Leaverites as Art—The Retaining Walls of Jerome AZ

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. They are Jerome’s most impressive, and sadly, most overlooked, architectural treasures. Many are works of art.

Artist Paul Nonnast's studio and foundry in Jerome AZ

Built into the hillside, artist Paul Nonnast sometimes described his home as a ‘perforated cave’—a compact L-shaped building of three rooms, entirely by hand. The interior rooms open onto a stone terrace with round, cold pool and serve as an extension of the home’s internal spaces. Inside and out, graceful sweeping curves, flat planes, numerous levels, angles, delicate patterning and tight joints identify Nonnast as a master stonemason. A new home was built in the nineties and the entire property is for sale and is being presented by Denise Lerette of Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty, Sedona. (Photo courtesy Sotheby’s)

Retaining walls knit the town together and keep it from pitching down the steep mountain. They edge highways and driveways. In some parts of town, retaining walls keep homes from toppling into those of their neighbors.

Cobblestone streets still exist in Jerome AZ

A few cobblestone and limestone block streets still exist in Jerome. I call them horizontal walls.

Many foundations and building walls are made of native rock, such as the pillars of the old Bartlett Hotel, the only ruin remaining on Main Street.

Woven into these walls are the hearts of the people who built and repaired them, binding them to one another, bridging generations and ethnicities.

“I became a wall builder out of necessity,” said Jerome resident Jane Moore.  “The day I signed the papers from the woman who sold me the house was the day I was underneath the house cleaning some of her stuff out and the rock wall under there completely fell over! There were SO many old walls all over this property in various states of disrepair, that it seems it’s a never ending project! But never mind… it’s a job I enjoy, as long as my back holds out!”

Jane builds hand-stacked retaining walls on her property in Jerome AZ

The walls in the corral barn are ones I did by myself when Chuck was in Nevada mining turquoise. Photo by Jane Moore

Many generations of residents can echo Jane’s words.

Many retaining walls are hand-stacked, one stone over two, much like those built by the ancient Anasazi. Most have no mortar between them. Properly built, the walls “weep” and act as natural drains. They have an elasticity that enables them to gracefully shift and settle.

Retaining wall, Jerome AZ

The retaining wall on the highway going into Jerome have settled and withstood a few rumbles). It’s large graceful wave forms show the wall’s natural capacity to withstand earth movements and the rumbling of highway vehicles. The wall was built in the nineteen thirties as a WPA project. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com

In 1976, a small earthquake shook glasses in Paul and Jerry’s Saloon. Another small one occurred in 1984, just five miles outside of town. I was standing outside my old Verde Street house looking at the first wall we repaired. The earthquake sounded like an underground train ambling through the town’s underbelly. A few rocks tumbled, but the large walls held.

The stone for Jerome’s walls can be found within a seven-mile radius of town, many from the same colorful formations that are dominant in the Grand Canyon—1.8 billion-year old copper colored schist (Cleopatra formation), maroon Tapeats sandstone, grey Martin dolomite (A type of limestone), cherry-streaked Redwall sandstone, ruby-colored Supai sandstone and black lava basalt. The rocks tell of the ancient seas that once covered the area and the tumult of ancient volcanoes and earthquakes.

Jerome park walls facing Main Street.

So many people sit on these limestone block walls facing Main Street and seldom notice how beautifully built and richly textured they are. Above the park is the old Episcopal Church now owned by the Jerome Historical Society and used for offices and archives. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

Then there are walls built of coarse caliche (the white cement like calcium carbonate), which are found on the Dundee hogback and make digging there a nightmare.

Not all Jerome’s walls are made of rock. Concrete walls flank the old Mingus High School and a large highway wall flanking the road that does up to The Surgeon’s House Bed and Breakfast and the Grand Hotel. Parts of the large wall on Holly Street is built of giant steel sheets that were used to form up the shaft that goes 4200 feet into the mountain. Other walls are built with railroad ties and old telephone poles.

Mixed media retaining wall Jerome AZ

The retaining walls Holly Street. Sandstone, railroad ties and steel sheets. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

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.

Laundry bucket walls of Jerome AZ

I love all the quirky walls, though many have been replaced with ones built with sandstone and limestone. Here’s one built with tires and laundry buckets. Photo by Bob Swanson (SwansonImages.com)

Virtually all Jerome’s residents have put their hands to fixing and uilding walls. These walls have a lot to say about the resourcefulness, stubbornness, tenacity, aesthetics and even quirky natures of their builders. My hats off to them—the great leaverite artists of Jerome AZ.

Hull Canyon retaining wall, JeromeAZ

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.

 

 

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Leaverite Society of Jerome AZ

In 1982, I showed an interesting rock that I found near Jerome to the President of the Mingus Gem and Mineral Club. “Could you please tell me what kind of rock this is?”

“Young lady, what you have there is a genuine leaverite.”

“What is a leaverite?” I asked.

A smile curved into his lips: “One you leave right there.”

Leaverite bridge by Michael Grab

Oh, what Michael Grab does with leaverites. www.gravityglue.com

The Leaverite Society

In 1985, Dana Driver, Susan Dowling and myself formed the Leaverite Society of America to provide some humorous counter balances to Jerome’s contentious politics.

Before two months went by, The Leaverite Society had 75 paying members, most of them Jeromans. All had a major love affair with rocks. Rocks were fun. They weren’t jealous or possessive, weren’t political, and didn’t talk back! The ideal companion for us leaverite philanderers!

‘Leave No Stone Unturned,’ was the first motto of the Leaverite Society. “Hot Rocks or No Rocks at All” was the second. After the disastrous pot bust of 1985, which led to the arrest of sixteen Jeromans, including two members of the Jerome Town Council, a Leaverite Society member who wished to remain anonymous proposed a third motto: “Everybody Must Get Stoned.”

At our first official meeting, Georgia O’Keefe was given an honorary membership. Once a week she arranged her living room around a special rock.

The Leaverite Society made commemorative hats, held potlucks, complete with rock scavenger hunts, and published two newsletters. The second issue featured a love story by Tikky Trachyte (the inimitable Katie Lee), and an article by Ayers Rock (Joe van Leeuwen’s moniker) on the Cock-of-the-Rock, a bird that inhabits the rocky ledges and shallow caves of South and Central America.

Cock-of-the-rock

The cock-of-the-rock is the national bird of Peru. Jo van Leeuwen of Jerome, Arizona proposed that the bird be adopted as the mascot for the Leaverite Society of America in Jerome AZ. Image is in the public domain. See: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/30221/30221-h/30221-h.htm. From a free e-book, Birds: illustrated by Color Photography first published in 1897 by the Nature Study Publishing Company, Chicago, IL.
Book is on-line and the photographs of birds and their descripts are beautiful.

It also included a fiendish British-type crossword puzzle by Whitecliff (Dana Driver’s Dad) called “100 Arabs-Egyptian Rock Group.” British crosswords are known for containing clues that are both straightforward and cryptic. I couldn’t even guess the straightforward answers to “Seek complaint in first-class rodent,” “Utah resident hunting antelope in Nepal,” or “He takes his half of the road out of the side.” I did not know one Leaverite Society member who solved the puzzle.

Geologists

Geologists you’d expect among the rock lovers of this fabled billion dollar copper camp. They’re serious leaverite hounds.

In the seventies and eighties, dozens of world-renowned geologists roamed the area around Jerome to figure out when and how the super rich massive sulfide ore bodies formed. They’re the ones that turned Jerome into a fabled and very wealthy copper mining city.

Jerome Arizona’s ore bodies are called massive sulfides not just because they are large (some geologists describe roughly shaped spheres that can extend a mile or more down into the earth), but because they are so dense with precious ores, like copper, zinc, gold and silver. The official definition massive sulfide ore bodies are those contain more than 50% minerals to a ton of rock.

The ‘when and how’ answers that geologists came up with are straightforward—the massive sulfide ore bodies are 1.738 years billion years old, and were formed in hot springs vents in deep undersea volcanoes virtually at the same time as the large undersea volcano that hosted them—the copper colored Cleopatra formation that dominates views when people look up at Jerome from the Verde Valley.

Jerome AZ illustration by Anne Bassett

The twin pyramid-shaped mountains that dominate Jerome are the Cleopatra formation. Illustration by Anne Bassett-www.jeromeartistannebasset.com

Incredibly more convoluted are answers to the questions about how the ore bodies remained intact over immense and varied cataclysms over such a long period of time and the dynamic processes that led to a tip of the United Verde ore body being exposed to the air, which enabled its discovery. The geology of the Jerome area is a giant, intricate puzzle with quite a few missing pieces.

According to Verde Valley geologist Paul Handverger, “The Jerome area is one of the most interesting geologic phenomenons of North America. Much more interesting than the big ditch,” (the Grand Canyon.)

One could earn a PhD in geology by studying just this small patch of real estate.

The Quest for Gold

During his quest for gold in Northern, Nevada, John McNerney found a new method for its discovery—and a new use for gold. He designed a mercury detector that used gold film sensors to analyze minute quantities of vapor rising above the soil deeply buried gold deposits. John founded Jerome Instrument Corporation in 1979 to manufacture these detectors.

One irony: although some geologists bought a few mercury analyzers as a prospecting tool, the major market turned out to be the United States Navy. Its submarines needed to instantly know when mercury based instrumentation broke and fouled the air. Mercury is toxic to the nervous system and can turn people into mad hatters.

As an aside, John’s wife Iris was convinced all Jeromans were wacky because of the mercury that exists in the soils underneath Jerome’s feet.

The second irony is that John is now avidly against the opening of new gold mines because of their environmental destructiveness. He helped lead a major movement in Todos Santos, Mexico against a mine that would have likely fouled an area aquifer. ‘Aqua vale mas que oro’ was their rallying cry. (Water is worth more than gold).

Jewelers

While geologists were combing the hills, perhaps many as forty people in Jerome were jewelers, carvers and sculptors. Dana Driver and Susan Dowling, two founders of the Leaverite Society were jewelers. I just liked leaverites. (My husband liked to build retaining walls on our property.)

Flamingo pendant by Dana Driver

Jeweler Dana Driver’s beautiful pendant beach stone and silver pendent. See others at: http://www.danarocks.com

For a few years, Dana Driver, president of the Leaverite Society, became fascinated with beach stone. She polished them, incised them with gold and silver, made them into pendants, flowers and insects. www.Danarocks.com. Dana is among artists that continuously reinvent themselves and stretch artistic boundaries. A few years after her fascination with beach stone, she got into making fine jewelry from bottle caps, tin cans and bits of rusty metal.

Susan Dowling collected malachite and azurite from Jerome’s mines and made rings and pendants.www.foxazhandmade.com

Malachite ring by Jeweler Susan Dowlng

Malachite ring by Jeweler Susan Dowling.

As a child, Jesse Dowling, Susan’s entrepreneurial son, sold leaverites to tourists for extra candy money. (Today, Jesse serves on the Cottonwood City Council.)

I’ve always marveled that Bob Hall, who makes some of the most delicate hand-faceted bead necklaces, has also built some of Jerome’s largest hand-stacked retaining walls, including the wall behind the Jerome fire station and the wall flanking the basketball court, adjacent to the sliding jail. Retaining walls are Jerome AZ’s most overlooked architectural treasure, even though hundreds are in view every day.