Jerome Historic Park: the Verde's first State Park

Most Verde Valley residents are familiar with the six State Parks located here. What they may not be aware of is the history of how each one came to be. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Arizona State Parks system, the Verde Independent and The Bugle are presenting a six part series recounting the history of each park's acquisition. We also extend our thanks to Charles Eatherly of Arizona State Parks and Jay Price, author of "Gateways to the Southwest: the Story of Arizona State Parks," for the historic research used in this series.

The first State Park in the Verde Valley and only the fifth statewide, Jerome State Historic Park opened Oct. 16, 1965.

From the very inception of State Parks, Jerome had been a target for Arizona State Parks.

In fact, State Parks had been a target for some folks in Jerome.

Within months after the creation of the agency, members of the Jerome Historical Society began their own lobbying effort to create a park.

At the time, Jerome was going through an "awakening." After years of lethargy, the community was establishing itself through its historical identity.

The Jerome Historical Society, which was formed in 1953, had built a museum and acquired most of the downtown buildings, using the space to develop an artist Mecca.

In a community of about 200 people, the Historical Society numbered 239 in just two months after its inception. It took on the role of reviving the town through its history. It became the state's poster child "ghost town."

However, the resurgence in visitors who came for the history and the hauntings was not enough to fund the reconstruction of the town that the society envisioned.

The society, at one point, actually lobbied the State Parks Board to designate the entire town as a state monument. The parks board actually gave the idea some consideration.

But other opportunities changed that plan.

From the State Parks' point of view, Jerome was seen as the perfect place from which to tell the story of Arizona's rich mining history. As a result, they included in Jerome on their first five-year plan.

With the help of two prominent Verde Valley residents, the marriage between the town and State Parks began to take shape.

The first figure was M.O. Lindner, a state representative and one of the movers behind the legislation creating Arizona State Parks. The second was Zeke Taylor, cattleman, merchant and member of the State Parks Board since its inception.

Lindner made it known that he was interested in acquiring the former home of mine founder James S. "Rawhide" Jimmy Douglas as opposed to the entire town.

With its central location and picturesque views of Jerome on one side and the greater Verde Valley on the other, Lindner saw the old mansion as the perfect location.

The abandoned mansion, which had been used for little but entertaining during Douglas' ownership, was still owned by his family. Fortunately, the family saw a state park as the perfect use for the old house.

In August 1962, with the encouragement of Taylor, the Parks Board purchased the mansion and the 2.43 acres on which it sat from Douglas' heirs, Lewis, James, Marcelle and Peggy.

They paid $10.

After a remodel of the building, the construction of a parking lot and a picnic area, the park opened on Oct. 16, 1965, on what also turned out to be "Spook Night" in Jerome. The party, it is said, lasted all day and well into the night.

Admission to the park was 25 cents for an adult.

However, it was not until the following spring that the museum opened.

At 8,000 square feet, the Douglas mansion is one of the largest adobe homes in the United States. Built in 1915, it never was a real residence for the family. Jimmy Douglas' wife stayed in California, and the mansion was not built until after their sons were grown.

The home featured a billiard room, wine cellar, marble lined shower, steam heat and the most modern of conveniences, a central vacuum system.

Now a museum, the mansion features many artifacts from the days of Jerome's copper boom.

There are exhibits, dioramas, artifacts, lots and lots of photographs, 3D models of the old town and the underground mine plus samples of the ores removed from the mines.

Last year, 56,000 people visited the park, which has seen a steady increase in visitors following dramatic declines after Sept. 11, 2001.

The park has recently seen a number of changes in the displays and is putting the finishing touches on some new ones.

If You Go

What: Jerome State Historical Park

Where: In the Town of Jerome, just off State route 89A on Douglas Road

When: Open every day except Christmas from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

How much: $3 ages 14 and up. 13 and under are free

Contact: 634-5381

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