Jerome AZ is home when I come back to visit, as familiar and comfortable as my new home in Eastern Oregon. I am hugged back into its warmth and beauty by friends and family.
I stroll through streets that are full of magic and surprise. It’s not just looking at highly individual houses and gardens, but discovering staircases that climb to nowhere, secret pathways, gussied up pink flamingos, an old dental chair planted in the grass, the body of a 1951 Chrysler New Yorker floating on a pedestal adjacent to the New State Motor Company.
In late spring, thousands of trees in hundreds of varieties had greened up. Apricots and peaches were plumping out; it would be a bonanza year. Pink, red and yellow roses cascaded off porch trellises. It made me feel like I was walking through a terraced arboretum decorated with people-sized dollhouses.
It was difficult to imagine that in 1953 Jerome and the surrounding mountains were denuded of vegetation.
Unlike virtually any other American town, Jerome, AZ is framed in by a wild rocky landscape. The entire town is encompassed in about one square mile. There are no perimeter condos or trailer parks; no big box stores; no fast food franchises, no blighted neighborhoods. The land surrounding the town is owned by that is owned by mining and other large entities and the US Forest Service.
Every stroll shows me stupendous backdrops of craggy copper-colored canyons above Jerome or sweeps my eyes 1700 feet down and across the Verde Valley to the carmine and buff buttes, which form the ramparts known as the Mogollon Rim. The lighting effects produced by any kind of weather are entrancing.
The mining history of this once fabled city is everywhere present. Just up from the post office on Main Street, I can take in the elegance of fifteen lovingly restored Victorian houses, built by William Andrews Clark, the mining mogul reputed to be richer than Rockefeller. My eyes look at the big buildings that dominate most every neighborhood and remember how derelict they looked when I moved to Jerome in 1980. Now they are architectural showcases, lovingly used and enjoyed.
Restoration efforts led to Jerome AZ being declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976. A decade before, the commercial district had been designated as a National Historic District.)
The white Douglas Mansion, the largest adobe brick structure in Arizona, once belonged to Jimmy Douglas, the second wealthiest mining mogul in Jerome, AZ. The mansion is now a meticulously cared for state park and museum that is dedicated to the Douglas family and fabled United Verde Extension Mining Company (http://azstateparks.com/parks/jero/index.html). I like to sit at the picnic tables and look up at the town of Jerome and down to the fabulous panoramic views.
Nearby, the Daisy Hotel, once a miner’s hotel, and, after the fifties, an informal child’s skateboard and hide and seek playground, is now a handsomely restored home for its owners. The old hospital has become the Grand Hotel with its gracious maroon awnings. The Mingus Union High School complex is crammed full of remarkable art studios. The old elementary school houses town hall, offices and public library.
I always gawk at Jerome’s retaining walls, its immense, and somewhat unheralded, architectural treasure. The walls behind the new fire station and down by the basketball court near the sliding jail are built with rocks so large you’d think giants lifted them. Other walls are built with trestles from old railroad beds, steel sheets, or even bedsprings. Still others are huge concrete edifices. Some 1500 retaining walls have been built in Jerome AZ and they are as individual as the homes that people have restored. The walls keep the town from toppling down the mountain.
The Jerome Historical Society (http://jeromehistoricalsociety.com/) has displayed many mining artifacts in its parks and streets: iron ore carts, the coal coker, the huge half steel spoke outside its mine museum on Main Street. They have transformed an old Audrey head frame below the Douglas State Park Museum into a museum mini park. I stand on top of the glass walkway and look down almost 1900 feet into the old elevator shaft, a view enhanced by dramatic xenon lighting and specially designed mirrors. I saw an old elevator ‘cage’ and wonder if it was the same one that once transported me almost 5000 feet down into the large mine caverns.
After more than sixty years of restoration, the ghost town derelict that Jerome AZ became after 1953 is gone. It is arguably the most photographed and painted town in America. Visually, it gets my vote for the loveliest town in America.