Colorado Springs is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and most populous city of El Paso County, Colorado, United States. Colorado Springs is located in the center portion of the state. It is situated on Fountain Creek and is located south of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. At 6,035 feet (1839 m) the city stands over one mile (1.6 km) above sea level, though some areas of the city are significantly higher and lower. Colorado Springs is situated near the base of one of the most famous American mountains, Pikes Peak, in the eastern edge of the Southern Rocky Mountains.
With a population of 416,427 as of the 2010 Census, it is the second most populous city in the state of Colorado, behind Denver, and the 41st most populous city in the United States, while the Colorado Springs Metropolitan Statistical Area had an estimated population of 645,613 in 2010. The city covers , making it Colorado's largest city in area. Colorado Springs was selected as the No. 1 Best Big City in "Best Places to Live" by Money magazine in 2006, and placed number one in Outside's 2009 list of America's Best Cities.
General Palmer, city founder
William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War General (brevet) and Medal of Honor recipient, came to the Colorado Territory as a surveyor with the Kansas Pacific Railroad. He explored the area south of Denver searching for possible railroad routes for the Kansas Pacific to strategically occupy. Palmer favorably viewed the valley in the shadow of Pikes Peak as an ideal town site. Since he could not persuade the Kansas Pacific to follow the Arkansas River to Pueblo and from there north to Denver, Palmer secured legislation and funding to build the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad south from Denver with the declared intention of reaching Mexico City, Mexico. Palmer founded Colorado Springs on July 31, 1871, as the first destination served by his railroad. He had the intention of creating a high-quality resort community, and the infant town was soon nicknamed "Little London" because of the many English tourists and settlers who came, owing partly to Palmer's financial connections in England who provided the capital for his railroad, and partly to his associate Dr. William Bell who actively recruited both investors and settlers. The stunning mountain view from anywhere in the valley as well as the nearby Garden of the Gods made the city's location a natural choice.
Within two years, his flagship resort the Antlers Hotel opened, welcoming US and international travelers as well as health-savvy individuals seeking the high altitude, sunshine, and dry climate, and Palmer's visions of a thriving, quality resort town were coming true. Palmer's Denver & Rio Grande Railroad became a critical regional railroad, faithfully serving the city and propelling the railroad south toward Pueblo. He maintained his presence in the city's early days by making many grants or sales of land to civic institutions. Palmer and his wife saw Colorado Springs develop into one of the most popular travel destinations in the late 19th century United States.
The town of Palmer Lake, the Palmer Divide, and other more minor features are named after him, and a bronze sculpture of Palmer on a horse is prominently displayed downtown in front of Palmer High School, at the center of a busy intersection. To many residents who lived in Colorado Springs in the years since, Palmer became known as "the man on the iron horse", a fitting appellation because of his long association with the Rio Grande Railroad.
Old Colorado City and the Pikes Peak Gold Rush
Colorado Springs' present downtown location, where General Palmer first founded the city, was partly due to Palmer's dislike of nearby rough-and-ready Colorado City (now called Old Colorado City, and not to be confused with present-day Colorado City) and its many saloons. Palmer ensured his new planned city stayed alcohol free by buying a huge tract of land to the east of Colorado City. Legally, Colorado Springs stayed dry until the end of Prohibition in 1933, but practically, alcohol was readily available. Conveniently located druggists advertised whiskey, ale, stout and beer for "medicinal purposes."
In its earliest days of 1859–1860, Colorado City was a major hub for sending mining supplies to South Park, where a major strike in the Pike's Peak Gold Rush was found. After the Cripple Creek gold discovery in 1891, ore mills in Colorado City processed much of the gold ore at the Golden Cycle Mill using Palmer's railroads. The affluent, who made money from the gold rush and industry, did not stay in Colorado City but built their large houses in the undeveloped downtown area of Colorado Springs (i.e. Wood Ave). Early pictures show several large stone buildings like Colorado College, St. Mary's Church, the first Antlers Hotel, the library, and the county courthouse (pictured at right) sitting in large empty plains. This is unique during this period, to anticipate a city's civic infrastructure in stone with wide streets laid out before there was a population to justify the expense.
Colorado City remained the county seat of El Paso County until 1873, when the courthouse moved to Colorado Springs. Colorado City was the location of a 1903 labor strike that spread to Cripple Creek and eventually led to the Colorado Labor Wars.
W. S. Stratton, early benefactor
In 1891, Winfield Scott Stratton discovered and developed one of the richest gold mines on earth in the nearby Cripple Creek and Victor area, and was perhaps the most generous early contributor to those communities and to Colorado Springs.
After he made his fortune he declined to build a mansion as the other gold rush millionaires were doing; instead, in later years, he lived in a house in Colorado Springs he had built when he was a carpenter in pre-gold days.
In Colorado Springs, he funded the Myron Stratton Home for housing itinerant children and the elderly, donated land for City Hall, the Post Office, the Courthouse (which now houses the Pioneer Museum), and a park; he also greatly expanded the city's trolley car system and built the Mining Exchange building, and gave to all three communities in many other ways, great and small.
As Stratton's generosity became known, he was also approached by many people looking for money, and he became reclusive and eccentric in his later years.
Spencer Penrose, early benefactor
Spencer Penrose also made his mark on Colorado Springs in its early years—though not until two decades after its founding. Penrose started as a ladies-man and an adventurer. After making a fortune in the gold fields of nearby Cripple Creek in the 1890s, he married Julie Villiers Lewis McMillan, and settled down.
Penrose used his wealth to invest in other national mineral concerns and financed construction of the Broadmoor Hotel, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, the Pikes Peak Highway, what is now known as Penrose-St Francis Health Services, and established the El Pomar Foundation, which still oversees many of his contributions in Colorado Springs today.
End of the Colorado Gold Rush and the start of health tourism
The flow of gold and silver ebbed as the decades passed, and Colorado City's economic fortunes faded with it; the miners and those who processed the ore left or retired. Because of the "healthy" natural scenic beauty, mineral waters, and extremely dry climate, Colorado Springs became a tourist attraction and popular recuperation destination for tuberculosis patients. The waters in Colorado Springs contained so much natural fluoride that some peoples’ teeth developed Colorado Stain. In 1909, Dr. Frederick McKay of Colorado Springs discovered the Colorado Stain connection and that a little fluoride added to water would prevent cavities, according to the permanent health exhibit at the Pioneers Museum. On June 14, 1950 Colorado Springs annexed Roswell which was founded in 1888 by coal miners and became a neighborhood. Other locations such as Austin Bluffs, Broadmoor, Woodmen Valley, Pikeview, Papeton, Knob Hill, Ivywild, Stratton Meadows, Stratmoor, Kelker, Rockrimmon, Pleasant Valley, Rustic Hills, Briargate, and Colorado City (now called Old Colorado City) became part of Colorado Springs. Old Colorado City is located on the west side of Colorado Springs and is a historic district and on the National Register of Historic Places. Its old Victorian brick buildings and main street currently offer several tourist, boutique, and antique shops.
Late 20th century military boom
Colorado Springs saw its first military bases in 1942 shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked. For several years the city had been trying to attract a military installation to boost its flagging economy. In 1941, the city purchased of what is now Fort Carson to try to lure a prospective Army installation. The U.S. Army established Camp Carson near the southern borders of the city in order to train and house troops in preparation for World War II. It was also during this time that the Army began using Colorado Springs Municipal Airport. It was renamed Peterson Field and used as a training base for heavy bombers (the airport and base still share parts of the flightline). Camp Hale was also established in 1942 in nearby west-central Colorado to provide winter and mountain warfare training during World War II (WWII) for training in skiing, rock climbing, and cold weather survival skills.
As for Camp Carson, the Army expanded it in a venture that increased growth in Colorado Springs and provided a significant area of industry for the city. Camp Carson was named for the Army scout General Christopher "Kit" Carson, who explored the vast western frontier during the 19th century. After World War II the military stepped away from the Springs, Camp Carson was declining and the military was activating and deactivating Peterson Field irregularly. That all changed when the Korean War erupted. Camp Carson, which had declined to only 600 soldiers, was revitalized along with many other parts of the Springs. In 1951, the United States Air Defense Command moved to Colorado Springs and opened Ent Air Force Base (named for Major General Uzal Girard Ent, commander of the Ninth Air Force during World War II).
After the Korean War, Peterson Field was renamed Peterson Air Force Base and was permanently activated. In 1954 Camp Carson became Fort Carson, Colorado Springs' first Army post. Later that same year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower selected Colorado Springs, out of 300 other sites around the nation, to be the site of the United States Air Force Academy. A new and growing Army post, an Air Force Base, and the Air Force's military academy together jump-started Colorado Springs' growth.
The military boom continued and in 1963, NORAD's main facility was built in Cheyenne Mountain. This placed NORAD directly next to Colorado Springs and permanently secured the city's military presence. During the Cold War the city greatly expanded due to increased revenue from various industries and the prevailing military presence in the city. In the mid-1970s, Ent Air Force Base was shut down and later converted into the United States Olympic Training Center. Military presence was further increased in 1983 with the founding of Falcon Air Force Base (later changed to Schriever Air Force Base), a base primarily tasked with missile defense and satellite control. Fort Carson and Peterson are still growing and continue to contribute to the city's growth. Air Force Space Command is located on Peterson AFB.
Waldo Canyon Fire
The Waldo Canyon fire, which started on June 23, 2012, sparked three miles west of Colorado Springs. Three days later, on June 26, the fire exploded eastward toward and into the city, engulfing the neighborhoods of Mountain Shadows and Peregrine. Evacuations peaked on June 27 at 32,000 residents. After an investigation, Colorado Springs Fire Department and United States Forest Service announced that 346 homes were destroyed and two people died during the course of the fire in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood. On the night of June 26, the Waldo Canyon Fire became the most destructive fire in Colorado history, passing the High Park Fire of 2012. Upon reaching 100% containment on July 10, 2012, the total number of acres burned totaled 18,247. The cause of the fire remains under investigation. As of September 25, 2012, the city offered $100,000 to any lead of the cause of the fire.