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Colorado Springs sure has evolved since its founding in 1872 when the first stake was pounded into the ground near the intersection of Pikes Peak and Cascade Avenues. Those who pioneered the city were said to often stop near the center of town to marvel at Pikes Peak and the handsome Front Range mountains that seemed much closer than they really were.
From thriving frontier businesses like livery stables, boarding houses, and carpentry and masonry shops grew a small but prosperous town. What made our city different from most others is that it was founded by a teetotaling Civil War General named William J. Palmer who brought not only his Quaker values with him, but a bunch of Quaker friends and associates whom he knew would uphold his standard of clean living. There were no saloons in early Colorado Springs. The partying and debauchery were left to private homes, nearby Colorado City, and those crazy mountain camps that sprang up due to the silver and gold mining in nearby areas.
Early Colorado Springs was so straight-laced that it became known as “Little London” because of the formality and decorum observed by Palmer’s wife, Queen. She even made the workmen take a break at four p.m. for tea. If a guy wanted to get a drink, he had to go to a “glory hole” and get one on the sly by going into a secret building, placing a quarter on a revolving counter, and spinning it. The wheel would spin around and the quarter would disappear through a hole in the wall. Moments later, the wheel would spin again and a shot of whiskey would appear where the quarter once had been. No face-to-face transaction occurred for fear of marring the city’s pristine reputation.
The Glockner Sanatorium was constructed in 1890, bringing thousands to the city in search of a cure for tuberculosis. The home-grown prescription of sunshine, fresh thin mountain air, and clean living really did work for many who were diagnosed with the condition. My great-great-grandfather had tuberculosis, but he lived here for many years with it, eventually dying in his eighties. Those who suffered with “consumption,” as it was called, usually felt at least some relief from their symptoms while staying here, even if a cure wasn’t really possible at the time.
Over the years, Colorado Springs grew into a handsome, strong city that, although it eventually did allow the public sale of alcohol, retained its reputation for clean living and beautiful scenery. Pikes Peak, the crown jewel of the Front Range, surveyed all the changes as the city grew from a colony into a metropolis. People could travel a short distance to the mountains for a hike or picnic and be back by supper time, so the city soon became known as the place to be for those interested in spending a lot of time outdoors.
After a fairly large boom in housing during the ’50s and ’60s, the city really started to change its shape, both sprawling out toward the prairie and crawling up the mountainsides, but just because the city was growing larger, that didn’t mean its citizens were. Colorado Springs has earned the reputation of “fittest city in the United States” because the rate of obesity remains low in our population. The fresh air, warm sunshine, and plethora of available activities make it easy for Springs residents to stay active all year round. The Olympic Training Center is based here, and athletes from all over the world come to our city to train in the high altitude and mild climate. Residents of Colorado Springs have more red blood cells than those at lower altitudes; since the air has less oxygen, more cells are needed to transport it to our systems. After living here for a while and then going to a lower altitude, all those “extra” blood cells make us feel super-human. No wonder athletes favor this natural energy-enhancer.
Even zoologists have gotten into the swing of it. Spencer Penrose, one of our early city benefactors and founder of the Broadmoor Hotel, started a collection of animals on his hotel property which he later donated to the city. Rather than just a menagerie of Penrose’s favorite animals though, our Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has become one of the premier conservation and husbandry zoos in the world. Animals bred and raised here have stronger bones, thicker blood vessels, and denser muscle mass as well as more blood cells, so they are able to live longer lives in the lower, warmer climates where they eventually live. Our zoo has bred and placed more giraffes than any other zoo in the country.
As our city continues to spread, more recently north and east of the city toward Falcon, it’s easy to think of the neighborhoods eventually blending together with some of the smaller cities and towns, especially farther north, like Monument and Palmer Lake. Through it all the predominating thought of most citizens is that we are grateful to live in such a beautiful place that is burgeoning with endless possibilities for personal achievement.
Like the city’s founding leaders, many of whom came to Colorado Springs to seek their fortune in the gold fields of Cripple Creek, and who, upon becoming wealthy, shared their wealth with the city, modern Springs residents can still feel that indomitable spirit that lies within anyone who has ever lived and worked here. Like the early pioneers, every once in a while we still stop what we’re doing to look up at the Peak in wonder. I have always thought of Pikes Peak as “my mountain.” I think all of us should think that way, because it belongs to all of us. There’s a reason people call it “America’s Mountain.” So go out there, look at it, and think, “That’s my mountain,” because it is. It stands sentry over the Garden of the Gods Park, which was recently named “America’s Park.” Tourists love both the mountain and the park. After being named America’s Park in 2014, the Garden of the Gods Visitors Center will host over one million visitors in 2016, shattering records of the past. Docents there say the park itself hosts at least three times as many visitors, although there’s no accurate way to count since there is no entrance requirement.
Colorado Springs has some of the most amazing geology and scenery in the world, and we have a multi-cultural, forward-thinking population that truly enjoys living here. Colorado Springs is a one-of-a-kind city, and our founders would be proud of how big, beautiful, and diverse it has become.