May 11, 2011
In 1859, when Colorado Springs was little more than a grazing ground for Arapaho ponies, a Harvard-educated engineer named Henry Fosdick gazed out at the base of Pikes Peak and drew a detailed map of what he and others envisioned as the future capital of the territory, Colorado City.
The Fosdick plat, as it later became known as by local historians, was the first printed document in the history of the region, and it was mailed out across the country to entice settlers to come to the Rockies.
All original editions were thought to be either lost or destroyed until the Old Colorado Historical Society got an email from a couple in Washington state in fall.
“The man’s father had died, and in his effects they had this map. They wanted to know if we had any use for it,” said west-side historian Dave Hughes.
The answer was a resounding “yes!”
“This is our oldest document and exceedingly rare. No one ever expected to see it again,” he said.
For decades, the society has owned a small, faint copy of the plat that left out many details.
The society agreed to pay $150 for the document.
A few weeks later, a folded map arrived — yellowed by years, brittle to the breaking point along its creases, but otherwise in surprisingly good shape.
What it shows is a future — and even a present — that turned out to be hopelessly optimistic.
The portrayal of what is now the Old Colorado City neighborhood of Colorado Springs shows an impeccable grid of more than 9,000 lots with arrow-straight streets named after native tribes and former presidents. A sprawling park anchors the center of the city. Four blocks east of the park are set aside for the state capitol.
The community at the time was a primitive supply stop for miners heading to the mountains. The map claims it had “255 houses completed and many more contracted for.” But Hughes sums up the claim as “total b.s.”
“They might have had a hundred rude cabins, but that was it,” he said.
Colorado City was able to win the title of capital of Colorado Territory for a few days in the summer of 1861, but legislators found the cramped log hut that acted as their chamber so primitive they voted to adjourn and meet a few days later in Denver.
That year the Civil War started and the flow of settlers coming west to the Rockies out of the South slowed to a trickle. The gold boom dried up.
Thousands of lots in Colorado City, platted on the original map, went unsold. Fosdick and other local boosters moved on. And the map was eventually forgotten.
The original is being preserved so it can be digitally scanned. Then, Hughes said, a copy will hang in the Old Colorado City Historical Society center.
“This map gives us a vision of the past,” he said. “But it also gives us a vision of a future that never happened.”
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