By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent
The Milwaukee Railroad came from Moravia and Mystic through the Jerome area in 1887. When it arrived there was already a thriving town. Some of the early settlers who came in the late 1840‚s and early 1850‚s to settle in the Jerome area were John Moore, William Becknel, Noah Stoner, C.R. Jackson, Henry Wilson, Peter Sidles and James Hagan.
As soon as the early settlers constructed their houses, they began to establish a school and a church, thus starting a small village. Horace W. Lyon was an early merchant. Mr. Lyon was said not to have been popular in the community as many objected to his selling liquor in his store. However he had a blind son named Jerome who was very popular. The town Jerome was named for this son.
The original town of Jerome was surveyed and platted in 1855. The east-west streets were named Main, Grand and Harrison. Mr. Lyon was the first postmaster of Jerome in 1856. A Methodist Church was organized in 1857 and services were held in homes until the construction of a school house. The first church was finished in 1871.
The first school was known as School District No. 5. The site of 0.4 acre was purchased from Jacob Stoner for $10 in 1857. Mr. Stoner set aside three-fourths of an acre for a burial ground just to the west of the school at the same time. All of the early pioneers are buried in the south end of the plot. In 1883 the cemetery was enlarged with additional land deeded to the Jerome Cemetery by Benjamin Sedgewick. Most of the later burials are in the new section. It is a beautiful, well-maintained cemetery.
The original school served until 1871, when a new school was built in the same location. One of the early teachers in this second building was Theodore P. Shontz, later internationally famous. After teaching at Jerome, he was graduated at Monmouth College, practiced law, and became interested in railroad building. He helped construct the Iowa Central Railroad and obtained controlling interest in the Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska road and the Toledo, St. Louis and Western road. His final achievement, for which he became famous, was to be the Chairman of the Panama Canal Commission in 1905-1907.
When the railroad came through, a depot was added, The railroad called it Rowley, but the townspeople insisted that the name should remain Jerome. Several coal mines; the Big Four, Gladstone No.2 and Harkes Coal Co. provided much employment and caused a booming economy beginning in the late 1800‚s. A lumberyard, hotel, two-story Big-4 store, livery barn, and blacksmith shop were all built in the 1890‚s. They flourished for many years.
In it its heydey, Jerome boasted a population of over 600 residents. There were two hotels, two boarding houses, a bank, a post office, two groceries, white elephant store, hardware store, clothing store, blacksmith shop, barber shop, shoe repair shop, a pool hall, a miners‚ hall, livery stable, lumber yard and stockyards. There was a public square with hitching posts and bandstand just north of Grand Street. There were several medical doctors.
The third school building was built in 1894 due to the need for a larger school. Jerome‚s population had increased because of all the coal mining activity. It burned in 1920. The fourth school was a new brick building. It was also destroyed by fire in 1931. A fifth building was built. It was a large two-story building just east of the cemetery. A modern water system was installed and it was wired for electricity in 1936.
The coal mining era ended in Jerome in about 1923 and the town‚s commercial life gradually deteriorated until all stores are now gone. The high school was closed about 1943 and the elementary grades soon after that. The building stood for a long time, neglected and lonely, but with fond memories. Only the Church and a small number of houses maintain the semblance of a town.
The Jerome Methodist Church, which had been organized in 1855, carried on for over 100 years and held periodic re-unions through the years so that former members could fondly re-visit their old home town.