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Contributed by Jerome Historical Society

This collection is a collaboration between Jerome Historical Society and the Postal History Foundation. It includes photographs, postal documents, postcards, postmarks, and covers or cachets, which are envelopes with special illustrations on them. Like many other towns in Arizona, the postal history of Jerome closely reflects the boom and bust of the mining industry. As the mining operations grew and the population soared, the post office also was established and expanded. Later, as fires swept through the town on multiple occasions, the post office also suffered. Then when the use of dynamite increased, the entire town began to shift and the post office collapsed in slides that affected much of the town. But the post office also demonstrated the strength of the community. In the 1970s when it was threatened with closure, a group of citizens gathered to protest. Although the population had dwindled to a handful at that point, the inhabitants recognized that their survival as a town was closely linked to the survival of the post office. At its height, the population of Jerome was close to 15,000 and today it is 400 (with an annual visitation reportedly at close to one million people).

The First Post Office Opens

The post office was established in 1883, which is the same year that United Verde's first smelter began operation. The first postmaster, Frederick E. Thomas, was appointed by President Chester Arthur on September 10, 1883, and in 1887 he had an annual salary of $18.53. At that time the mail was supplied by a Star Route contract from Prescott, and it was brought to the mining office in Jerome, where patrons picked it up. Between 1897 and 1902 Wyatt Earp's brother, Virgil, carried the mail over the mountain by horseback from Prescott. By 1909 the postmaster, Frank E. Smith, was earning $1,800 and had a clerk to assist him, at a salary of $400 per year. It is interesting to note that during that time the post office was open from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m., six days per week. Salaries reflect change in population and usage, and were computed by a complicated procedure in which the postmaster received a percentage of the total revenue while the balance was sent back to Washington D.C.

Fire!

In September 1898 fire destroyed much of the town, and it was reported in the Prescott Weekly Courier that "several sacks of outgoing mail were burned in the Post Office." In the next column it notes that "The new Post Office is on the porch of Miller's store," where stamps were reportedly being sold from a cigar box, In 1919 William Clark, President of the United Verde Company, signed a lease for a Post Office in the Miller Building located on Main Street. In 1930 the post office moved to a building on Hull Avenue known as the Jerome Garage Building, owned by John and Mabel Wagner. Mr. Wagner became the postmaster on January 26, 1938.

Dynamite Blasts and Falling Copper Prices Rock the Town

In 1929 there were reportedly 15,000 people living in Jerome, but by 1930 the census indicates that the population had dropped to 4,900. When the Great Depression hit, the price of copper began to decline sharply, and in 1939 United Verde Extension Company was dissolved. During that period the town faced other problems as well, as the constant blasts of dynamite took their toll. In 1925 two hundred and fifty pounds of dynamite were used to blast loose copper ore in the Black Pit portion of the mine. Before long the town began to slide down the steep mountainside at a rate of 3/8ths of an inch per month. The jail skidded three hundred feet before tipping over on its side. With 84 miles of tunnels beneath the town, Jerome began to cave in, and buildings shifted, tilted, and collapsed. In 1937 the lease for the post office on Hull Street was canceled because "the building has become unfit to use as a post office." It moved to a temporary location on the east side of Main Street, and in 1943 moved to its present location.

Protests Keep the Post Office Open

As the mining operations slowed and the population decreased sharply, the post office began to feel the effects. The post office was threatened with closure, but the town rallied to fight for its survival. In 1975 when Postmaster Beverly Sullivan resigned, the U.S. Postal Service announced the closure of the Jerome post office in an effort to cut costs. The residents of Jerome objected strongly and protests followed. Although Jerome is sometimes called a "Ghost Town," the town is alive and well, and the Historical Society continues to preserve its unique history.

Sources:

  • Alexander, William L. Arizona statehood post offices and postmasters, 1912-1979. Tucson, Ariz. : Western Postal History Museum, 1989-1992.
  • Barnes, Will C. Arizona Place Names. Tucson, Ariz. : University of Arizona Press (1960).
  • Johnson, Diane. "Jerome's Post Office," Jerome Chronicle (Spring 1995).
  • ____ One Hundred Years of Jerome's Post Office. Unpublished talk presented at the Sixth Annual Historic Symposium (1983).
  • Patera, Alan H. and John S. Gallagher. Arizona Post Offices. Lake Grove, Ore. : The Depot (1988).
  • Post Office Department and Postal Service. Official Register of the United States. Washington : Government Printing Office (1887)
  • Theobald, John and Lillian. Arizona Territory: Post Offices and Postmasters. Phoenix: Arizona Historical Foundation (1961)
  • Thomas, Bob. "Biggest Ghost Town in the West: Old Timers Tell Glory of Jerome." The Arizona Daily Star, October 10, 1965.
 
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