Modern Anasazi Wall Builders of Jerome

Fifteen hundred retaining walls can be found from the historic Victorian-like homes at the top of Jerome, Arizona to the homes at the bottom of Deception Gulch—less than one aerial mile.  They are among the town’s most impressive and enduring architectural treasures.

Many walls are hand-stacked, one stone over two, much like the ancient walls of the Anasazi.

Ruin, Anasazi (ancient Southwest Pueblo people). If you hike extensively Utah and Arizona you will find these ruins everywhere.

Ruin, Anasazi (ancient Southwest Pueblo people). If you hike extensively in Utah and Arizona you will find these ancient wall ruins everywhere.

Most hand-stacked walls have no mortar between them. Properly built, the rocks “weep” and act as natural drains. They have an elasticity that enables them to shift and settle. In 1976, a small quake shook glasses in Paul and Jerry’s Saloon. The epicenter of a 3.2 earthquake in 1984 was located five miles outside of Jerome. It sounded like an underground train ambling through the town’s underbelly. Some rocks tumbled, but the walls held.

Here are photos  of some of my favorites hand-stacked walls.  There are many!  I’d like to hear about your favorites.

One of the first walls that drivers notice on their way up from Cottonwood is right on Highway 89A. It was built by Mexicans and Italian stonemasons in the 1930’s as a WPA project. The limestone rocks are quarried from the Martin formation just outside of town. The rocks have settled and withstood a few rumbles, which accounts for some of their curved lines. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

One of the first walls that drivers notice on their way up from Cottonwood is right on Highway 89A. It was built by Mexicans and Italian stonemasons in the 1930’s as a WPA project. The limestone rocks are quarried from the Martin formation just outside of town. The rocks have settled and withstood a few rumbles, which accounts for some of their curved lines. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

Most rocks for Jerome’s retaining walls are quarried from within a seven-mile radius of town. The walls contain rocks from the same formations that are dominant in the Grand Canyon—1.8-billion-year-old schist, maroon Tapeats sandstone that holds millions of tiny shells, limestone of the Martin Formation and cherry-streaked Redwall sandstone, the ruby-colored Supai sandstone, and black lava basalt. They tell of the ancient seas that once covered the area and the tumult of volcanoes and earthquakes.

The rocks here are Tapeats sandstone, likely quarried from above the Gold King Mine. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

The rocks here are Tapeats sandstone, likely quarried from above the Gold King Mine. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

Some spectacular walls take a bit of a hike to get to.  This one that is close to the entrance to the old Hull Mine can be found by hiking up canyon in Deception Gulch.I used to access it from behind my old house by scrambling up to an old drainage ditch that is now a big rock tumble.

Very near the mining road that led to the entrance of the old Hull Mine, a quarter mile from town, is this spectacular inverted hand-stacked wall made up of small rocks from the canyon schists that are 1.8 billion years old, almost a third the age of the planet earth.

One of my favorite walls is this spectacular inverted hand-stacked wall made up of small rocks from the canyon schists that are 1.8 billion years old, almost a third the age of the planet earth.Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

Some walls are collages that are made with just about anything that builders found laying around—discarded telephone poles, bedsprings, engine blocks, woodstove doors, corrugated tin, laundry buckets, refrigerators, and discarded tires that were filled with stone. Jerome’s builders recycled almost everything long before it was fashionable.

Wall of Tires and Laundry Buckets. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

Wall of Tires and Laundry Buckets. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

The last wall that my husband Walter built at our old house was in the back under the mesquite trees.

"I wanted to replicate the feeling of just standing in some of these canyons, and looking at the old Anasazi ruins, especially in Cedar Creek and Sycamore and watching the shifting play of shadows on the walls as the sun arcs, at one with that feeling, completely immersed in it, emotionally sunk in, needing nothing more. It’s a very psychotropic spot back there."Photo by Diane Rapaport

“I wanted to replicate the feeling of just standing in some of these canyons, and looking at the old Anasazi ruins, especially in Cedar Creek and Sycamore and watching the shifting play of shadows on the walls as the sun arcs, at one with that feeling, completely immersed in it, emotionally sunk in, needing nothing more. It’s a very psychotropic spot back there.” Photo by Diane Rapaport

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Modern Anasazi Wall Builders of Jerome

  1. FOR THE RECORD:
    You incidentally mention a drainage ditch, now filled with rubble. Most people pay little attention to the town’s drainage system, without which much of the town might have been lost long ago. When the rain pours down or the snow melts, thousands of acre feet of water pour off the mountain down grades of 15 to 45 degrees in just a matter of hours, virtually, a flood. The ‘weeps’ in the stone walls, the grading, drop drains in the major streets, and the massive collectors prevent what would be a flood in lowlands. From upper Giroux, all the way to the upper Gulch, four and five foot concrete tubes, built at the turn of the century some above surface, some underground, safely collect and channel the water. Through FEMA flood funds, grants and steady effort, we cleared boulders and brush, removed trees and patched holes on this system throughout the 80’s. This system and those efforts should not go unappreciated. They were critical, just not flashy.

    My personal favorite memory of wall building is of a short section of roadway/retaining wall repair on upper Holly Street. beyond the split down to the Park Road, past the magnificent and massive wall built in the late 70’s, There is a tight point of roadway between a house and a sheer drop off. The roadway had sagged for decades, but after one particularly wet season, the whole roadway collapsed, some 15′ in width and depth and twenty feet in length, .threatening the collapse of the structure above and preventing access to homes further up the road. Previous attempts to ‘save’ the road with concrete and patches had only served to stop up the weeps and hasten the collapse. Such was often the case with repairs from the late forties through the sixties, well intentioned but just wrong.

    Prescott had experienced dramatic flooding, but Yavapai County was eligible and I went for some of the money. The regular town crew and a temporary crew of about eight workers dug out the debris, with some stones weighing up to 300 pounds, by hand, to a depth of about 15 feet and all the way back to the foundation of the house. While some took an old pick up out the Chino Valley Road and quarried stone, others commenced to wet and tramp the foundation and lay and interlock boulders. At first, we were like the blind leading the blind, taking a step but uncertain what the next step would be. I relied on my own observation of wall construction and simple common sense. From past experience, I knew that modern engineering in this situation, would be not only cost prohibitive, but insensitive to the historic nature of the town (ie, tear down the structure, widen the open space to meet specs and setbacks, massive reinforced concrete structures, etc). Then, a curious and wonderful thing happened. Some old men, apparently Hispanic, curious at what we were doing, came to observe. They began to point out how they had built walls, interlocked the big stones, inlaid the steel elements, protected the weeps, etc. My Spanish being poor at best, we sometimes had difficulty communicating, but they rightly deemed my questions sincere and pitched in to help. My crew threw in strong backs and good attitudes. Soon, several of the ‘Nonast wall’ builders appeared, to advise and pitch in. Heavy steel rods the whole width of the roadway, were fabricated, placed at critical points, locked in on the uphill side, and prepared for plating and bolting on the exposed side. Tons of stone and back fill were carefully hand placed.

    Today that spot is just an insignificant little piece of roadway, at a critical turn on a lightly trafficked, poorly drained street. That whole repair could not have happened in any conventional town or time. Money to do the proper engineering, modern construction and equipment would have made the repair cost prohibitive, tens if not hundreds of times more expensive. For Town officials to use flood repair money is also irregular even though all criteria were met and the project, if not the methods, honestly disclosed. Fully understanding legal liability, few managers would have let citizens share in the design and work. In the end, what was needed to be done was done and done well. If enthusiasm and camaraderie count, that repair will last a long, long time.

    Like

    • Always love these comments, Doyle. Thank you The Holly Street Wall is among my favorites; and the story of that wall building is told from Paul Nonnast’s point of view in my forthcoming book. I will probably post a photo of the wall in a new blog upcoming soon. Most of it will just be more photos,

      Like

  2. For those unfamiliar with Jerome, looking at the old tubs as retaining wall art, it might be important to say the tubs usually were full of concrete or stone and often steel was driven through several to make them a unit. Builders here used what was at hand. Remember, Jerome was isolated from either coast and most US industry. Bringing materials and goods to Jerome was expensive, and many of the.residents only owned their homes, not the ground under them or the yards or fields surrounding them. The land owners were concerned only with the materials below the ground. It was all very practical.

    Like

Comments are closed.