Beauty was in the eye of beholder Gen. William Jackson Palmer.
When the Colorado Springs founder planted his stake 150 years ago, on July 31, 1871, at Pikes Peak and Colorado avenues, he intended for the city to be the finest place in the West to build a home.
“It was built on the idea that people would want to be here, attracted by the scenic beauty, climate and location of this place,” says Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum Director Matt Mayberry. “As opposed to other Western cities, because there was gold in the ground nearby or the seat of government was there or steel mills, like Pueblo. His was a place people would choose to be because of the quality of life.”
Some would say he accomplished that mission. Because here we are, celebrating our sesquicentennial in an era of population explosion and constant sprawling growth in the shadow of Pikes Peak.
The city will celebrate its anniversary in a big way this year, with a schedule of events, including a downtown party and parade on July 31 (pandemic allowing), and a new exhibit at the free museum. “COS@150” is a timeline of the city’s history told through 150 objects, including artifacts, documents, photos and other storytelling devices. Many of the objects have never been seen by the public. Most are from the museum’s collection, though some have been contributed by the community. The exhibit opens at 10 a.m. Saturday. You must reserve a timeslot online at cspm.org/visit-the-museum.
“It looks at all aspects of the community’s history — the good, bad and ugly,” says Mayberry. “It helps us understand how we became the community we are today.”
One of those artifacts is a Tuskegee Airman jacket donated by Frank Macon, who was part of the group of Black military pilots and airmen who fought in World War II. Macon died in November.
“It’s one of those pieces that connects to Colorado Springs and also to the fact people in the Springs go on and are influenced by and influence national events,” Mayberry says.
The exhibit is the second of three sesquicentennial-themed exhibits. The first, “Evidence: Finding the Facts About General William Jackson Palmer,” opened last year. The third will open in November and explore the region before the city was founded through an Indigenous perspective. Throughout the year, in-person and virtual programs will take place, including a scholar series and children and family programs. You can learn more by going to cspm.org.
Photographer Mike Pach also will offer his project, “Colorado Springs: Then and Now,” which features 50 re-created historic photos. The exhibit opens July 8 at Library 21c.
COS 150 Tree Challenge also is part of the sesquicentennial. The goal of the challenge, started two years ago, is to see 18,071 trees planted by the end of the year. One of the first things Palmer did after putting the stake in the ground was bring in trees to green up the community. Anybody who plants a tree is encouraged to go to coloradosprings.gov/cos-150 and record the data in the Tree Tracker.
One giant fan of the Springs? Mayor John Suthers, naturally.
Born in Denver and adopted at 3 weeks old by a Springs couple, Suthers considers himself a native. The St. Mary’s High School graduate remembers when the city passed Pueblo as the second largest city in the state and South Circle Drive was a dirt road.
His father, who enlisted after the attack on Pearl Harbor, reported to Camp Carson, now Fort Carson. He told his wife the Springs was beautiful, so she came to visit and stayed at Buffalo Lodge, now Buffalo Lodge Bicycle Resort. In 1946, they became permanent residents.
Suthers’ father was the sixth or seventh dentist in town, he says, and had an office in the Burns Building downtown, above the old Chief Theater.
“On Saturday mornings he’d work and take me and my sister down. We’d pay 10 or 15 cents and watch movies from 9 a.m. to noon at the Chief,” remembers Suthers. “That’s what everybody did. It was a great place to grow up.”
And he’s been here ever since, minus attending the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and law school at University of Colorado in Boulder.
“There’s no more beautiful setting for a city,” he says. “Even in Denver you’ve got to get your binoculars out to see the mountains. In Colorado Springs, it’s right there. You can walk out of your house and walk 10 minutes and feel like you’re in the mountains. And it takes me 12 to 13 minutes to get to work every morning. It’s a great combination.”
Mayberry, who arrived in the Springs in the ’80s, has watched the city struggle financially and also with identifying a community motto. He believes we’re now experiencing a real sense of confidence in what the city can be, what with our new Olympic City USA designation.
“We’re a very entrepreneurial community and a community based on innovation,” he says.
“People seem to want to be here. They create a way to establish an economy that supports that. In many ways, Colorado Springs is like an onion. There are different layers to us that are a result of all these reinventions and reimaginings of the community.”
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