|Zebulon Montgomery Pike|
Contrary to popular belief, Colorado Springs did not spring to life when Jane Seymour was cast to play Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, that delightful '90s series set in the "frontier town" of Colorado Springs. In fact, it stretches all the way back to the mid-1800s, when a railroad surveyor (and former Civil War General) by the name of William Jackson Palmer decided to build a railroad south from Denver. It turned out that the new railroad's intended first stop would also be his last, as he founded the city on July 31, 1871.
|Colorado Springs' founder|
Palmer's aristocratic manners are important because he sited his town a little east of where the real action was in those days. Closer to the range (all the mountains you see from the Springs are known collectively as "the front range") was your typical boozing, wenching and gambling mess known as Colorado City (now known as "Old Colorado City"). Palmer avoided the riff raff and by buying up all the land between his resort and their den of iniquity, which later provided a nice, clean zone for expansion of the city westward.
Colorado City did have a purpose. It supplied the pickaxes and carts for mining going on over the mountain in South Park. It also processed gold found up at Cripple Creek. Palmer's railroad, which never made it to its intended destination of Mexico, proved mighty useful in hauling all this dug-up wealth back east. Palmer is a classic example of a fellow lucking into an economic bonanza beyond his wildest initial dreams.
The good times kept rolling for Colorado Springs because them thar hills were full of all sorts of wealth-making bounty. A fellow named Winfield Scott Stratton developed gold mines in the Cripple Creek/Victor region in the 1890s, and the entire region prospered. Stratton, incidentally, was an early day Warren Buffett, living in a very modest Springs home despite his vast wealth. He donated much of the land in the downtown area that solidified the town as a regional center. Spencer Penrose also became fabulously wealthy from the gold rush and established all sorts of things that often later bore his name, such as the current Penrose-St. Francis Medical Center, the Broadmoor hotel, and the delightful Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
There were still plenty of minerals left to dig up in the front range, but the gold mines in use soon played out. Needing another source of revenue the townspeople cleverly turned to tourism. Ironically for certain latter-day conspiracy buffs, the benefits of flouridation of water were first recognized in this very conservative town because of the natural flouride in the water. There were all sorts of other supposed and real health benefits associated with coming out west, so the town continued to do well.