Colorado Springs is nationally known for its local breweries and alcohol production has become a major cultural feature of the city, which is surprising when you consider that when Colorado Springs was established it was illegal to sell alcohol of any kind within the city limits. The Colorado Springs Company issued land deeds to early settlers. These deeds contained a clause which expressly prohibited the sale, production, and consumption of alcohol in any form. Anyone found violating this clause would forfeit their deed, which would revert to the Company.
Almost immediately there was resistance to the alcohol prohibition clause. A case challenging the clause started in 1873 and by 1879 had reached the United States Supreme Court, who ruled in favor of the Colorado Springs Company, allowing them to retain and enforce the clause. By 1884 it had become clear that the residents of the city preferred regulation to prohibition. A city council committee outlined how the city could issue permits to licensed pharmacies or large hotels to distribute liquor in a safe, controlled, moderated manner. The loosening of the laws in no way meant that booze was free flowing. There were restrictions on the sale of types and quantities of alcohol. Plenty of druggists had their licenses revoked for selling small bottles of beer or high alcohol content whiskey at their counters. Eventually in 1916, 4 years before the nation would follow step, Colorado outlawed liquor, temporarily muting the issue of Colorado Springs’ anti-liquor land deeds.
After national alcohol prohibition ended the City established a tentative truce where deed holders could pay a fee to nullify the clause in their own deed. The final, and fatal, challenge to the liquor clause would come in 1961. A local attorney, Robert Cole, challenged the Colorado Springs Company’s right to his deed based on their uneven application or non-enforcement of the liquor clause. The case reached the Colorado Supreme Court in 1963. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Cole. The Court’s ruling established that since the Company claimed a right to revert deeds, yet did not enforce it, they had forfeited that right. This means the clause has no legal power yet, surprisingly, many such clauses remain in Colorado Springs deeds to this day. Many businesses and residents would be happy to know the clause is no longer enforceable, and Colorado Springs’ brewery tradition can continue to thrive.
Generously Submitted by Patrick Lee, CSPM Museum Technician