The park system in Colorado Springs was part of General William Jackson Palmer’s dream. He bought and set aside most of the parks and surrounding wilderness in and around the city; in his will, it was stated that these parks would remain intact and untouched, for the sole purpose of the enjoyment of the city’s residents. In essence, we are all caretakers of these wonderful gifts, but there is one caretaker in particular who bears mentioning.
In my companion article “Hard Living,” I shared the stories from the Moore side of my family, revealing what life was like as a homesteader in eastern Colorado during the early 1900s. In researching that article, I uncovered some interesting stories about the other side of my family, the Winters. It turns out the connection between these two families started way before my grandparents got married, and the story I will share here not only has connections to our city’s parks, but also other recognizable things from around Colorado Springs.
In “Hard Living” I mentioned that my grandpa, Dick Winters, came out from Kentucky to see what Colorado held in the job market. Another part to this puzzle was that Grandpa’s friend, Tom Allen, had tuberculosis, so an additional reason for staying in Colorado Springs was to get Tom to the Cragmoor Sanitarium so he could get some treatment. That same building is still in its original location; it is one of the oldest buildings of the UCCS campus.
Dick found such success here that he decided to ask the rest of his family to join him. The Moore and the Winters families worked together on building sites, so they already knew each other. Uncle Shelly Moore, my great-grandfather LD Moore’s brother and one of the original Moore homesteaders, was the only one Dick knew who had a car, so he asked Shel if he would be willing to go back to Kentucky to fetch the rest of the family.
In 1936 they drove back to Kentucky and piled the rest of the family in the car. My great-aunt Dottie, Dick’s sister, related a story about the trip: that car had isinglass windows (a form of mica) so they were hard to see through. The car had three rows of seats, so Shel and Dick sat in the front seat, but they had to lay down the second seat so six people could fit in the back: their brothers Ham and June, Dottie, their sister Jean, and their parents. I can’t imagine riding in that cramped space, all the way from Kentucky! Aunt Dottie says that when they got into town it was sunset, and her mother saw the silhouette of the mountains against the sky, distorted through the isinglass. My great-grandma had never seen anything so massive, so she thought a huge storm was brewing, and insisted that Shel stop the car and find them a storm cellar to wait it out.
Once they settled in, my great-grandpa, Lucian Edward Winters, known to us as “Poppy,” got a job at the Broadmoor as a gardener. After that, he was hired by the city of Colorado Springs as a gardener, and he was responsible for planting trees and flowers along the medians, as well as tending the garden (now called the Victory Garden) behind the old Van Briggle pottery on Cascade and Wood Avenues.
This was a practice started and funded by General Palmer, who had set aside $45,000 in 1907 to fund a Park Tax Fund that funded maintenance of all our parks. Palmer donated seven parks to Colorado Springs, and they were all interconnected so they could be easily tended.
Poppy was highly valued by the Parks Commission, so he was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Parks around 1940. As such, he was required to maintain Palmer Park, which had opened in 1902, and part of his salary included a home built on Palmer Park grounds. Poppy’s original house was near the corner of Academy Blvd. and Maizeland Rd. A playground donated by the Denver Broncos occupies the site now, but my great grandma Tennie grew some whopping-sized cabbages in her garden there.
Aunt Dottie told me that she went to high school with Ray Powers, whose dad owned a dairy way out on the prairie (which we all know now as around the corner of North Carefree and Powers, so named for Ray’s dad). Ray used to come by the park and pick up Dottie and Jean and take them to Colorado Springs High School (now Palmer High) so they didn’t have to ride the bus. Unfortunately, Ray’s dad died while he was still a teenager, so he had to quit school to run the dairy. My family lived in the caretaker’s house in Palmer Park until 1948 when Dottie graduated.
Part of Poppy’s job was to drive around and deliver firewood to each picnic site and to make sure people were using the park’s public areas responsibly. Dottie remembers her dad shooting rabbits to feed the family, an illegal practice, but if you’ve ever been to Palmer Park, you know rabbits are everywhere, so it may not have been such a bad thing to control the rabbit population. Poppy took care of all the trails and roads, and the many expanses of lawn. My dad and his cousin, Don Moore, had jobs during the summers hand-watering all that grass. Dad also said that he and his brother regularly rode their bikes the five miles from the edge of town where they lived (now at the intersection of Fontanero, El Paso, and Paseo) to the park to help Poppy, and to blaze down the 25 miles of trails which cover the park’s 731 acres. Back then, the park was known as “Henry Austin’s Bluffs” because Henry Austin, a merchant from the East Coast, had given up his business to raise sheep and cattle near the interesting rock formations on the eastern edge of the park. The street that runs north of the park was named after him, Austin Bluffs Parkway.
William Palmer wanted the parks to be tranquil retreats from the busy life of the city, so he planned their care for generations to come. Flowers are still planted in the medians downtown, and the parks system continues to grow today. Although Palmer originally didn’t want any cars or “auto cycles” in Palmer Park, a network of paved and dirt roads connects many areas of the park together so that visitors can admire the vistas on foot, on horseback, on a bike, or in a car.
I didn’t realize until I asked that Aunt Dottie, my dad, and I all learned how to drive in Palmer Park. The winding roads are the perfect place to train a new driver on how to brake and shift gears. I have hiked and biked hundreds of miles in that park, and every time I use the park now, I remember Poppy’s legacy by picking up trash and admiring the view, as was intended by General Palmer. I hope you do the same.
Author’s note: If you’d like to learn more about our park system, I highly recommend reading The Parks of Colorado Springs by Nancy Lewis and Deborah Odell. It was an invaluable source for this article. I’d also like to thank Jody Jones, a Special Collections Librarian at the Penrose Public Library, for her help in researching this article.