AMERICA’S LARGEST GHOST TOWN: JEROME
There is no shortage of ghost towns in Arizona. Including the likes of Tombstone, Goldfield and lesser known ones like Cochise. And of course, Jerome.
I love the history of the wild west and imagining what life was like back in the days of outlaws and spurs.
So many were drawn to the west during the peak of the mining days creating boom towns. But as quickly as they came, they soon grew desolate as the Depression hit and the price of metals and precious stones hit rock bottom. Jerome is the perfect example of this. During its peak it was nicknamed ‘The Billion Dollar Copper Camp’ and one of the largest copper mines in the west. Jerome was considered to be one of the richest cities in the United States with a thriving population of around 15,000. Today Jerome is the largest ghost town in America and is home to a mere 450 residents.
We have visited several ghost towns and what I love most about Jerome is it’s authenticity. It is more than just a contrived tourist attraction. It is a working town, many restaurants and hotels have been restored and yet several buildings have been preserved in their state of ruin, adding to the interest. The Jerome Historical Society has placed plaques on various buildings telling stories and bits of the history. And trust me, there is no shortage of stories. Not only was Jerome considered one of the richest cities, it was also considered the ‘Wickedest Town in the West’. There were brothels, saloons, gambling, boozing, brawling, gun fights and everything in between. However, as a mom I appreciate that today they have maintained a family friendly environment. It is a fascinating place with a lurid history and whisperings of current ghost sightings and hauntings. Here are our suggestions of the best things to see in Jerome to help as you plan your trip to America’s largest ghost town!
First Time Guide to Visiting Jerome’s Ghost Town
Jerome is perched high on the top of Cleopatra Hill. The view is breathtaking, but the roads are narrow and winding. We visited on a holiday weekend so the crowds of tourists were in full force. I didn’t really know what to expect on our first trip. I imagined a desolate town so I wasn’t expecting all the crowds. However, I can see why this place draws so many tourists. It is such a quaint, quirky and fun place to explore! My advice would be to visit during the week when it is not so busy. There is limited parking, mostly just street parking and a few small lots as you first come into town. The good news is that the town is small enough that you can walk most everywhere. As you stroll the streets you’ll find lots of hidden gems, but here are a few main attractions you don’t want to miss in Jerome.
Best things to see in Jerome
- The Bartlett Hotel: The Grandview Hotel once stood on this street corner. It was the first two-story building in Jerome. There were four major fires throughout the years that devastated the city. Many of the buildings were constructed with wood and were destroyed in the fires, the Grandview Hotel was one of them. It was rebuilt out of brick and became the home of the grand Bartlett Hotel. It was a lavish building that also housed the Jerome newspaper, a bank, drug store, offices and shops. The city also experienced many land slips due to unstable buildings built on the steep mountain side. The Bartlett Hotel was affected by the slides and was abandoned. You can view the remains through bars that have been erected where portions of the exterior walls once stood.
- La Victoria Glass Blowing Studio: If you follow the sidewalk down the right side of the Bartlett Hotel you will reach the Victoria Glass Blowing Studio. What drew me here was the crumbling remains of the building front. It truly captures the essence of a ghost town. It is now an open air studio with free glass blowing demonstrations. There were no demonstrations in progress when we visited, but I have heard it is a fun experience as the artist shares stories while teaching about the glass blowing process. Call to find the demonstration times.
- Sliding Jail: Take a short walk down the hill in front of the glass blowing studio and you’ll find the sliding jail. Having a city built on such a steep hill had some down falls. Literally. Add some unstable underground mine shafts and explosions, and the result is a concrete jail cell block that his slid over 200 feet from its original foundation right into the middle of the town’s main street. Instead of moving the cell, they just altered the road to go around it.
- Connor Hotel: This photogenic building is located in the heart of Jerome and is just dripping with character and history. You can book a night in one of their 12 clean and well-kept rooms. The rooms have been tastefully renovated and you’ll feel like you have stepped back in time. Each room boasts unique characteristics such as beautiful over-sized windows, antique furniture, exposed brick, vintage tin ceilings and wood stoves. It is a famous spot for ghost sightings and makes for an exciting stay! Even if you aren’t staying the night, you can still visit the Spirit Room Baron the main floor. It offers live music 4 nights a week and has a fun atmosphere. As with most buildings, the Connor Hotel has an interesting history as well. The original hotel burned down twice before David Connor finally rebuilt it using a stone foundation and brick walls. It was considered an upscale luxury hotel that was too expensive for the ‘Ladies of the Night’, so instead ‘Husband’s Alley’ was created on the west end of the building with a false store front that led to rows of ‘cribs’, or shacks with beds.
- Liberty Theater: The Liberty Theater building is connected to the Connor Hotel. This historic theater showed silent films and vaudeville acts from 1918-1929 until the owner decided he didn’t want to invest money into sound equipment. The original opening date was actually delayed a year due to the Spanish Flu epidemic. Today the downstairs lobby has been converted to a gift shop and cinema museum, but the upstairs theater auditorium remains fairly untouched. For a few dollars you can go up to the historic theater and watch a 30 minute movie about the history of Jerome.
- OJ’s Copper Country Fudge: Step inside this charming ice-cream parlor for a delicious sweet treat. You can grab a scoop of ice-cream, but their real specialty is the wide variety of home-made fudge. With over 35 flavors to choose from, it’s difficult to narrow it down! We loved the Orange Creamsicle, Snickers and Cookies & Cream, as well as the Dark Mint Chocolate Swirl. There is a small city playground up the stairs from the store if you want to take your treat there and let the kids burn off some sugar and energy.
- Nellie Bly Kaleidoscope Shop: This is the largest kaleidoscope store in the world and features over 90 kaleidoscope artists. It is such a unique and interesting store, but what I loved most is that they encourage you to touch and handle the different kaleidoscopes. There motto is, ‘If you’re not having fun we may have to kick you out’. I have to admit that I was a little nervous taking two young boys in here, considering some of the kaleidoscopes cost upwards of $3,000, but the staff was amazing! They were so kind and encouraged my boys to play with the different types of kaleidoscopes. My boys especially loved making a kaleidoscope picture out of their faces. The store has some kid friendly kaleidoscopes priced around $10 that made for a great souvenir.
- Jerome Grand Hotel: This 5 story hotel sits at the top of the city overlooking Verde Valley and is considered one of the most haunted hotels in America. It was once the United Verde Hospital and served the residents of Jerome from 1926-1950. They took pride in offering the best medical care and it was considered one of the most modern hospitals in Arizona, and possibly all of the western states. Of course over the years the hospital has seen plenty of patient deaths and is a hot spot for paranormal activity. For a thrilling experience, book a night in this hotel and see if you manage to get any sleep! Halloween night gets booked up almost a year in advance. In the lobby they have a photo book of pictures guests have taken of apparitions in the hotel, it is kinda creepy and kinda cool. While in the lobby be sure to peer into the shaft of the self-service elevator where you’ll see the outline of a body. Tragically, a man was found dead in this spot after being pinned underneath the elevator. The elevator was functioning properly which leads some to believe that the death was not accidental, but was actually a murder. His ghost reportedly roams the hotel, particularly in the basement. Even if you aren’t staying the night, be sure to grab lunch or dinner at The Asylumrestaurant located on the second floor of the hotel. The vintage luxury hotel offers an award-winning dining experience, and you can’t beat the views from the outdoor patio. It is a little bit of an uphill hike to reach the hotel, but there is a parking area if you prefer to drive up.
- The Surgeon’s House: Once the opulent home of Jerome’s chief surgeon, this historic home is now listed on the National Historic Registry. When the United Verde Copper Company purchased the town site of Jerome for $1 million dollars it built the United Verde Hospital, along with this luxurious mansion. This elegant home was decorated with all the finest furnishings and was built with all the modern amenities. Many parties were hosted here for the wealthy upper class. After the mines closed in 1953, the home housed various residents such as councilmen, mayors, policemen and even the local postmaster. As the town grew vacant the home fell into disrepair until it was lovingly and painstakingly restored in the 1990’s. It is now a beautiful and eclectic bed and breakfast. You aren’t likely to see any ghosts haunting during your stay, but you will enjoy the peace and tranquility of this “island in the sky”. Even if you aren’t planning to stay the night, it is still a notable landmark. Admire the gardens and beautiful Spanish style architecture and imagine what life in that home would have been like over 100 years ago.
- Haunted Hamburger: This hamburger joint has become a Jerome institution. Visitors come from all over to grab a bite at this local haunt. It is perched on the top of the hill and boasts a 100 mile view from their outdoor patio or large picture windows. The menu offers a wide variety of food from juicy mouth-watering burgers like the Southwest Sourdough Burger to lighter options like a veggie wrap. Be sure to save room for their Ghirardelli Carmel & Sea Salt handspun milkshake! This restaurant is very popular and on busy weekends, like when we visited, it is not uncommon to have a 2 hour wait. My suggestion would be to stop here first and put your name on the list before strolling around exploring the town.
- The Flatiron: Another delicious spot to grab a bite to eat is The Flatiron. Reminiscent of the famed Flatiron building in New York, this quaint little cafe offers some of the best food in town! The portions are generous and the dishes are fresh with locally sourced ingredients. The Flatiron is one of the longest running businesses in Jerome and is a favorite brunch spot among locals and tourists alike.
- Jerome State Historic Park: This is one place I had on our itinerary that unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit. It came highly recommended and I hope we have a chance to go back. The Douglas Mansion is built just above the Daisy Mine and has been converted into a visitor center and museum that unfolds the history of this mining town. The mansion was originally built in 1916 at the height of the boom by the legendary James S. “Rawhide” Douglas. The museum features a video presentation, 3-D model of the town and underground mines, along with exhibits containing historic photographs, artifacts, and minerals. Outside you can view different mining equipment as well as the carriage house with original automobiles. Picnic tables are also available on the grounds overlooking the Verde Valley. The park is open from 8:30 am-5 pm daily. Admission is $7/adults, $4/kids, children 0-6 years are free. Located right next to Jerome State Historic Park is the Audrey Shaft Headframe Parkwhere visitors can stand on a glass floor and peer down into the 1,900 foot mine shaft. The shaft is 650 feet taller than the highest point of the Empire State Building!
We hope you enjoy your time in the historic Jerome ghost town. It is bound to be a unique and memorable experience!