Jerome, Some Long Views

We have spent the last week trying to understand (“get our mouths around”) this place called Jerome.


Above is a photo, the smaller version of the Wikipedia panorama,  of the town (flattened and distorted by the camera mechanisms). The hill on which the town is located is called “Cleopatra” and is part of the Black Hills (really a mountain range), black because of the Ponderosa and junipers that cover the them. To the far right are the open-pit United Verde copper mine tailings, about 1/3 as large as the rest of the town. To the far left is a spur off Cleopatra Hill on which, out of sight, a clump of buildings, including the Old School House/art studio complex, and a cemetery are located. The road into town from the Verde Valley climbs up along the edge of Deception Gulch, goes around behind the school buildings, and then along the Bitter Creek? gulch (dark, at the left in the photo above) The road then continues winding up hill and around corners to the center of Jerome. The pano shows the two humps on which the town was built, with a bit of a draw between them. We live on the south (left) hump.


In this photo, above, Deception Gulch is on the right (the road follows it down one side to a switch back and then (unseen) further down the other), and the Bitter Creek gulch, as well as the same road, which run diagonally across the photo. While the switch back behind the Old School House complex is one of the two extreme turns in the city highway/street (the other is in the middle of the town), the road winds continuously in and out, wherever engineers could a place that would accommodate two lanes.

The sheer drops and curved nature of the highway, sometimes cantilevered out over a hillside, sometimes appearing to fall off the edge of nowhere, makes figuring out the town more difficult. The streets are so steep that the third floor of the house below can become the first floor of the house above. Every street looks out over the roofs of the houses just below. Add to that places where streets and buildings have slid down the hill, and may or may not have been resuscitated,  and, at least for us, it takes a lot of walking and map examining, and driving, and map-looking again to sort out the town’s layout.


Here’s a more vertiginous view of the south side of town, taken from the cemetery, where I’ve been painting. The red-roofed, four or so story building at top center is the Civic Center, previously the Clark elementary school. Our unseeable apartment, the Kelly House, is to its right (from this view) and one street down from it.

As Mark, one of my studio mates, pointed out, the hill is higgledy-piggledy (while trending always downward), but the houses form the neat horizontal lines. In some ways this is the virtue — and the hubris — of humans and the landscape. While you can’t see them here, in a future post I’ll show lots of structures that once may have been horizontal, but have now crumpled or faltered or been shoved into more natural (if unlivable) shapes.


The south mini-spur or hump of Jerome, shown above, contains the Civic Center (a tip of which shows at the far right) and the Grand Hotel, earlier the United Verde hospital. (Its restaurant is called “The Asylum”). A number of new upscale buildings have been erected at the edge of the south side, where ramshackle structures once stood. Repurposing the land as well as its structures is an important and interesting historical element of Jerome. It reminds me that the historic pueblos like Tuzigoot, down in the valley, whose structures on buttes or hills continued to be built on over centuries, layering rock walls and laying new floors, and, so far as the archaeologists can determine, repurposing rooms to new uses over time.


This is a photo of the northern “hump” of Jerome, with the remains of the copper mine highlighted by the sun. The curved wall at the lower-center part of the photo is the edge of the parking lot at the State Park, a historical center which has a fine exposition of Jerome’s history and geology. The park/historical museum is located in the home and grounds of the second copper mine owner in Jerome, Jimmie Douglas, chief stockholder of the United Verde Extension mine. The United Verde Copper Company and the United Verde Extension were rivals, sometimes arguing about who was encroaching on whose underground holdings. They united, however, when the town started sliding downhill, slides caused by underground tunnels, dynamite blasting at the pits, and natural geological faults. The two mines, reputedly the richest deposits of copper in the world, paid the city about $53,000 for the loss of a large part of Main Street.  It is the large geological fault, the Verde, that allowed two mines to exist at two very different levels, yet close enough together that jokes between mine officials ran to comments about whose living room would be punctured by the next tunnel. The town seems fairly stable now, although, as the state park exhibit shows so clearly, it is still underlain by 88 miles of mine shafts.  This Wikipedia article explains the geology that allowed the wealth, the ruins, and the crazed remains to exist.

Here’s a closer look at the south side of the town, with the Civic Center and Grand Hotel the largest buildings.


And here’s what Cleopatra Hill looks out over:


The center of the town in the photo above is hidden behind the rolls of geography to the left. The schoolhouse, with the red tile roofs is at the edge of the habitations; beyond that, the road rolls and winds down to the Verde Valley, with the towns of Cottonwood and Clarkdale sprawling out across it. The far horizon is the Mogollon Rim.

The elements of geology and geography determined much of the interesting constraints that so muddled our  minds in Jerome.

Where topology limits structures and the steep terrain make land scarce, buildings jam into tiny flattened bits of the hillside. The buildings have traditional square walls and roofs, but the roads and paths and stairs between them are higgledy-piggledy, going wherever they can squeeze in. The houses don’t tumble down the hill (until the ground gives way) but rather make a kind of unsteady but hopefully dignified progress across and down the slopes that run in and out of draws.

And the constraints of space mean that buildings are not abandoned if anyone can make use of them; they are recycled, repurposed, rehabilitated, reused. The Mansion becomes a state park, the hospital becomes a grand hotel, the other hospital becomes a school, the shacks become art galleries and apartments, and the elementary school ends up an animal hospital and Civic Center.

A number of large, heavily-built structures in town are as yet empty or only slightly occupied. And there are an even larger number of shacks that are falling down around their wooden and tin-sides. Every semi-flat empty space now goes for parking; swarms of tourists wander wide-eyed, tripping over the sunken and broken sidewalks, and, one hopes, buying enough food and art to keep the town alive.

It’s an interesting place, Jerome, AZ. –June

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