Organized in May 1871, the Colorado Springs Company was the brainchild of Civil War general and postwar railroad developer William Jackson Palmer. Bringing his Denver and Rio Grande Railroad line here, he and the company positioned the 2,000-acre townsite for a boom, making “Fountain Colony” one of the more successful railroad colonies. Their town, Colorado Springs, would be their outpost of eastern civilization, while the spa-resort for health seekers would be nearby Manitou Springs. Palmer chose the backdrop—Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak—upon his first visit.
Living up to Palmer’s plans, on July 31, 1871, colony officials struck the first stake at the corner of Cascade and Pikes Peak avenues. Next day, August 1, they began selling lots. Each investor paid $100 for membership alone. Residential lots were $50, business lots $100. Exotically named were the “villa sites.” Meanwhile, “colony cabins” were the first housing available, made of raw timber, one room each. Early guests—such as Rose Kingsley, daughter of British theologian Charles Kingsley—stayed in tents, as howling “prairie wolves” (coyotes) scavenged through town at night. By first year’s end, members had to pay their balances and show proof of improvements to receive their titles. For tourists and extended-stay visitors, Palmer’s Colorado Springs Hotel opened on New Year’s Day 1872.
Town residents were to be of “good moral character and strict temperance habits,” with deeds carrying liquor prohibition clauses. Irrigation being essential, the company designed, dug, and operated the El Paso Canal and irrigation ditches, augmented by wells, in 1872, gardens encouraged. General Palmer insisted on wide, tree-lined streets. It should be a “City of Trees” and the streets should have electric streetcars. Thus, the company advertised on February 1, 1873: “Trees wanted!” They must be “5,000 young, round-leafed cottonwoods with plenty of roots.”
Social cultivation was also essential. Palmer’s wife, Queen Mellen, opened the first school, hosted the first Christmas, and sang in concert. Palmer and company imagined a “City of Churches,” the “greatest university in the West,” and a women’s college like Vassar. Thus, Presbyterians opened a church in 1872 and Colorado College in 1874. That year, Out West magazine was born to promote the area to easterners. In 1872, enthusiasts formed the “Fountain Society of Natural Science” with the first circulating library, while the town became the El Paso County Seat. General Palmer’s utopia was well on its way.
Generously Submitted by Katharine Scott Sturdevant, Professor of History, Pikes Peak Community College.