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Photos: Gallery | Colorado Springs Gazette, News

9 historical facts about Colorado Springs you probably didn’t know

How well do you really know the history of Colorado Springs? Sure, you might know that William Jackson Palmer founded the city and that Pikes Peak was Katharine Lee Bates’ inspiration for the song “America the Beautiful,” but how well do you really know the history of the town you live in? Curious about this myself, I started digging for information. I also visited the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum and spoke with museum director Matt Mayberry. Not surprisingly, I found out there’s much more to the region than Garden of the Gods and a statue of a man on a horse that can cause traffic problems. Here are nine historical facts about Colorado Springs you probably didn't know about. - Terry Terrones

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo wasn’t the city’s first zoo

Twenty years before the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo opened, another zoo made its debut in Colorado Springs. Named Zoo Park, it not only held animals but featured a roller skating rink, dance hall, roller coaster, beer garden and rides from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Zoo Park was built by Chicago politician and saloon owner “Bathhouse” John Coughlin. The zoo closed in 1916.

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Musesum

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Colorado Springs had its own Cotton Club

For 28 years Colorado Springs resident Fannie Mae Duncan ran the Cotton Club on West Colorado Avenue. Duncan hosted jazz legends such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, and Etta James. Duncan even gave comedian Flip Wilson, then a soldier at Fort Carson, an opportunity onstage. The club was eventually torn down in 1975.

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Musesum

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The U.S.S. Colorado 

Three U.S. naval ships have held the name U.S.S. Colorado, with the most recent serving in World War II. From 1924-1941, the battleship Colorado was part of the Pacific Fleet. The Colorado was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1946 and was later decommissioned in 1947. A spare helm from the ship is on display at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Musesum

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The pioneer that Fort Carson is named after

The largest military base in Colorado Springs was established in 1942 as Camp Carson and would eventually be renamed Fort Carson in 1954. The installation was named after Kit Carson, a legendary trapper, scout, soldier and Indian agent. Near the end of his life he became the commander of Fort Garland in Colorado. He died in Fort Lyon, Colorado in 1868.

Photo via huffingtonpost.com

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The surprising founder of the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind

Many residents are aware that silent film star Lon Chaney is from Colorado Springs. What you may not know about is his connection to the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. Chaney’s grandfather, John Kennedy, was the founder of what would eventually become the CSDB school. Chaney stayed connected to the school and in 1925 even held a special screening of “The Phantom of the Opera” for CSDB students. 

Photo courtesy of the Media History Digital Library

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The area used to be known for coal

At one point coal was a significant part of the Colorado Springs economy. From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, 80 coal mines operated in Colorado Springs. The PikeView mine was the largest in the area and it operated for over 50 years, providing more than half of all the local coal mined. It was located near the present day location of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Musesum

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The land in the region was part of a bigger ‘purchase’

The area that would eventually become Colorado Springs was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The 828,000 square miles bought for $15 million dollars was a heck of a deal and would also include what would eventually be half of the state of Colorado. City borders would become a part of the Kansas Territory in 1854, before becoming part of the Colorado Territory in 1861. Colorado City was the capital of the Colorado Territory from 1861-1862.

Photo via history.com

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The location of Nikola Tesla’s Colorado Springs Experimental Station

Most people believe that Nikola Tesla’s experimental station was located in the mountains by Colorado Springs. This is probably due to his depictions in fiction. While not marked, according to the Pikes Peak Library District video “Tracing Tesla: The Search of his Lost Laboratory” the lab was actually on top of a hill near the intersection of East Kiowa Street and North Foote Avenue. It was between the Union Printers Home and the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind.

Photo courtesy of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Musesum

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Skiing at the Broadmoor

From 1959 to 1991 Colorado Springs residents had a ski resort in their own backyard. Featuring lights for night skiing and a $200,000 snow making machine known as the “Phenomenal Snowman,” the ski area offered locals a chance to avoid the traffic hassles and crowds of other resorts. The rising cost of insurance and inconsistent weather led to the closing of Ski Broadmoor in 1991.

Photo courtesy of The Broadmoor

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