Diving into the Depth of Mining History at Jerome State Historic Park

May 21, 2020By Amy

In my experiences of traveling around the United States, I have come across plenty of different towns and cities. No town has felt as unique as Jerome, Arizona. For starters, it’s incredibly small and compact. At less than a square mile and 5000 feet above sea level, it feels like an isolated little haven high up in the hills.

Getting to the town involves a drive up a few switchbacks and winding roads rising up from the Verde Valley. The streets feel narrow with sharp turns and one can only wonder how nearly 15,000 people once lived in this small little town. Despite its size, Jerome holds a ton of history.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jerome was a bustling mining town with two large deposits producing millions of tons of ore containing copper, silver and gold. Mining shafts were dug, headframes were built, and the number of residents grew. Eventually, the ore bodies were exhausted and the population dwindled to a near ghost town. To learn about the history, we decided to check out the Jerome State Historic Park, a museum featuring artifacts and displays educating about the town’s history.

Distant view of Jerome buildings across a hillside

Jerome State Historic Park opened to the public in October 1965. Prior to becoming Arizona's fifth state park, it was a mansion that belonged to the Douglas family - a family with a long history of mining. Built in 1916, the mansion served as a home for the family as well as housing important mining officials and investors. Several rooms in the old mansion remain untouched and preserved as they once were.

Outside the mansion, the garage houses the family’s old vehicles. Upstairs was the largest, most spacious bathroom I’ve ever seen in my life. A stunning marble shower stands in the corner opposite a deep gorgeous bathtub. Back downstairs, an old library still stands much as it likely did before. I could almost imagine an older gentleman reclined in a chair smoking a pipe or cigar in the dying evening light. The old mansion holds a lot of details that make it easy to imagine what life would have been like living in luxury at the time.

Wooden fireplace and bookcases filled with books

To add a bit of visual entertainment, there is a short film that one can catch which explains Jerome’s history throughout the ages - from the heyday of mining to the Ghost City Hill Climb, a terrifying high speed auto race up the hairpin turns into town. I learned a lot and definitely recommend starting there should you visit.

While great attention has been paid to the Douglas family (and you can easily spend hours flipping through old photographs and letters!), the main focus of the museum is the history of mining. There is an entire room dedicated to minerals, ore and assaying. Don’t miss the tiny closet behind a curtain with fluorescent minerals glowing under ultraviolet light. I’m not sure why but this tiny little secret tickled me and reminded me of all the mineral books I flipped through as a kid.

Wooden table and shelves filled with old glass bottles and assaying equipment

More mining equipment and Jerome paraphernalia are tucked around every corner of this place. Rusty old mine carts sit lined up outside and bring about thoughts of Indiana Jones and his adventures through the Temple of Doom. In the mansion’s kitchen, you can see a carbonator that sat in a hotel’s soda fountain as well as old soda and medicine bottles. Jerome dental equipment is displayed in a case. Mail equipment is set up in a small corner as though it were a small postal office.

Perhaps the most interesting displays in the museum are the many 3D models detailing the town’s numerous mining shafts and ore deposits. The town is laid out above and the shafts and ore bodies are arranged underneath in scale. After peering at a number of these things I got a real sense of the vast network of tunnels that run underneath Jerome. It’s no wonder there has been so much shifting of buildings and land over the years.

3D model of Jerome buildings and mine shafts

Speaking of mine shafts, one of the coolest things I saw while there is just down the hill, outside of the museum. The coolest thing of all is that it is 100% free of charge. Right next to the Jerome State Historic Park is the Audrey Headframe. This shaft was built to maximize the amount of high-grade ore that was pulled out and it worked. Not only did the shaft make conditions safer for miners but profits rose.

So why would you want to visit this thing? Well, a few signs around the headframe will tell you. The shaft is 1900 feet deep which makes it taller than the Empire State Building and you can peer down the thing. Sitting on top of this concrete mineshaft is a thick plate of safety glass you can walk over. Standing on the glass gazing down is something perhaps only for the brave. A light is bounced off a mirror and pierces down into the darkness but only makes it so far. It’s truly vertigo inducing and I imagine our video doesn’t do it justice.

Wooden framework of the Audrey Headframe

I must admit that I love Jerome. It can be a bit crowded and touristy depending on the time and day one goes but its history is something I can’t quite seem to get enough of. Google can provide hours of research and information but nothing quite beats seeing things firsthand. With my newfound background on the history of Jerome, I can’t wait to go back again.

Interested in learning more about Jerome State Historic Park? Consider checking out our video, or get directions, pricing info, hours of operation and much more on our information page. Links below.