned by all and laid to rest in the Pioneer Cemetery in Kingman. In 1907, justice was served and Leigh was hanged. He too, was buried in the Kingman Pioneer Cemetery.

Even death wasn't easy for Jennie. Beginning in 1917, the Pioneer Cemetery was moved to make way for a school building. Relatives had to pay a substantial fee (in those days) to move the remains. According to the story, when school children began to dig up bones, an urgent effort was made to remove the last of the remains and place them in a mass grave.

For some, it is just not easy.


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