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History of Colorado Springs

It could be said that much of Colorado Springs’ history was predetermined some 60 million or 70 million years ago, when volcanic pressures forced the earth’s crust to rise and buckle, forming the Rocky Mountains. These mountains, rising abruptly from the High Plains, have had much to do with who we were and what we have become.

Cheyenne, Ute, Arapaho, and other Native American tribes hunted in the area and visited the mineral springs in the foothills of Pikes Peak. Some say they also came to worship Manitou, the Great Spirit.

In 1859, gold seekers, lured by the prospect of riches in the mountains west of Denver, established a village they called Colorado City as a supply depot and jumping off point for the South Park goldfields. That area is now part of Colorado Springs’ West Side.

General William Jackson Palmer, a former Civil War general and railroad tycoon, passed through the area while surveying the route of his Denver & Rio Grande Railway. He decided this was the perfect place to build a genteel resort like Newport, Saratoga, and others he had enjoyed back east. He formed a town company, and staked out the first streets in 1871. A Quaker and strict teetotaler, Palmer forbade the manufacture, sale, or consumption of alcohol in his new town. Drinkers and carousers simply rode out to the saloons of Colorado City.

During the next 20 years or so, Colorado Springs grew to be a popular spa. Well-to-do tourists arrived by train and spent summers at General Palmer’s luxurious Antlers Hotel or at other grand establishments in Manitou Springs. Many of the celebrities of the time--Jefferson Davis, Oscar Wilde, John D. Rockefeller--vacationed here. And the area was so popular with English visitors and settlers that the town acquired the nickname Little London.

The Springs’ days as a quiet little resort came to an abrupt end in 1891 when gold was discovered at Cripple Creek. In 10 years, the population of Colorado Springs tripled to 35,000. More than 50 of these new residents were newly minted millionaires, and many of them built splendid mansions in the North End of the city. One of these was Spencer Penrose who built not only the world famous Broadmoor Hotel, but the Pikes Peak Highway, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, and the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun. After Cripple Creek gold dried up, Colorado Springs returned to a sleepy existence catering to the tourists and to the many tuberculosis patients who came to regain their health in the thin, dry air.

World War II got the town going again. Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base were established. The North American Air (now Aerospace) Defense Command (NORAD) and the U.S. Air Force Academy joined them in the 1950s. This military presence continued to grow as Colorado Springs became the nation’s military space capital in the 1980s and 1990s.

Today, General Palmer’s Saratoga of the West is home to more than 500,000 people. The influx and growth of high-tech manufacturers, software companies, nonprofit organizations and ministries, and other businesses have made Colorado Springs less reliant on tourism and the military, and have attracted tens of thousands of highly educated and technically skilled newcomers. Homes, plants, offices, and malls have spread onto the prairie and into the foothills, creating new neighborhoods that, except for the dramatic mountain backdrop, look much like suburbs anywhere.

But for those who care to look, the history of the Pikes Peak region is remarkably visible and accessible. The Colorado Springs of yesterday is very much a part of the Colorado Springs of today.

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Copyright © 2014, Trish Ingels, Broadmoor Specialist