Colorado Springs history

President Theodore Roosevelt visits Colorado Springs
President Theodore Roosevelt visited Colorado Springs by train in 1905. | Photo by H.C. White Co.

By Sue Deans

Colorado Springs, originally a community of miners, was first known as Colorado City.

But in 1871, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad passed through the area, and Gen. William J. Palmer followed with a plan for boulevards, schools and parks. Soon the beginnings of a town arose, taking its name from Colorado City, its predecessor, and from the mineral springs six miles west.

Palmer invited his rich friends, many of them from England. They were interested in the mining that took place nearby and invested in it, but also took advantage of the climate and the fresh air to play polo and cricket, just as they had done back home.

A few miles west in Cripple Creek, a gold strike in 1891 made millions for many of them.

By the early 1900s, Colorado Springs was one of the wealthiest cities in the United States. Meanwhile, the former Colorado City still flourished as its red light district, rumored to be connected to Colorado Springs by tunnels to hide the identities of prominent citizens visiting there.

The Broadmoor, an opulent resort, was developed in the early part of the 20th Century and now is an upscale golf and tennis resort that retains the feeling of its early days.

The city’s large military presence evolved later in the 1900s.

Fort Carson originated in 1942 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Originally, it was called Camp Carson, for Kit Carson, an Army general and Indian scout who died in 1868. More than 100,000 soldiers passed through and were trained at Camp Carson in World War II.

Among the troops housed there was the legendary 10th Mountain Division, which used pack mules to carry supplies up into the Rockies to Camp Hale, where soldiers were trained to fight in the mountains. Hambone, one of those mules, toted sergeants up the mountain for many years and was buried with full military honors when it died in 1971.

In 1954 the facility became Fort Carson. Nearly 15,000 people live on the base at any given time. Soldiers stationed there have fought in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other conflicts since World War II.

Peterson Air Force Base began as the Colorado Springs Army Air Base, also in 1942. It shared runways with the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, founded in 1926.

The base began training pilots for photo reconnaissance. Shortly after the base opened, Edward J. Peterson, a first lieutenant and Colorado native, died in an air crash there, and the field was renamed for him.

In 1976, the base took on the mission of Aerospace Defense. Now it houses a number of units including the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, which also maintains its operations center at Cheyenne Mountain, west of Colorado Springs.

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, NORAD began tracking all aircraft flights over the United States. Many children know NORAD best for reporting the whereabouts of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve as he flies around the world delivering presents.

The United States Air Force Academy graduated its first class in 1959. Most of its graduates receive commissions as second lieutenants in the Air Force. Young people must undergo rigorous testing and evaluation to become cadets, judged on leadership and academic performance as well as physical fitness and ability.

Women entered the Academy for the first time in 1976, and the first female cadets graduated in 1980.

The 18,000-acre campus, with buildings designed by famed architects Skidmore Owings and Merrill, attracts more than 1 million tourists each year. Numerous cadets marry in its landmark chapel after graduation each year.

Besides the Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs higher education centers include Colorado College, founded in 1874, a highly respected private liberal arts school with about 2,000 students. Its innovative schedule offers students one course at a time during eight 3½-week “blocks” during the school year.

The rapidly growing University of Colorado Colorado Springs has about 9,000 students. Nearly 400 active duty military and dozens of Olympic athletes attend the university. Top programs include engineering, business, nursing and public affairs.

Besides the military, tourism and education, the city also is home to high-tech firms including Hewlett Packard, Verizon Business, Agilent and Intel. Defense-related corporations include Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.