Mon, July 22

Where will Jerome's 'Sliding Jail' finally land?
Three-way tug-of-war between town, historical society, residents

Jerome Mayor Lew Currier and Police Chief Allen Muma faceoff during the Sept. 13 town council. (Photo by Tom Tracey)

Jerome Mayor Lew Currier and Police Chief Allen Muma faceoff during the Sept. 13 town council. (Photo by Tom Tracey)

JEROME - A Sept. 13 Jerome Town Council meeting brought a showdown in the "Sliding Jail" tug-of-war involving the historical society, the town and its residents.

A not-so-brief history

In the hillside mining town of Jerome, there is no such thing as a brief history. The people, some buildings, even the geography changes over time - -sometimes taking their clues with them.

The century-old hoosegow ("juzgar" is Spanish for court) was likely constructed on a sloping plat between Main St. and Hull Avenue where it was anchored to a wood structure. But Newton's laws of gravity overruled the laws of man and the jail eventually parted ways with its mooring. Years of mining demolitions, monsoon rains and sheer cliffs conspired over time to scooch the jail 225 feet below where it was initially perched - - hence the name "Sliding Jail."

In 1964, the Jerome Historical Society deeded the "Sliding Jail" property to the Town of Jerome with the idea it could provide recreation to the general public. Veteran townies recall playing hoops over the sketchy surface and hide-go-seek among the battered walls.

But over time - - whether well-intentioned or due to incompetence or both - - the ongoing attempts at shoring the "Sliding Jail" property flat-out failed. With indications that the jail was continuing to wander, and with lurking liability issues, the Town eventually fenced-off access to the "Sliding Jail."

This rubbed some folks in town the wrong way. In fact, they made that known to both the town as well as the historical society. By Sept. 13, 2016 Jerome Town Council was staring-down the Jerome Historical Society in a showdown over the care and custody of the historic jail property.

The smoking gun

According to an Aug. 18 letter from the Jerome Historical Society attached to the town's council agenda, "This letter is intended to direct the Town of Jerome to immediately cease and desist the violation of use restrictions and resume using these parcels to provide "recreation facilities for the general public. Failure to comply with these requirements within ninety (90) days of the date of this letter will result in demand that the title to such property immediately revert to Jerome Historical Society."

Also included in the package was a copy of the Aug. 19, 1964 deed conveying the jail property from the historical society to the town. It reads (in part): "To have and to hold, for the purposes of providing recreational facilities for the general public, including, but without limitation, public parks, play grounds, exhibits, restrooms, drinking fountains, parking areas, public show, entertainment and activities of like nature, unto the said Grantee."

The town's retort

The town maintains that engineers over the years - - including those from ADOT - - are still detecting movement of the property.

Vice Mayor Doug Freund said the jail has resided "in the epicenter of the slide area since the 19th century" and that it "might be far more dangerous if precipitated by a seismic event,' characterizing the continuing stabilization attempts "a fool's errand."

Freund said the site has already been subject to engineering studies in 1956, 2002 and 2005, including an attempt by ADOT "to construct a rest stop and bathrooms, which never happened."

Currier added, "Our engineers said wait until its stable. We can't send heavy equipment into that mess now. If it collapses, it would be suicide."

The showdown

From the onset, Mayor Lew Currier has been on record hoping for a compromise. But some grumbled that the time waiting for a compromise had passed. Both sides lined-up in the confines of Jerome Town Hall.

"The historical society is demanding that we do something immediately or they want the property back. It's not clear what we have to do to satisfy them, other than take the fence down," said Currier. "I expect most of us want the same thing: A bit of green park and some parking."

"We can't just give them public property. It would require a referendum and it could be contentious and expensive," he said. "Maybe we can find some kind of compromise. We might be able to deed a portion. They have the interest and the funds. We need federal and state money."

Allen Muma, Jerome police chief and president of the Jerome Historical Society, approached council.

"All we want to do is see it put back the way it was. We don't want additional parking. We want a park to be able to see the views," said Muma.

Listing a range of flawed fixes over the years, from improper earth compaction to lack of proper drainage to rotted vegetation, Muma said, "We let them dump big boulders with huge air spaces between them. The fines just washed away."

"We want to see the 'Sliding Jail' and that park area go back. We just want to get something done. We believe if you can't fix it, we are going to have to think about doing a legal thing," said Muma.

Currier said that he would encourage the public to "write letters, beat the drum to council and the Jerome Historical Society."

In response, Muma said, "People came-up to us. It's not my idea. A number of people brought it forward. I just want to see something done instead of an ugly fence."

"Our only vision is to look back at what it was seven years ago. Our concern is getting back the historic artifact that was there," said Muma, calling it "a jewel."

"I agree with your view. We always work together," said Currier, calling for a meeting with Jerome Historical Society representatives in October to discuss and clarify their positions.