JEROME, Ariz. — Seventy years past its mining prime and half an hour's drive from Sedona, this old town clings to the dusty slopes of Cleopatra Hill.
If Sedona swings, Jerome saunters. And if Sedona is charging into the future at 100 m.p.h., Jerome is advancing "down around 2 to 5 miles per hour."
That's the considered estimate of David Comeau, 44-year-old proprietor of Trader Antiques on Hull Avenue. Visitors come here to browse for antiques, nose around old Victorian buildings or stroll through the mining museum. Many are day-trippers on their way to or from the Grand Canyon or Sedona. But there is enough to keep some visitors overnight. Comeau's shop, which sells furniture, old musical instruments and colored glassware, is one of the tourist attractions. As he spoke with a visitor, he stood upon a freshly mopped wooden floor that was laid in 1917.
In those days, Jerome's mines were disgorging copper by the ton and the town's population was on its way to 15,000. Victorian homes were being built up and down the precipitous hillsides and gulches. But the mines produced their last ore in 1953, and these days the population hovers around 450. Jerome is a place for artists, tourists, the occasional reformed geologist (Comeau's former profession) and vintage buildings that cling to the 30-degree slope.
If you drive in from Sedona, one of the first buildings you see is the old hospital, which later became the town's school and more lately has passed into the hands of tenant artists.
"We wanted to be away from the city. And we wanted high ceilings," says Margo Mandette, who started renting in Building C with her husband, artist Robin Anderson, in 1978.
In those days, Mandette recalled, they paid $50 a month each for two rooms. They still rent, but now they have 20,000 square feet, with separate rooms for oil painting, acrylics, lithography, sculpture and pottery. They live in a one-bedroom cottage across the street, and open their studios to the public daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Beyond the old hospital/school lies the rest of Jerome: Jerome Historic State Park and Mining Museum, for instance, the Jerome Historical Society Mine Museum, the Raku Gallery, the 1898 Catholic church, the Town Hall building and Wuf Wuf, which is the studio of husband-and-wife artists Tom Brown and Kim Fletcher Brown.
"Things around here do not happen fast. They actually kind of discourage new businesses," says Kim Fletcher Brown, 27, who arrived about a year and a half ago from Phoenix.
There are about a dozen hotel rooms in town. There are two bars: The Spirit Room, downstairs from the Connor Hotel, and Paul and Jerry's Saloon, a few doors down on Main Street.
"That's in case you don't like somebody," explains Spirit Room barmaid Sherry McMahon. "You can go to the other one."
The town's old buildings are protected by the area's federal status as a historical landmark, and parking is scarce, conditions that make growth implausible. In May there's a home tour, and in late summer or early fall there's a modest musical festival.
"Sometimes, I just sit here and do nothing," says Comeau, settling into a seat at Trader Antiques. More often, however, he is selling antiques, restoring musical instruments and teaching guitar and flute.
Across the street at Macy's European Coffee House, meanwhile, cappuccino is selling for $1.25, croissants for $1.50. The woman at the counter complains of a hangover. Natasha Shealy, 19 and unemployed, gets her coffee and sprawls on the sidewalk with Doreen Gribauskas, a 24-year-old jeweler, and Irie, a 3-year-old mixed-breed dog. The three hunch together over a friend's letter from Spain.
Then the old mining siren sounds noon. Inspired, Irie inclines her head and lets loose a howl. Gribauskas and Shealy follow suit. Another day in Jerome, half done.
Jerome: Where to Stay and East in a Post-Boomtown Getting there: From Sedona, follow U.S. 89A southwest through Cottonwood and Clarkdale toward Prescott; it's a 30-minute drive.
Where to stay: The Connor Hotel (Main Street, Jerome, Ariz. 86331, 602-634-5792) has five rooms from $25 to $40 nightly; two share a hall bathroom. Weekend nights can be loud, with bands playing in the bar downstairs, but are the most in demand from April through November. The hotel urges visitors to reserve two weeks in advance.
The Jerome Inn (also known as the Miner's Roost; P.O. Box 36, Jerome 86331, 602-634-5094) has four rooms, one with its own bath, for $45-$55. For $95, the inn offers dinner in your room, a night's lodging and breakfast.
The Cottage Inn Bed and Breakfast (P.O. Box 823, Jerome 86331, 602-634-0701), a 1904 house about a mile downhill from downtown Jerome, offers a two-room suite with a bathroom off the hall, breakfast included, for $55 nightly.
The Sullivan House (P.O. Box 272, Jerome 86331, 602-634-2200), a 105-year-old Victorian one block uphill from downtown, has one antique-furnished room and a bathroom down the hall for $60, available June-October.
Nancy Russell's Bed and Breakfast (Juarez Street, Jerome 86331, 602-634-3270) offers a remodeled miner's quarters with private bathroom, bedroom and sitting room, breakfast included, for $70.
Where to eat: The Jerome Chamber of Commerce counts seven restaurants in town, most notable of which is the House of Joy (Hull Avenue, Jerome 86331, 602-634-5339). The 23-year-old restaurant, a former bordello, draws patrons from all over the state, but is open only Saturdays (3-9 p.m.) and Sundays (3-8 p.m.) and requires reservations, which can only be made on Saturdays and Sundays (9 a.m. to 9 p.m.). Proprietors John and Mary Dempsey set six tables, serving entrees such as veal, lamb, Cornish game hen and seafood for about $20 (no vegetarian meals, no steak).
For more information: Contact the Jerome Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box K, Jerome, Ariz. 86331, (602) 634-2900.