Mining in Jerome AZ after 1953

(Short excerpt from Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper City by Diane Rapaport  (to be published by Johnson Books, Boulder, CO., spring 2014.))

Mining activities never stopped in Jerome after the two great mines—United Verde Extension Gold, Silver and Copper Mining Company (UVX) and Phelps Dodge Corporation (successor to the United Verde Copper Company—shut their operations and the city emptied out.

In 1953, speculation ran high that the entire town of Jerome would be razed. A former official of Phelps Dodge Corporation said, “Within a year—grass will grow on the main street of Jerome—Jerome is finished.”[A]

It would have been an easy time for the mining companies to bulldoze the rest of the town. There were not a lot of people. Essential services, such as the hospital and schools, had been relocated to the Verde Valley. The mining companies owned a great deal of buildings and property in Jerome and beneath it.

The open pit just outside of Jerome. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

The open pit just outside of Jerome. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

The Big Hole Mine

In 1954, new activity at the open pit just outside of Jerome, fueled rumors that big scale mining would someday return.

The small mining division of Phelps Dodge leased rights to mine the slopes of the open pit  to three people that lived in the Verde Valley.[i]

They called it The Big Hole Mine and operated it until 1975.[ii]

Between eight and twelve men were employed at any given time. They scaled the sides of the pit and drilled into the steep walls and dynamited the ore-bearing rocks. “It was dangerous work,” said Robert Sandoval, one of the miners who grew up in Jerome. “The trails were narrow, we were working high up, and the overhangs were large. We’d hide in some of the small caves up there when we blasted.”

Miners would separate waste from the ore-bearing rocks, put them in pickup trucks and load them into a railroad car in Clarkdale that was sent weekly to the Phelps Dodge smelter in Douglas, Arizona.

According to Paul Handverger, a geologist living in the Verde Valley, The Big Hole Mine shipped over 200,000 tons of ore that contained 25 million pounds of copper (12,500 tons), 2,800 ounces of gold, and almost 200,000 ounces of silver.[iii]

It was a profitable small business. Mining was discontinued when the surfaces of the open pit could not be further exploited.

Gold Mining in Jerome: 1980’s

In 1980, geologist Paul Handverger discovered an unexploited source of microscopic gold in the old UVX mine. The gold, perhaps less than .02 ounces to the ton  was part of silica-rich quartz chert that could be used as flux in smelting operations and could become a profitable by-product.[1]

In 1985, Verde Ex, successor to UVX,  leased mining rights to A. F. Budge Mining Limited (Budge), a company located in Scottsdale, AZ. Repair and exploration took about three years and in early 1988, Budge started production. Their goal was to take out 100,000 pounds of chert daily, using five to eight twenty-ton trucks going up and down the hill from Jerome to Clarkdale and to employ about forty people.[2] The mine was located just below the Arizona State Park (Douglas Mansion).

Although most of the nonproduction activity occurred at night, some Jerome residents complained about lack of sleep because of the noise of the air compressor that was used to pump clean air in and out of the mine, the sounds of trucks being filled with rock and truck back-up signals. The problem was exacerbated by dogs barking and whining at night. Most oddly, there were reports of bees acting queerly—by forming in clusters, coming into homes and dying.

Like many issues in a small village, strong arguments from those for and against the mine became increasingly negative and emotionally charged. In one rancorous Jerome town council meeting, one mining geologist stood up and shook his fist shouting, “You’ll see big mining return here in the next century. The biggest zinc deposit in North America is right underneath Jerome.”[3]

Although four different mining companies professed interest as buyers of the chert, contracts for the ore were not forthcoming. Budge shut down in 1989.

Although mining for ores has stopped in the Jerome area, mining activity has not. Phelps Dodge and its successor Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Inc., spent millions of dollars in remediating water laden with copper sulfate and other mining wastes from flowing into Bitter Creek and potentially contaminating water resources downstream.

Drop a metal part into copper sulfate water and watch it become coated with copper. After heavy rains, the ditches above Jerome ran blue.

Drop a metal part into copper sulfate water and watch it become coated with copper. After heavy rains, the ditches above Jerome ran blue.

In 2008, exploration for a new copper ore body west of Jerome  heightened fears among Jerome residents that active mining might again return.


[A] News Bulletin, Jerome Historical Society newsletter, 1955.

[i] The owners of the Big Hole Mine were Mark Gemmill, his son Dick, and Gordon Robineau.

[ii] Douglas Mansion geologic display, The Verde Independent, April 15, 1965, and author interview with Paul Handverger, 2011.

[iii] Email to author.

[1] Verde Independent, Nov 11, 1987 and author interview with Paul Handveger 2011.

[2] Author conversations with Budge mining foreman Pete Flores and geologist Don White.

[3] Minutes of the Jerome Protection Foundation, Diane Rapaport files.


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My Mother Meets Katie Lee

(Copyright 2013. Short excerpt about Katie Lee from Diane Rapaport’s forthcoming book: Home Sweet Jerome,

I was once asked, “Do any famous artists live in Jerome.” I thought about this and answered, “Katie Lee.”

She is famous in Jerome for riding her bike through town naked except for a helmet and boots when she was 77 years old. She howled with laughter as she sailed the mile downhill from Main Street to her house. It was her way to shed the glum, sad feelings she had after a close Jerome friend died.

The day she decided to do it was the kind of sticky and hot it gets just before a summer monsoon. “Friends were snapping at each other like loony birds in a tank of toxins and the humidity was a wet, down comforter under a 110-degree heating pad.[i]

She rode past bar owner Paul Vojnic as he talked with Ray, the town cop. Paul said, “Well, aren’t you going to arrest her?” “What am I going to arrest her for” Ray said. “For floppy tits?”

Even before Katie reached her house, people who saw her started shaking the phone calls with their laughter. “Do you know what Katie Lee just did?”

Katie says she’s likely to be more famous for her ride than for her books and music.


[i] Lee, Katie, “The Ride,” Sandstone Seduction (Johnson Books, 2004), pp. 185-192

Photo: Katie on her bike.  Ceramicist and painter Jane Moore’s birthday present to singer songwriter and anti-dam activist Katie Lee on her 93rd birthday was a ceramic bowl commemorating Katie’s famous stark naked bike ride through Jerome. Photo courtesy Katie Lee.

Photo: Katie on her bike. Ceramicist and painter Jane Moore’s birthday present to singer songwriter and anti-dam activist Katie Lee on her 93rd birthday was a ceramic bowl commemorating Katie’s famous stark naked bike ride through Jerome. Photo courtesy Katie Lee.

Katie says she’s likely to be more famous for her ride than for her books and music.

Mother Meets Katie

Katie was absolutely unforgettable to my mother after I introduced them at a party at Wylci Fables and Jore Park’s art studio in the old high school.

My mom and Katie were contemporaries. Both were stunning women throughout their lives. Katie was a sensuous and provocative blue-eyed Irishwoman. My mother, a black eyed beauty with a quick smile and a great deal of charm, was crowned Miss Greek America when she was eighteen. They were the center of attention in any room they entered.

Mom grew up in upper middle class Washington, D.C. surrounded by lawyers, bankers and foreign embassy personnel. 8My mother was the only one in our family to get a job. In 1942, she was the first woman lawyer to be hired by the National Labor Relations Board. When Katie met her, mom had just been appointed as an Administrative Law Judge for the same board.

Katie grew up like a Western fox, shrewd at survival and defense against predators. The downturn in real estate was her family’s downfall in the depression. She was western and country, a native Arizonan who grew up near the foothills of Tucson. She shot quail, squirrels and rabbits for the stew pot with her .22 rifle. She camped in the mountains and canyons around Tucson with a couple of cowboys that taught her their songs and took her to the cantinas and brothels of Nogales, Mexico where she learned Mexican border songs.

Katie Lee, activist, singer, songwriter.  Author Glen Canyon Betrayed and soon The Ghost of Dandy Crossing.

Katie Lee, activist, singer, songwriter. Author Glen Canyon Betrayed and soon The Ghost of Dandy Crossing.

They met during my mom’s second visit to Jerome. My mother could not believe that we had settled into this dilapidated town full of pot smokers. She thought smoking pot led directly to heroin and she lectured us about it every time she could. This second visit though, she made a little peace with Jerome. She said it reminded her of the mountainous northern Greek village that her parents had come from.

Nothing prepared her for the party at Wylci and Jore’s. I told my mom she would meet my close friend Katie, whom I described as a well-known published author and singer/songwriter who was about her age. My mother smiled with relief at the possibility of meeting a respectable friend of mine.

Mom walked up the forty-five iron steps to the second floor of the gym. As soon as we were at the top, I handed her the brown paper bag that contained her high heels, which she primly substituted for her walking shoes. As we walked down the corridor, we could hear ripples of music and laughter. Soon we were immersed among fifty rowdy-looking hippies, gussied up in their gypsy best, a wilder and more raucous group than my mother had ever been in. I looked around for Katie so I could introduce them. It was not until I looked up that I found her as she swung upside down on a trapeze. The skirt that hung over her body exposed the white ruffled pantaloons she had sewn for the occasion. She waved her high heels, which were, oddly enough, the same color as mom’s.

It was an irresistible moment for me. I marched my mother up to Katie and introduced them. It was one of the few times I ever saw my mother at a total loss of words. Katie invited her to lunch the next day without missing a swing. Eventually, they became good friends that admired each other for their independent and outspoken natures.

For more info on Katie’s book and music: http://www.katydoodit.com/


[i] Lee, Katie, “The Ride,” Sandstone Seduction (Johnson Books, 2004), pp. 185-192