In 1873 the United States Army built the first structure on Pikes Peak’s summit, a Signal Corps’ weather station. It was constructed of the stone available at hand. It was torn down and replaced with a larger building in 1882. It was the year-round quarters for two Observers and their equipment. Unexpectedly it also served as shelter for summit visitors who were unprepared for the altitude and cold. Its use was discontinued around 1888. That year a carriage road from the Town of Cascade reached the summit, providing tourists an alternative to hiking or riding horseback.
Zalmon Simmons financed the construction of a cog railway from Manitou to the summit. The Cog took over the Signal Station for its upper terminal in 1891. They enlarged the building several times and added a steel observation tower. Inside there was a restaurant, souvenir sales, a telegraph office and accommodations for overnight guests.
Unable to purchase the Cog In 1915, Spencer Penrose improved the carriage road for automobile travel. To provide a restaurant and souvenir sales for his highway customers he built a Highway Summit House of cast concrete in 1917. The building was doubled in size around 1920. The highway hurt the Cog’s business and in 1925 Simmons sold the Cog to Penrose. In 1936 Penrose turned over the highway and the highway summit house to the Forest Service.
The Stewart brothers, Orie and Benjamin, managed the highway summit house. In 1938 they remodeled it, adding a second story and a “Crow’s Nest” using concrete block construction. The building was destroyed by fire in 1953.
In 1948 the City of Colorado Springs took over the highway and was given the task of building a new summit house to serve both automobile and Cog visitors. The new building was a steel frame structure with pre-cast concrete panels. It was finished in 1964 and by the end of that year a corner had sunk six inches into the melting permafrost. Several efforts were made to stabilize the building, and by 1995 forty jacks had been installed under the floor for that purpose. The old stone summit house was demolished, except for a short section.
In 1975 “The Plant” was constructed to provide relief for the overcrowding of the 1964 building and to house a sewage treatment plant. The roof of this building was an observation deck.
In 2021 a brand new – state of the art – LEED certified building will open as the new Pikes Peak Summit House. This ambitious project will offer viewing platforms, interpretive exhibits, food services, retail space, expanded comfort facilities – and of course the “world famous” Pikes Peak donuts.
Generously Submitted by Eric Swab, Historian