More than 25 mining companies existed in the Verde District at the beginning of the 20th century. Two copper companies achieved bonanza recognition. A third promised stellar returns, but timing was not on its side.
Everyone knows of the United Verde Copper Company that gave Jerome's its name of "Billion Dollar Copper Camp." The company produced copper, gold and silver for 70 years, built-up Jerome and created the model town of Clarkdale. After W.A. Clark's mine closed in the early '30s, Phelps Dodge snapped it up in 1935 and it produced copper again until 1953.
The United Verde Extension also produced a bonanza for Jimmy Douglas, even though it closed after 15 years of feverish life with some ore reputed to have a purity of 40 percent.
But, timing, got the best of a third operation nearby, that promised to also bring new life to another section of the Verde district. Today, few recognize the name Verde Central Mine. That's because, as the a mine was unfolding riches below ground, the bottom fell out of the copper market and the company's future was lost. The remains of the company's operation stand like a geometric puzzle in the hills one mile north of Jerome, a huge grey slag marking its heritage.
The Calumet and Arizona Mine was formed in 1901 in Bisbee, adjacent to the Copper Queen mine. Six years later it was the fourth most productive mine in Arizona.
The company began investment in Jerome south of the town in 1916. William Fields Staunton, a highly regarded engineer was named president of the Jerome mine and all the members of the board were also board members of Calumet and Arizona.
By December 1922, the Los Angeles Times was reporting that the Verde Central is a "Rich Mine," having found "heavy ore" at 810 feet with a drift of 60 feet of commercial ore. The article states, "there is little doubt Jerome has its third great mine in the Verde Central."
The Prescott Evening Courier, the following February, announced, "A Stampede for Verde Central Stock is on."
The mine quickly pushed down to 1,000 feet.
The Evening Courier called the V.C. "a Big Mine" in September, averaging 10-15 percent copper at 1,000 feet, whereas many mines could be profitable with 0.5 percent copper.
"A continuation of the high value in the ore recently cut at the 1,019 level at the Verde Central Mine is keeping that property in the limelight of the whole mining world."
The L.A Times applauded the management: "The Central Arizona Mine furnishes an excellent example of how a mine should be 'made' in Jerome. "At a cost of $300,000, this amount has been spent on development and there hasn't been a start made on a working shaft."
In September, the board gave the go-ahead to sink that working shaft and at 1,400-feet, operators reported a 20 percent vein.
By early 1928, the mine board began talking about building a mill to handle its ore.
It was in October of 1929 that General Manager R.H. Dickison stated that the "mine has reached the productive stage."
The Courier cited a Mining Journal report in May 1930 that the company reported a net income after expenditures, amortization and depreciation.
Oddly, 1929 was the best year ever for copper. The United Verde led the state and the nation in copper production, silver and gold, the same as it had for five years running. Ranking fifth in gold and silver and sixth in copper, the United Verde Extension was Jerome's second great mine.
"Even better, the Verde Central, started up its own mill in January and was the third great mine in the district."
Forty percent of the national output of copper and 19 percent of the world output came from Jerome alone.
Copper prices, which held at 14 cents a pound since 1923, soared to 21 cents a pound in the first quarter of 1929, and then remained at 18 cents, the highest price since World War I.
Higher copper prices meant higher income for workers.
There were five auto dealers and 1,300 cars in Jerome. The three major mining companies employed almost 2,000 men.
A reporter from the Los Angeles Mining Review called the Jerome property, "one of the greatest and most valuable in the known world."
By the end of 1928, the price of copper exceeded 15 cents a pound and reaching a peak of 24 cents by the end of March 1929. Wages climbed proportionately.
Reporting in "After the Boom of Tombstone and Jerome, Arizona", Eric Clements cites a March 1924 area magazine, "There are, today, more men on the mine payrolls than ever before in the history of the 'Billion Dollar Copper Camp.' Several of the mines, like the Copper Chief and the Jerome Verde, active in the frenetic war years, had ceased operations since, but the activity of the United Verde and the UVX more than offset these losses. The big mines both produced at near capacity from 1923 through the end of the decade and the Verde Central showed great promise."
By 1929, Jerome's population was over 15,000 and Arizona had become the nation's leading copper-producer.
The United Verde increased its production in the first five months of 1929, and the UVX had dug three and one-half miles of new works during the decade.
The Verde Central's main shaft had reached almost 2,000 feet by 1929, a year in which the mine produced 2,167 tons of copper, almost 20,000 ounces of silver and employed 173 men. But the promising news came with the opening of the 300-ton per day concentrating mill on Jan 1, 1929.
The Verde Copper News called the opening, "an event of utmost importance."
In 1925, The Bank of Jerome failed.
Prices, fixed by the Copper Exporters, Inc. remained stable until April 1930, when the price dropped from 18 to 14 cents per pound and stockpiles of refined copper had piled up.
June 26, 1930, United Verde laid off 825 men in Jerome and Clarkdale.
W.A. Clark of the United Verde and Jimmy Douglas of UVX told area residents there would be no more firings, but, the Verde Central became the first of the big three to totally suspend operations. There had been no sales for Verde Central.
On Sept 30, 1930, Dickison announced operations would stop until the prices improved. A hundred men were out of work.
The following February, 1931, a report came that the United Verde Copper Company was negotiating for the purchase of the dormant 38-claim group of the Verde Central Mine.
By 1932, copper prices sunk to 5 cents per pound. The United Verde had discontinued copper production in the third quarter of 1931. It remained closed until 1935, when Phelps Dodge bought the mine for $21 million. In 1938, the UVX, Jerome's second major mine, was mined out and closed.
Only 250 men were still employed in Jerome by the end of December.
On Feb. 13, 1935, the president of Phelps Dodge assumed presidency of the United Verde and acquired all its holdings. The holdings now included Verde Central, which had also been absorbed by United Verde in 1931.
Mineral prices began to increase in 1935, during the first of the war scares to wrack Europe and the cycle began again. This time, Verde Central was no longer an independent player.