Jerome AZ Seesaw: Riches to Rags to Riches

Marshall Terrill, an author and a reporter for the East Valley Tribune, emailed me and said he loved my book Home Sweet Jerome and wanted to write something about it.  It’s every author’s dream. After I got his email, I looked him up. He is noted for his biographies of Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen and Pete Maravich, basketball great. Wow, I thought to myself, what an honor.

Terrill wrote me questions and asked me to write the answers and to please stick to two paragraphs. They were good questions and I thought a long time about how to answer them. The article Terrill posted was wonderful. My answers, way too long, were shortened. Here’s his article, which was generous and praiseworthy:

For the historical record, here’s the long version of my answers.

Difference between Aboveground and Below Ground Jerome AZ

Terrill: 1.) Give us a taste of what Jerome when it was a thriving copper town before 1953?’

 The major boom years were 1895 to about 1930 with a population peaking at about 15,000. Two mines worked full time, employing about 4000 people, and pulling out some of the richest copper ore ever seen in America. Aboveground, Jerome AZ was a rich and glamorous city, the center of Northern Arizona with the finest hospitals and schools; and plenty of social activities, not all savory.

Below ground, in the city of 88 miles of tunnels, life was not so glamorous. For the working miner, it was a 12-hour hardscrabble life, with plenty of dust to infect your lungs, and where being able to shower after work on company time was considered a ‘perk.’

The Dry

“The Dry” where me showered after work— first they showered off all the muck; then took off their clothes and hung them high in the rafters to dry, headless ghosts of the men below, Photo by Bob Swanson ( The Dry no longer exists. It was razed circa 2005.

In the nineteen thirties, a number of events began to turn Jerome in a downward direction, including the depression, the sale of the United Verde to Phelps Dodge, and the drop of copper prices after World War II.

Environmental Degradation: Mining’s Biggest Insensitivity

Terrill 2) You cite 1953 as a sort of Ground Zero for Jerome when Phelps Dodge discontinued mining. My jaw dropped when I read about how the company not only pulled out of town, but salvaged parts of buildings and took anything of value before leaving Jerome. Was this sort of behavior par for the course with other copper mining towns or was Jerome’s case particularly insensitive?

It was standard operating procedure, however insensitive and cruel it was. You close down a mine and salvage what can be re-used. If you could give employees jobs in your other mines, you did. The rest of the people you forgot about and took no responsibility for. Move or stay was their problem. The Mexican laborers and their families who had built their own houses, pulled them down, salvaging what they could, and went to find jobs elsewhere. The houses that Phelps Dodge built for employees, usually management and middle management, were either torn down or shut down or put on flatbeds and carted away to other towns. The hospital, United Verde apartments and company hills houses were boarded up and the electricity shut off. The 4-story Miller Building, the company store, was pulled down to avoid taxes and potential liabilities from what Phelps Dodge called ‘safety issues.’ Nor was their any expectation that the 140 or so adults and 86 children that stayed behind, would have the wherewithal, the money or the will, to continue living in Jerome and maintain the infrastructure. “Jerome is finished,” one mining official said. “Within a year grass will grow on Main Street.”

Perhaps the biggest insensitivity, if you could put that rather bland word on it, was the immense environmental degradation Phelps Dodge walked away from. Not just in Jerome, but in the Verde Valley. But remember, this was the fifties. There were no environmental laws in place. No law equaled no responsibility.

Toxic tailings

When it rained, water that was contaminated with copper sulfate flowed through the taiiings and into Bitter Creek, turning the water azure. Photo by Bob Swanson (

Supernatural Attachment.

Terrrill 3.) Jerome was literally a ghost town in the 1950s and 1960s. For the few people who stayed behind, what did they state their reasons were given the poor conditions of homes, sewer, water and power?

First, Jerome was never a ghost town. That was an invention of the Jerome Historical Society as a way of encouraging tourism. 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.

Jerome's "Pretend Ghosts"

Jerome Historical Society members dressed up as “Spooks: on Main Street in the nineteen fifties to help publicize Jerome as a ghost city. Courtesy Jerome Historical Society

Virtually everyone that stayed, or moved there in the fifties and sixties, talked about the love they had for Jerome, one that I characterize as a supernatural attachment. They always talked of the superb views. People that left and came to visit told me they always wanted to come back to live there again. And people that did live there in the fifties and sixties told me what how peaceful, enjoyable and quiet village life was. For sure the kids had a superb life, the mines, the tunnels, the empty buildings and homes were just one big massive playground that was entirely open to them. And then, layered into all that, was the sense that everyone was working towards the town’s restoration, and there was some sense of hope that someday, Jerome would become a history Mecca, and later, an art Mecca—even though towards the end of the sixties, the town needed something of a miracle to stay alive, not just in terms of fixing its deteriorating infrastructure but its very poor economy. In those years, Jerome was one of the poorest towns in the state.

Love, Need and Hope

Terrill 5.) The late 1960s and early 1970s saw an invasion of dissatisfied hippies move into town and had to not only intermingle with the old-timers, but had to come together in planning the future of Jerome. How did that happen?

Well, that’s the whole book and more, and it’s the question that impelled me to writing it, and what probably makes the book a fascinating read. Love, need and hope make powerful allies. That’s what binds uncommon people together, overcomes antipathy and impels them forward in a common mission. Virtually everyone shared a love of the town, a need to make sure it didn’t fall down the mountain, and a hope that it could become a viable place to live.

“The way I felt about it, I kind of resented it at first, this hippie group moving in,” said John McMillan, one of the most respected of the town elders. “But I found there were some pretty smart kids among them and they got into the politics of Jerome and took over the Town Council and did a pretty good job. I don’t resent that at all because these old timers, they can’t run the damn place forever.”

Restoration didn’t happen all at once, but what made it start to happen, is that the hippies became ‘joiners.’ Some joined the fire department; some joined the historical society; some ran for town council, and so on. And it wasn’t so much that there was a plan, but a need to get infrastructure in order, town accounting organized in order to get grants. And the other piece, the one that’s the most controversial, is that the hippies began to grow large marijuana gardens that brought cash into town and enabled everything from artists starting their own businesses to having the money to rebuild their houses. When you add income to love, hope and need, and begin to build a viable economy, then suddenly a future for Jerome became a whole lot more possible.

Riches to Rags

Terrill 5.) What inspired you to research the history of Jerome and make you want to put it all down in book form?

I wanted to know the history of where I had chosen to live. When I moved to Jerome in 1979, several layers of history were entirely visible and wove in and out of each other, but without context. There were large amounts of mining wastes and a big open pit; a denuded mountain; large houses on Company Hill that looked like they were ready to fall apart and were emblematic of what I heard was a ghost town; large, boarded buildings, such as the hospital, or the Daisy Hotel which was windowless and roofless. And because the town was encompassed in about one square mile of real estate and only had about 400 people living there, my first question was how did Jerome swing from rich to decrepit.

A typical house wreck in Jerome AZ

One of my all time favorites ruins, now the cover of the book Rich Town Poor Town. In 1985, the building was in perfect splay when Bob took the shot. Then it fell down. (Photo by Bob Swanson,

Although there was a fair amount written about the boomtown mining days, what happened afterwards was scant. So I started asking. Old-timers and newcomers began telling me stories that edged on preposterous—how Jerome’s mortician flew over the town in the sixties and threw out seeds of paradise trees; how the historical society acquired most of downtown for $10; how the biggest theft in Jerome was money hidden in the church and discovered after the priest died in 1979. So if you were a historian, like me by education and curiosity, you became a detective that was sucked into researching the veracity of those stories. I became hooked. And the more I heard and studied, the more devilishly contradictory and intriguing it all became. It was as though I found myself in the middle of a movie, in which I was playing some role that wasn’t quite clear to me, with a cast of extraordinary heroes and scoundrels that had already been part of many dramas. So there we all were, careening towards a future for Jerome that was not possible to predict, in a falling down town. Better than any novel you could concoct.

Rags to Riches: America’s Loveliest Town

Terrill 6.) What is your view of Jerome today, and has it reached its full maturity?

I would use the word restoration instead of maturity. With a few exceptions, Jerome has reached full restoration. Jerome has become the art and history Mecca that residents had hoped for. The town draws more than a million visitors a year. Business is booming. If you visit Jerome in the early morning or even after five when the visitors more or less disappear, what you would see is an astonishing lovely village, perhaps one of the most beautiful in America, surrounded by empty land that is beginning to be reforested and a breathtakingly beautiful eighty mile panoramic view of valleys and canyons that changes with the weather and time of day—“heaven on earth” as photographer Ron Chilston likes to say. Buildings on Main Street, the Grand Hotel, Douglas Mansion, The Little Daisy, have been lavishly restored. Many rebuilt homes are beautiful and comfortable. Those old decrepit Company Hill houses are now jewels on the hill. The whole town has become an oasis—one huge garden of flowers with thousands of pine and fruit trees. A variety of activities can accommodate visitors of every taste and age, from looking for ghosts to sipping wine or cappuccino, dancing to rock ‘n roll, to visiting Jerome’s mining museums, to going to the quirky museum of old trucks at the Gold King Mine (which was never a gold mine).

Fall in Jerome AZ

“Fall in Jerome” by Mark Hembleben, a plein air artist currently living and painting in Jerome. Hembleben has an art studio in the old Mingus Union High School. The painting shows why artists love to paint this lovely village. (

But for many residents, there is a downside to success. Lots of cars and motorcycles go up and down the hill daily and with them a lot of noise and low rumble. Quite a few people own homes right on the main highway and noise and fumes from cars creeping into the houses are intolerable. A kind of frenetic people bedlam makes it less pleasant to be uptown or even near it during the day. And then there is some fear that the income that can now be commanded from vacation rentals will mean a decrease in residential population, a decrease in taxes coming into the town, and a degradation of the community spirit that once re-built the town.

Home Sweet Jerome: Death and Rebirth of Arizona’s Richest Copper Mining City by Diane Sward Rapaport


An Art Museum for Jerome AZ—Wouldn’t it Be Great?

Jerome, Arizona needs an art museum that would introduce its numerous visitors to the marvelous art created here by painters, sculptors, photographers, jewelers, potters, etc. during its four major eras: mining days 1876-1953; ghost town years (1950-1960); restoration (1970-2000); contemporary Jerome (2000-present). Many artists, such as Lew Davis and Roger Holt, are nationally acclaimed.

Oil painting by Roger Holt

Oil painting by Roger Holt depicting Jerome in its ‘ghost town’ era.

The town of Jerome owns some art created by Jerome artists and it hangs in some of the town offices, meeting rooms and libraries. The Jerome Mine Museum on Main Street has a small collection of very fine oil paintings depicting mining days. The Jerome Historical Society archives has a considerable photography collection, only a very small portion of which has been printed and is on display. The Jerome State Historic Park has a small collection of photos and paintings. Some of that art owned by these entities is museum quality and should be protected and displayed in one location.

Sadly, however, much of the great art created in Jerome AZ before 1990 is gone—to families of artists that have died, to museums, and to visitors and residents of Jerome and the Verde Valley who had the good sense to buy it.

Three shows that occurred in Jerome within the last fifty years gave residents and visitors glimpses of the greatness of artists that once lived in Jerome.

Lew Davis: The Dean Arizona Artists

During the nineteen seventies, the Verde Valley Art Association in Jerome AZ sponsored a show of the art of Lew Davis, dean of Arizona artists, who grew up in Jerome during its mining days. The show included one of his most famous pieces, “Morning at the Little Daisy.” VVAA Director and musician Pat Jacobson and Arts Coordinator and jeweler Susan Dowling went to Phoenix in Pat’s pickup truck and borrowed all of Davis’ paintings from museums and collectors.

"Morning at the Little Daisy" by Lew Davis

“Morning at the Little Daisy,” by Lew Davis, owned by the Phoenix Art Museum. Davis grew up in Jerome, not wanting to admit to wanting to be an artist in a community of miners. After he moved out of Jerome, Davis painted a series of paintings depicting life in Jerome.

Other VVAA art shows featured the work of Arcosanti visionary Paolo Soleri and nationally renowned Verde Valley sculptor John Waddell.

The VVAA shows of Arizona artists and Jerome artists’ studio tours helped place Jerome on the map as an art destination. Shows of Jerome resident artists introduced their art to visitors and gave many artists their first sales.

1999: Images of Jerome

The Jerome Historical Society sponsored an art show in 1999 called “Images of Jerome: A Centennial Retrospective: 1899–1999.” The show depicted the culture of the community during three distinct periods: mining era, ghost town years, and restoration. A collection of more than one hundred paintings, photographs, jewelry, stained glass, tiles, sculpture, and pottery were displayed that were created by artists and artisans that lived in Jerome. The art was of excellent quality.

“Miner Pushing Ore Cart” by William D. White.

“Miner Pushing Ore Cart” by William D. White. This painting was the poster cover for
“Images of Jerome” exhibition in 1999. The painting was part of a series commissioned by Phelps Dodge Corporation in the mid-1930’s depicting copper miners. After the society formed in 1953, The American Legion loaned six of White’s paintings to the Jerome Historical Society and they were eventually accessioned by them.

I produced that show on behalf of the society. It was a propitious time to remind those of us who helped rescue the town of our deep attachments here and our roots into every aspect of its culture. The art was gathered from about 150 homes, studios, and businesses in Jerome and from the society’s collection in the Mine Museum. Curators ML Lincoln and Karen Mackenzie put in more than four hundred volunteer hours. They were astonished to find homes so chock full of Jerome art that they looked like miniature art museums. “These were not wealthy people collecting art as an investment but art to treasure as you would a good friend,” ML said. “Artists traded among each other or bartered their work for carpentry or bookkeeping or another piece of art. It was all very personal.” Lincoln and Mackenzie photographed all the art that they saw in people’s homes and donated the slides to the Jerome Historical Society for their archival records.

Vincent Family Art Exhibit

In 2012, Henry Vincent, a well-known Cottonwood CPA and resident of Jerome AZ had a showing of the art his family had gathered, much of it from Jerome artists at the old Manheim Gallery in Old Town Cottonwood. It was called the Vincent Family Art Exhibit and comprised more than thirty art works that had never been on public display and were not for sale, the majority of it by Jerome artists. Henry’s father Tom and mother Frankie remodeled a home in Jerome and moved into it in 1962. He began collecting art from Jerome artists. Their three children, Ed, Maeve and Henry continued collecting it.

The show included a painting of the Vincent family home called “First Snow” by Jerome artist and resident Robert Knudson and four or five paintings by Roger Holt the celebrated American artist, Roger Holt, who had exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery, and Carnegie Institute. Holt and his wife, Shan, arrived in 1954 and lived in Jerome until the mid-1960s. They founded the Verde Valley Artists, which morphed into the Verde Valley Art Association in 1975.

Where Could a Jerome AZ Art Museum be Located?

But where could this museum be?” I was asked whenever I mentioned my idea to people in Jerome on a recent visit. No one disputed that it was a good idea; but they did become very dubious that a museum could find a home here.

At some point, Verde Ex could explore the possibility of donating/selling/granting some or all of the old Mingus High School buildings for an art museum. It’s a logical idea: it has the reputation already as an art studio center and has adequate parking. Verde Ex needn’t displace any of its renters, many of them artists, but it could stipulate that whenever the renter gave up the space, it would become part of the new museum.

Would Verde Ex by up for selling? That would have to be explored. Could money to buy some of all of the complex for a museum be raised from donations and grants: no doubt.


But Wouldn’t It be Great

If an art museum did exist in Jerome AZ?

Wouldn’t it be great if special shows could be brought up to Jerome by artists that visited or lived here? Like Lew Davis. Or the great Edward Weston who photographed Jerome in the thirties.

An art museum could raise the funds and persuade the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. to help mount an exhibit here in Jerome of some of the collection of William Andrews Clark, the man who started the first of Jerome ‘s great copper mines. Like his collection of rare laces. Or world-renowned collection of majolica pottery.

Wouldn’t it be great for Jerome artists, before they died or moved away, to donate one or two pieces to the museum, instead of it evaporating out of town, never to be seen again. I’m thinking of the great work by artist Paul Nonnast, who died a few years ago, and whose home and studio are on the market. Or stained glass artist Nancy Louden. Or the tiles and magnets of Jade and Rosie? Or some of the work of jeweler Shorty Powell, who lived here in the sixties. I’ve never seen any of his art.

Wouldn’t it be great if some of us who own some of the great art that has been created here in Jerome could leave it as a bequest to the new museum?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one place our tourists could see the fantastic art that was created here in all eras of Jerome’s fantastic and colorful lives.

Fall in Jerome AZ

“Fall in Jerome” by Mark Hembleben, a plein air artist currently living and painting in Jerome. Hembleben has an art studio in the old Mingus Union High School. This painting would be one of my candidates for a new art museum in Jerome AZ. (

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one great art museum where visitors could recognize how deeply entwined art was in the history and collective identity of Jerome?