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Local Towns Are Living Museums

A Tour into Verde Valley Mining Histories Past

Story & Photos by Pamela Williams

A moderate climate and rural lifestyle are the keystones to today’s Verde Valley growth. But this wasn’t always the case. Before the luxury of choosing one’s quality of life, was the necessity of finding a place with work. And for the Verde Valley, that work was typically in mining.

To get a better grasp on our hometown’s rich mining history, tours through Jerome, the Mine Museum, Gold King Mine, Douglas Mansion, Clarkdale, Clemenceau and a train ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad are in order.

But first, for a little background, lets start at the beginning of the mining era with the Yavapai Indians.

Before white man had discovered the riches of copper, gold and silver within the hills of Jerome, the Yavapai had discovered there the beauty of Malachite and Azurite - green and blue stones used for dyes and trade. In 1583, upon visitation by Antonio de Espejo, the Yavapai showed the Spanish explorer where their riches lay. Interested only in the gold, Espejo felt the large amount of copper served as a nuisance in obtaining the good stuff. Modern smelting didn’t come into play until much later in time and the idea of extraction seemed an impossibility.

Later, during the gold rush period, other curious miners began to stop in to see what the Verde Valley had to offer. Ranchers followed as the area provided plenty of water and a fertile land for cattle. Riches were again discovered in the mountains and many began to lay claims. But due to the difficulty of freighting ore out of the Verde Valley to a smelter, the claims proved to be unprofitable and many were put up for sale.

Mining experts got wind of the sale and came out to investigate the property. Dr. James Douglas, co-inventor of the Hunt and Douglas process for refining low-grade copper and subsequent president for Phelps Dodge Corporation, was the first to show up in Jerome. The year was 1880. But he too felt that due to the lack of modern transportation methods in central Arizona, the mines would not be profitable.

This didn’t keep Douglas’ friend Charles Lennig’s curiosity at bay though.

Lennig bought the Morris Ruffner Eureka Claim. Arizona Territorial Governor Frederick Tritle and mining expert Frederick Thomas of California wanted to get in on the mining business, too. Tritle was short on cash and asked Prescott friend William Murray to come in on the deal. The three took a $500 option on the Wade Hampton claim and agreed to pay $45,000 on expiration.

Tritle wanted to bring in more capital, so Murray and Thomas went back east in 1882. Murray approached his uncle Eugene Jerome, a wealthy man, for backing. Eugene liked gambling but didn’t like the idea of throwing money into a big hole in the ground. But Eugene’s wife Jenny, also a wealthy woman in her own right, conspired with her sister and raised $200,000 for the mine investment. With this financial help, Thomas later designated the camp near the Cleopatra mine as Jerome. Neither Eugene or Jenny visited the small camp, despite their namesake.

Additional investors also came on board, and by 1883 it was decided by the owners to incorporate under the name United Verde Copper Company. James A. MacDonald was named president.

In this time period, the Atlantic and Pacific Railway had reached Ash Fork and a 60-mile wagon road from the mine to the railhead was built. The extraction of silver and gold from the ore paid for the transportation. But by 1884, the gold and silver were becoming depleted, and to boot, copper prices were crashing. The mines were shut down and put up for sale.

Douglas once again visited the area and once again refused to buy. But William A. Clark, a copper king and industrial giant along with Joseph Giroux, a superintendent of one of Clark’s mines, spent three weeks in Jerome collecting ore samples at 12-inch intervals. Previous experts took samples in only five-foot intervals and missed rich veins. With Clark’s discovery, he immediately took a $30,000/3-year option on the mine.

The mine’s first 90-day run of ore yielded $180,000 profit, and with this portion he bought 160,000 shares of UVCC stock at $1 per share. He soon owned 95 percent of the stock with MacDonald holding the other 5 percent. In total, the mine netted $50 million in profits.

The smelter that once existed in Jerome was moved down the hill in 1911 into what is now Clarkdale. Clark purchased numerous small ranches and their water rights and named the area after his namesake. Historically, the town was founded in 1914 and the smelter was completed in 1915.

Clark wanted his town to be a model town with all the most modern facilities to be found. This was his way of showing appreciation for his workers and making a mark on the world for himself. The town boasted a library, clubhouse, town square, and beautifully built brick homes laid out in an almost Del Webb type fashion.

In 1913, construction on the Verde Valley Railroad from Drake to Clarkdale began. This same track is used today by the Verde Canyon Railroad tour company, whose excursion stops short of Drake in Perkinsville, before returning to Clarkdale. Originally the railroad helped provide supplies for the building of the new Clarkdale smelter.

The construction of other tracks followed and included; Clarkdale to Hopewell, Hopewell Tunnel to Jerome, Jerome to Clemenceau.

The Hopewell Tunnel was a 7,200 foot underground haulage system that transported ore from the UVX Mine in Jerome to Clarkdale, where it was met up with another track leading to the smelter. The remnants of the Hopewell are difficult to access because of private property.

The Clemenceau smelter of Cottonwood was completed in 1918, and in 1922 the Arizona-Extension Railway was constructed from Jerome to it. In this period James Douglas finally bought a claim and built the Little Daisy Hotel and the Douglas Mansion. The railroad to Clemenceau begins near the Douglas Mansion or Jerome State Park, where it runs beneath the ground through the Josephine Tunnel, approximately 2.5 miles, before surfacing one mile west of Clarkdale. From there, it paralleled today’s 89A bypass. Remnants of slag from the smelter can still be seen along this bypass.

By 1929, Jerome was at its peak population of 15,000, making it the third largest town in Arizona. Due to underground fires, open pit mining came into play. The use of power shovels, trains and trucks helped bring four million yards of ore out of the ground. And in 1935, United Verde sold most of its holdings to the Phelps Dodge Corporation.

At this time, the Town of Jerome began to slip downhill. Some believe it stemmed from the discharge of 100,000 pounds of blasting powder in the Black Pit. Whatever the cause, many commercial buildings had to be demolished because of the instability. The local jail moved at the fastest rate of all - eight feet a month. The town stopped slipping by 1964.

In 1953, the last mine closed and Jerome’s population began to decline. The Douglas family deeded the Douglas Mansion to the state parks and the Mine Museum was opened by the Historical Society in efforts to preserve a time now gone, and promote tourism.

In 1980, the Gold King Mine tourist center also opened to help promote mining history and the history of Jerome.

Although the faces on many Verde Valley historic mining sites have changed, enough remain the same to allow visitors the privilege of insight to the area’s past. A past that was not only rich in copper but in event as well.

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