Colorado Springs History & Heritage

History & Heritage

Visit historic landmarks in Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region

The Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho and other tribes gathered at the base of Pikes Peak, near its abundant springs and in what is now called Garden of the Gods Park. During the 1700s both French and Spanish flags flew over the region. But with the Louisiana Purchase, more Anglo-American explorers and settlers began to venture west.

In November 1806, American explorer Zebulon Pike traveled through the area and is credited for “discovering” Pikes Peak. He and his group attempted to reach the summit, but they were neither dressed nor equipped to climb the mountain that ultimately came to bear his name.

In 1859, Colorado Springs history is marked with the founding of Colorado City which became the first settlement in the Pikes Peak region. It was the territorial capitol for a short period and served as a supply camp for miners traveling to the mining camps west of Denver. Discover more of this historic district at the Old Colorado City History Center

General William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero from Pennsylvania, ushered in a new era in Colorado Springs history in 1869. During his first visit to the area, he fell in love with its “most enticing scenery.” He predicted that there would soon be a great resort town at the base of Pikes Peak. One year later, he founded the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and purchased land to create Colorado Springs along its route. In 1871, the Victorian spa resort town Palmer envisioned became a reality.

Throughout Colorado Springs history, the stunning scenic beauty was not the only thing that attracted people to the area. The sunny conditions and dry, mild climate of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs made these communities popular for people suffering from poor health, especially tuberculosis.

In the 1890s, gold was discovered on the western slope of Pikes Peak, one of the richest gold strikes in American history. Almost overnight, the Cripple Creek Mining District grew from an isolated cattle pasture to the home of more than 50,000 people. As a result, by the turn of the 19th century, Colorado Springs was called "the city of millionaires." One of these millionaires was Spencer Penrose, who made his first fortune in Cripple Creek. He used his vast resources to build the Pikes Peak and Cheyenne Mountain Highways and to establish the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Will Rogers Shrine and The Broadmoor Hotel. He and his wife, Julie, created the El Pomar Foundation, which still supports many worthy causes in the Pikes Peak region and across Colorado.

At the turn of the century, inspired by a trip to the summit of Pikes Peak, Katharine Lee Bates penned what has become our country's most famous poem and song, "America the Beautiful."

In the 1940s, the U.S. Army opened Camp Carson, marking the beginning of what is now a strong military presence in this region. In 1954, the Air Force broke ground for the United States Air Force Academy to continue this military tradition. Today’s Colorado Springs history is capped with a military flair. Colorado Springs is home to major military installations including Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, the U.S. Space Command, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), Schriever Air Force Base and the United States Air Force Academy.

Colorado Springs History

Colorado Springs history is unusual compared to how the rest of the west was won. Founded in 1871 by General William Jackson Palmer, the quaint town began a resort area nicknamed “Little London” because of its popularity with English tourists. General Palmer had a grand vision for a sophisticated town, befitting his cultured wife, Queen.

Two years after founding the town, General Palmer opened the Antler's Hotel, an important landmark in Colorado Springs history. The resort welcomed U.S. and international visitors as well as those seeing the health benefits of the plentiful sunshine and dry climate.

Soon after opening the hotel, Palmer founded the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. He contributed even more to Colorado Springs history by making grants or selling land for important civic institutions in the community. In the late 1800s, Colorado Springs developed into one of the most-visited destinations in the U.S.

Colorado Springs, the state’s second-largest city, has evolved into a sophisticated destination that has retained the charming ambiance of a small town. Many important buildings and landmarks are named for General Palmer including Palmer High School, the nearby town of Palmer Lake, Palmer Park and the Palmer Divide, just north of Colorado Springs.

Cultural Crossroads
Even before General Palmer envisioned and built the City of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak served as a beacon attracting diverse cultures. These cultures left a permanent mark upon the region and Colorado Springs history. The Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho are among the many American Indian nations that lived here or migrated through the area. The Ute would camp in the region’s red rock canyons and drink from the bubbling mineral springs that dot the town of Manitou Springs. The Ute name for Pikes Peak, Ta-Wa-Ah-Gath, translates to "Sun Mountain," for the way its slopes reflect the sun's rays.

The Spanish name for Pikes Peak was Almagre, a reference to the reddish color of the granite. This name is still used for the high, snow-capped ridge just south of Pikes Peak. Both French and Spanish flags flew over this region before the Louisiana Territory was purchased from France by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803.

In the early 1800s, the U.S. government sent out expeditions to explore and map the new territory. Zebulon Montgomery Pike was sent to what is now Colorado. In November of 1806, he attempted to climb the mountain that is named for him. He and his men were not adequately dressed and did not have the proper gear to make it to the summit in November. His journal, published in 1810, was the first book to describe this region and it inspired others to travel in his footsteps.

Today, Pikes Peak is known as America’s Mountain to honor Katharine Lee Bates, a visiting professor at Colorado College. After a trip to the summit of Pikes Peak, she penned the words of a poem that would eventually become the song “America the Beautiful”. Pikes Peak is a national icon and the ever-present silhouette of Colorado Springs history.

Mining in Colorado

Mining in the Pikes Peak region was a tremendous influence in Colorado Springs history. As early as the 1700s, the Spanish were prospecting and mining for precious metals. Throughout the early nineteenth century, explorers reported that they found gold in the region's streams and rivers. The public paid little attention to these reports until hard times in the late 1850s renewed interest in the availability of easily-mined riches. The 1858 discovery of gold near the present site of downtown Denver sparked the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, so named after the best known landmark in the region.

In early 1859, Colorado City was established as a supply town. The residents sold food, tools and equipment to those traveling over Ute Pass to the mines in South Park. In 1890, the Colorado gold rush made it to the Pikes Peak region when Bob Womack, a cattle rancher and part-time prospector, discovered gold on the Peak's western slope. Soon after, the Cripple Creek-Victor Mining District became Colorado's greatest gold camp attracting tens of thousands to the region.

To this day, gold is still being mined in Cripple Creek. The influence of our mining heritage can be seen all over, from the surviving structures in Cripple Creek to the mansions that tell the story of our “rich” Colorado Springs history.

Additional History

Founded in 1871, Colorado Springs, Colorado's second largest city, has evolved from a quaint, Victorian spa resort town to a sophisticated city, with a charming "small town" ambiance. With access to amazing recreation, scenery and activities, Colorado Springs and the region is known for its beauty, great outdoors and access to adventure. Located 70 miles south of Denver's International Airport and right off of Highways 25, 24 and 115, it’s a popular travel destination for families, couples and outdoor enthusiasts.

It seems appropriate that Colorado Springs, which draws more than 5.2 million overnight visitors annually, was itself founded by a visitor. In 1870, Civil War hero General William Jackson Palmer, on first seeing the region, wrote to his wife: “Could one live in constant view of these grand mountains without being elevated by them into a lofty plane of thought and purpose?” Almost immediately, Palmer began planning the city of his dreams, one that would become a major resort community. Today, more than 140 years later, people by the millions continue to come from all over the world, drawn by the same beauty that forever changed Palmer.

The Colorado Springs region's first inhabitants were American Indian people. The Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho and other tribes gathered at the base of Pikes Peak¬America’s Mountain, near its abundant springs and in what is now called Garden of the Gods Park. The Ute name for Pikes Peak, Ta¬Wa¬Ah¬Gath, translates to "Sun Mountain Sitting Big", for the way its slopes collect and reflect the sun's rays. During their seasonal migration following vast herds of bison, the Ute would camp in nearby red rock canyons and visit the bubbling springs that we enjoy today.

The region lies along the extreme southwestern edge of what was the Louisiana Territory, which was purchased by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803. Prior to this purchase, both French and Spanish flags flew over the region. In 1795, several hundred Spanish colonial soldiers from Santa Fe, NM under the command of Juan Bautiste de Anza, traveled down Ute Pass in search of Comanche raiders. The Spanish name for Pikes Peak was "Almagre," a reference to the reddish color of the granite. This name is still used for the high, snow¬capped ridge just south of Pikes Peak.