Of Memorial Day, General William J. Palmer, the Founding of Colorado Springs, and One Lane From Two Lanes

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day (today) is set aside for remembering and thanking our military veterans. That makes it a good day to think about the Union Army officer, who fought in the Civil War and then founded the City of Colorado Springs. Here is the story of how he came to be inspired to found a city at the foot of Pike’s Peak:

“In late July of 1869, a former Union cavalry officer, General William Jackson Palmer, was traveling through southern Colorado. At the time he was supervising the construction of a railroad line from Kansas City to Denver. General Palmer described the scene as his stagecoach approached Pike’s Peak from the southeast:

“Just before sunset we came in sight of the mountains, Pike’s Peak, Spanish Peaks and the Greenhorn Range. A thunderstorm came on and the clouds threw themselves into grand and fantastic shapes, blending with the mountain peaks so as scarcely to be distinguishable. Riding as usual on top of the coach I got wet, but what of that? One can’t behold the Rocky Mountains in a storm every day.”

As General Palmer’s coach approached Colorado City later that night, he tried to sleep but was awakened by bright moonlight. “I found the magnificent Pike’s Peak towering immediately above,” Palmer noted, “topped with a little snow. I could not sleep any more with all the splendid panorama of mountains gradually unrolling itself, as the moon faded and the sun began to rise…. I sat up and drank in, along with purest mountain air, the full exhilaration of that early morning ride.”

That day, July 27, 1869, General Palmer breakfasted in the spectacular red rocks near Colorado City. Even at that early date the area was known as the Garden of the Gods. He “freshened up by a preliminary bath” in the nearby waters of Fountain Creek. He found the area “enticing,” noted its suitability to become a “famous resort,” and concluded that “the scenery is even finer south of Denver than north of it.”

It was at this moment that General Palmer decided to build a home in the eastern foothills of Pike’s Peak, next to the Garden of the Gods, and locate a new city on a low, broad mesa top nearby. The city was to be Colorado Springs …

General Palmer was not a man whose resolutions could be taken lightly. Within less than five years of his inspiring visit to Pike’s Peak and the Garden of the Gods, the city – Colorado Springs – [was] reality.”

As General Palmer’s new city was being built, he gave this instruction to the builders: “My theory for this place is that it should be made the most attractive place for homes in the West, a place for schools, colleges, science, first class newspapers, and everything that the above imply.”

Clearly quality of life – a life inspired by the beauty of the mountains and the opportunities for outdoor recreation that they provided – was paramount to General Palmer as he founded his new city. There is no question he would have approved of the One Lane From Two Lanes program currently being advocated for five streets in the Old North End – Cascade, Nevada, Weber, Wahsatch, and Fontanero. The quieting of the traffic and the improved safety for pedestrians that One Lane From Two Lanes brings fits perfectly with the general’s idea of building “the most attractive place for homes in the West.”

See “Colorado College: A Place of Learning – 1874-1999,” pages 5-6, 11.

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