Jerome is unique. While other mining camps cluster in canyons, huddle at the bases of hills, or stand along silvery creeks, Jerome clings precariously to the side of a mountain, seemingly defying gravity. From the east, it begins as a glint of roofs in the sun, perched impossibly high on a distant hill. From the west over Mingus Mountain, Jerome materializes suddenly, appearing to cascade down the 30-percent grade of Cleopatra Hill.
This is not a ghost town to be sampled in an hour, although one might get a taste of it in that time.
Clarkdale, less than 5 miles away but almost 2,000 feet below Jerome, is often overlooked by those bewitched by the distant sighting of its more famous neighbor. But Clarkdale's history is also tied to the wealth of Cleopatra Hill. And the town has many reminders of its past.
The Sinagua Indians who lived nearby more than 1,000 years ago at what has become Tuzigoot
National Monument used the colorful mineral deposits of Mingus Mountain, Woodchute Mountain, and Cleopatra Hill, collectively called the Black Hills. The Sinagua favored beautiful blue azurite, a basic carbonate of copper. When they came through in the 1500s, the Spaniards dismissed the area's abundant copper deposits. They sought gold.
Humboldt was settled in the 1860s. This community in the Agua Fria Valley was originally called Val Verde, for a smelter of that name which processed the copper and lead of the Blue Bell and De Soto mines. At one point the Blue Bell, owned and operated by the Consolidated Arizona Smelting Company, shipped 11,000 tons of ore monthly. The commercial section of town was built on a ridge, with Main Street running down the center. Company houses and other buildings occupied the gulches on either side, while high-class houses were located on Nob Hill, near the smelter.
A post office opened in 1899 as Val Verde but was renamed Humboldt in 1905 to honor Baron Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), who had predicted more than a century earlier that "the riches of the world would be found" in the vicinity of the Bradshaw Mountains. As other mines were discovered in the area, more ore was sent to Humboldt. The expansion of smelting operations naturally meant prosperity for the town. The community eventually had a school, a telephone exchange, a hank, an ice house, a hospital, the Tisdale Hotel, Wingfield's Mercantile, the Humboldt Commercial Company, saloons, and pool halts.
In the midst of the prosperity, however, two fires struck the community. The first, in 1909, burned down' the Tisdale Hotel and the Humboldt Commercial Company. The second, a year later, destroyed 15 build-ings in one of the gulches.
After World War I, the mines shut down and smelting ceased. The town was deserted by 1924. A 1926 article in the Miami Silver Belt warned, "Another lesson to be learned from the experience of Humboldt is that any community should strive earnestly and consistently to work itself out of a situation wherein its commercial and industrial existence is entirely dependent upon a single industry." That is much easier said than done. However, Humboldt was resurrected in 1934, when Fred Gibbs acquired the Iron King Mine, which produced more than $100 million in lead and zinc until its closure in 1968.
Today only one stack, some slag piles, and the brick walls of the smelters remain. In 1955 a stack built in 1899 was deemed a hazard, so school was recessed to let children watch the old stack topple. Several false-front buildings from the '20s and '30s remain on Main Street along with the Bank of Humboldt. The bank failed in the 1930s, and the building now serves as a Catholic church. A side street, once the old Black Canyon Highway, has a false-front store, vintage gas station, and a made-for-tourists "old" Western town.
Mayer is situated where, in 1882, Joe Mayer built a store that also had overnight accommodations for travelers. It was so successful that he added a stage station and saloon. Mayer's store was the handiest place around. Cattlemen would lodge there while laying out $3,000 or $4,000 for reprovisioning.
As mines opened at Stoddard, Copper Mountain, and Poland, the town expanded. It received a post office in 1884, and two years later Joe Mayer constructed the two-story Mayer Hotel. The Prescott and Eastern Railroad arrived in 1898, further solidifying the community's importance as a center of commerce.
Joe Mayer was a natural entrepreneur. A 1902 issue of the Prescott Journal-Miner reports that Mayer, in partner-ship with E.S. Rogers, planned to market toothpicks made from cactus thorns as "Indian Souvenir Toothpicks." The newspaper had received a sample lot and was duly impressed.
The most obvious landmark in Mayer is the lone smokestack, 120 feet high, of the Great Western Smelter. Built in 1916, it was planned as part of a complex that would raise the daily capacity of the smelter from 200 to 700 tons.