Mine Tales: Ore led to Jerome's boon, may aid city again

2014-04-28T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T16:15:44Z Mine Tales: Ore led to Jerome's boon, may aid city againBy William Ascarza Special to the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Jerome’s population reached 15,000 during the peak of mining operations during the 1920s.

The lively town had survived multiple fires in the late 1890s, rebuilding its business district consisting of saloons, restaurants, gambling houses and a red-light district.

Major dynamite blasts caused surface instability, which in turn caused some of the structures to slip downhill, including what became known as “the traveling jail,” documented to have moved over 100 feet.

The United Verde Extension ore body was discovered by James S. Douglas, son of renowned Phelps Dodge president James S. Douglas Sr.

Attracted by the Verde fault and its proximity to the rich ore body that was the United Verde mine, Douglas figured parts of the ore body might exist on the Little Daisy mine, a claim just north of Jerome that he acquired in 1912.

After several years of unsuccessful excavations, miners hit a bonanza of ore, yielding between 15 to 45 percent copper at 1,500 feet and worked by Douglas’ United Verde Extension Mining Co.

Years later, geologists surmised that Douglas’ $125 million ore deposit discovery was indeed a separate ore body that had been overlooked by William Andrews Clark’s United Verde operation.

The Great Depression caused the price of copper to drop to just 5 cents per pound, and the mines around Jerome closed. Despite the poor economy, Phelps Dodge took a financial risk and in 1935 bought the former mining operations that belonged to Clark, the Clarkdale smelter and the United Verde Extension property for $35 million.

By 1940, these properties produced dividends of over $40 million.

The two major mining operations at Jerome that contributed more than 99 percent of the total production of the Verde or Jerome mining district were the United Verde Mine (1876-1953) and the United Verde Extension Mine (1912-1938).

Both mines contributed to the production of $650 million in metals, or just over $3 billion in copper in today’s market. An additional $1 billion in gold, silver, lead and zinc were produced over the life of these mines.

The United Verde Mine netted Clark and his family a total of $70 million and later another $40 million for Phelps Dodge before the mine closed in 1953.

The United Verde district produced more than 2¾ billion pounds of copper with more than 100 miles of underground workings built beneath the town of Jerome.

After the mine closed, the town’s population plummeted to 243 inhabitants, earning Jerome the sobriquet “largest ghost city.” The town has become a popular tourist attraction over the past 40 years after being designated a state park in 1965.

The James S. Douglas mansion, a local landmark in Jerome built in 1916 above the Little Daisy Mine, serves as a state museum devoted to the town’s mining history.

Mining in the area could again assume a prominent role if current exploratory drilling below the surface yields productive deposits of copper and zinc, coupled with a favorable price for the minerals on a world market.

The West Jerome Property, encompassing 2,579 acres about 1ƒ miles south of the renowned United Verde Mine, also could yield another sulfide ore bonanza and is being explored by Cornerstone Metals Inc. through geophysical surveys.

Jerome’s mining history may not yet be fully written.

Sources: Lon Abbott and Terri Cook (2007), “Geology Underfoot in Northern Arizona”; E.M.J. Alenius (1968), “A Brief History of the United Verde Open Pit, Jerome, Arizona”; C.A. Anderson and S.C. Creasey (1958), Geology and ore deposits of the Jerome area, Yavapai County, Arizona: U.S. Geological Professional Paper 308; Carlos A. Schwantes (2000), “Vision and Enterprise: Exploring the History of the Phelps Dodge Corporation”; Robert L. Spude and Stanley W. Paher (1978), “Central Arizona Ghost Towns.”

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. Email him at mining@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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