Visitors to the Jerome Home Tour will find more than homes to delight the senses. Spring is full of magic and surprise in Jerome, AZ. Abundant rains during the winter and early spring have left the town and the hills covered in blooms—roses of every color, including vivid purple, and huge cascades of Lady Bank roses. Thousands of trees have been planted by residents, giving the town a feeling of a village set into an arboretum. (Jeromehometour.com)
Just outside of town on Perkinsville Road above the Gold King Mine are Agave parryi, which should now be holding their candles of flame, and bushes of the wild blooming Cliff Rose.
Walkers will be enchanted by staircases that climb to nowhere, gussied up pink flamingos, the body of a 1951 Chrysler New Yorker floating on a pedestal adjacent to the New State Motor Company, an old dental chair planted on a hillside, old tin garages.
All this against stupendous backdrops of craggy copper-colored canyons above Jerome or the panoramic views down and across the Verde Valley to the carmine and buff buttes, which form the ramparts known as the Mogollon Rim. The lighting effects produced by clouds in any kind of weather are magnetic.
It is difficult to imagine that in 1953, Jerome and the surrounding mountains were denuded of vegetation. No wonder the town felt like a ghost town for quite some time, even though it never was one.
The ghost town was an invention of the Jerome Historical Society as a way of encouraging tourism in the nineteen fifties and sixties.
From 1953-1973. Jerome was a village that 220-300 people lived in, with perhaps 100 houses and maybe eight buildings that weren’t being lived in. The high school, with the exception of a few years, was still operating in 1972. If you stayed in Jerome after the fifties, you kept up your house as much as you could. The houses that were not lived—such as those on Company Hill— in deteriorated pretty fast. And the big problem that emerged with advertising Jerome as a ghost town was that many tourists became predators who thought they somehow entitled to the ‘leavings.’ They would wander into houses that obviously looked lived in and become entirely surprised to find someone quite offended.
Today, the mining history of this once fabled city is everywhere present fabulously preserved and restored into an architectural showcase. Ore carts and other mining memorabilia are part of Jerome’s parks. Just up from the post office on Main Street, are the elegant and lovingly restored Victorian houses, built by William Andrews Clark, the mining mogul reputed to be richer than Rockefeller.
The white Douglas Mansion, the largest adobe brick structure in Arizona, once belonged to Jimmy Douglas, the second wealthiest mining mogul in Jerome, AZ. The mansion is now a meticulously cared for State Park and museum. Nearby, the Daisy Hotel, once a miner’s hotel, and, after the fifties, an informal child’s skateboard and hide and seek playground, is now a handsomely restored home for its owners. The old hospital has become the Grand Hotel with its gracious maroon awnings. The Mingus Union High School complex is crammed full of remarkable art studios. The old elementary school houses town hall, offices and public library.
But the real aficionados of Jerome’s aesthetics know its most stunning architectural treasures are its retaining walls. Many are works of art.
Fifteen hundred retaining walls and fifteen hundred feet of elevation separate the house known as the Eagle’s Nest at the entrance into Jerome AZ from Prescott to its lowest residences—a couple of twisty miles as you follow the highway through town. Some of the old cobble streets still remain.
Some of my favorites use bedsprings and old car engine blocks, woodstove doors, corrugated tin, pipes, 25-gallon laundry buckets, and discarded refrigerators filled with stones and discarded tires. Old timers knew the term recycling long before it became fashionable.
One of my favorite houses on Jerome Home Tour this year is the late Paul Nonnast’s first home—built entirely by hand using a plumb bob, wheelbarrow, shovels and a pick ax.
Here is Paul’s ‘arrival’ tale from my book, Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City (www.homesweetjerome.net) “When I came to this place for the first time, I got hit in my solar plexus. There was as sense of nostalgia and some latent memory having seen it before. A poignant deja vu. I remember standing at the post office and looking up to the warehouse and my solar plexus was yawning open, with no rational reason why but it seemed a pretty profound response to being here…”
Woven into all Jerome’s walls are the hearts of the people who built and repaired them, binding them to one another, bridging generations and ethnicities. It’s what gives the town such great heart and charm.
After more than sixty years of restoration, the derelict town that Jerome AZ became after 1953 is gone. It is arguably the most photographed and painted town in America. It gets my vote for the loveliest town in America.