Rare tour of Jerome’s hidden history<br>Much of town's story lies hidden behind locked gates
Paul Lindberg, geologist and mining consultant, points out the open-pit mining area of the United Verde Copper Mining Company's 300-foot level.
The history of Jerome is rich in Wild-West lore. There were devastating fires, shootouts, prostitution, gambling and saloons. No Western novel or movie ever held more intrigue and drama than that which unfolded day to day, year to year, in Jerome.
With 15,000 residents at its peak, Jerome became the economic center of the Verde Valley. It had everything: hospitals, department stores, car dealerships, hotels, restaurants and banks.
But the underpinning of all that history, of all those lives that collectively make up Jerome, was the ore, the lure of extracting enormous wealth from hard-rock mineral.
Without the ore, there would be no Jerome.
Although the history and ownership of Jerome's mines is somewhat complex, most of the ore came out of two mining operations separated by the Verde Fault, according to Paul Lindberg, geologist and mine consultant.
Spread out generally north of town is the site of the United Verde Copper Mining Company. That mine operated from about 1896 until it closed in 1932. Originally developed by Arizona Territory Gov. Frederick A. Trittle, the United Verde Copper Mining Company was formed with financing from James A. MacDonald and Eugene Jerome.
Montana Sen. William A. Clark moved to Jerome in 1888 and invested about $60 million into the mine and ended up with controlling interest. He built a narrow gauge railroad in 1894 to connect with a spur of the Santa Fe between Ashfork and Prescott. In 1900, Clark built the Montana Hotel to house 1,000 of his workers.
Clark's mining operation, which was located above the Verde Fault, closed in 1932 and sold to Phelps-Dodge for $20.8 million before being reopened in 1935. By 1950, Phelps-Dodge had made net profits of more than $40 million.
In the meantime, things were getting started below the Verde Fault and east of the United Verde Copper Mining Company's operation. J.J. Fisher staked a claim in 1900 named the Little Daisy in Bitter Creek. That claim sold to James. S. Douglas about 10 years later.
Lindberg said that Douglas thought copper connected to the operation above the fault existed below the fault. Copper was there, Lindberg said, but it was a separate deposit from that being mined by the United Verde Copper Mining Company. He said Douglas almost gave up looking for the copper in 1914, but hit an unusually rich vein in December of that year.
"It became a money-making operation from day one," Lindberg said.
Nowadays, the Douglas operation is basically open to the public at the site of the mine and the Douglas Mansion in the Jerome State Historic Park. Above the fault, however, Phelps-Dodge keeps its historic sites behind high fences and locked gates.
Just about everyone who lives in Jerome has seen the Douglas Mansion. But most of those who have lived in Jerome all of their lives have never seen what remains behind the gates of the United Verde Copper Mining Company or Phelps-Dodge.
Robert Coon, park manager of the Jerome State Historic Park, has developed a volunteer program at the park. The volunteers conduct tours of the park and can answer most of their guests' questions about Jerome and the mines.
Coon recently arranged for Lindberg to take the state park volunteers on a daylong tour of the mine sites on Phelps-Dodge property.
The tour began at the state park where Lindberg gave the volunteers an overview history of both mining operations and the Town of Jerome. He first undermined a local myth about why some buildings in Jerome once slid down the side of the mountain.
"There is no tunneling underneath the town," Lindberg said. "There was no caving. They back filled what they took out." He said the sliding buildings had nothing to do with tunnels or the mining operation. "It was strictly a natural function of building a town on unstable material," he said.
Lindberg did agree that it was possible that underground blasting may have exacerbated the situation. "But it's not a stable place to build a town."
Lindberg said that Douglas named his mine the United Verde Extension (UVX) because he believed the ore deposit was simply an extension of the United Verde Copper Mining Company on the upper side of the Verde Fault. Lindberg said Douglas found his copper based on incorrect reasoning.
The tour moved from the state park and the shafts of the UVX to the offices of Phelps-Dodge and the open pit area at the 300-foot level. Lindberg said that from Shaft No. 7 at that site, the Hopewell Tunnel stretches for 1 1/2 miles to the 1,000-foot level. The tunnel is 13 feet wide and 10 feet high.
An open-pit operation was started at the 300 level around 1912 to 1915 because sulfide ores inside the tunnel ignited. The smelter, originally at the site of the open pit mine, was relocated down the mountain to a site that became Clarkdale. Ore from the open pit was not trucked out, but was instead dropped down an opening into the Hopewell Tunnel to the 1,000-foot, haulage level.
The mine closed in 1932 due to depressed copper prices, and the town's population dropped by two thirds. When Phelps-Dodge purchased the United Verde Copper Mining Company's properties the mine reopened in 1935.
The next stop on the tour was the Time Office at the 500-foot level. Behind the office is a large, moldering building called a "Dry." Lindberg said the Dry probably had 500 shower stalls and was where most of the miners changed clothes before and after their shifts.
"This was the hub of activity," Lindberg said. He said the 500-Level portal was where most of the miners entered and exited the Hopewell Tunnel. He said the mining operation in those days was extremely labor intensive. "Today, you would probably have one-fourth of the men working and a lot more equipment."
The 500 Level is also the location of about 60 foundations of homes that made up the complex's town site.
At the 1,000-foot level, where the Hopewell Tunnel ends, is the Hopewell Town Site. Lindberg said the town had a school and store. He said the town was active until the mine closed about 1952. Also at the 1,000 Level is the final portal to the tunnel and an electrical substation that provided electricity for the mine operation.
A standard-gauge railroad ran from Clarkdale to the mine. Residents of the Hopewell Town Site rode the train to and from town, according to Lindberg.
The only remaining sign of human habitation at the Hopewell Town Site is a retaining wall and steps from the railroad grade up to the spot where mine company employees once lived.
But the tour of the hidden historical sites is filled with a sense of great activity. Looking out over the abandoned town sites or peering into one of the tunnels, one can almost hear the conversation and clanging of lunch pails as the miners walk into and out of the dark portals.