In the heart of downtown lies Colorado Springs’ bold commitment to history: the granite, clock tower-topped Pioneers Museum. You’ve seen it, just as you’ve driven on Interstate 25 and seen the statue of the bucking bronco there at the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and Museum. Along Colorado 115 is another statue: the giant beetle announcing the many bugs within May Natural History Museum.
Places of discovery await all over the city. And not all are so well-marked.
We followed our curiosity to some lesser-known spots:
Pikes Peak Trolley Museum
Admission $5 for adults, $3 for children 12 and younger, 9:30 a.m.-last call for tour at 3 p.m., 2333 Steel Drive, 475-9508, coloradospringstrolleys.com
“I had no idea this was here,” a visitor recently told volunteer Tom Levy.
“That’s what 99% of our visitors say,” he responded.
He might see anywhere from zero to a dozen people a day here at the old Rock Island Railroad Roundhouse, the remains of the 1888 building still standing, now surrounded by the nondescript trappings of an industrial zone.
Winfield Scott Stratton was the last to fund the streetcar system that ended in Colorado Springs in 1932. Automobiles and buses would end rail transportation in cities around the country.
But the nostalgic bunch at the Pikes Peak Trolley Museum invite you back in time with a quick trip on one machine from the fleet. The streetcars here date back to 1901, a pair of the first to run in town.
Edward C. Rochette Money Museum
$8 general admission, 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 818 N. Cascade Ave., 800-367-9723, money.org/money-museum
The nation’s biggest museum dedicated to numismatics? Right here in town, near Colorado College.
We walked in to the exhibit titled “Money of Empire: Elizabeth to Elizabeth,” illustrating Britain’s rise during the 16th century. Showcased were coins that defined that time of world dominance, some of the finest known samples protected here.
Downstairs, find the the loot of the planet spanning thousands of years. That includes pinkie-sized lumps of gold believed to be the first “coins” from ancient Asia Minor. Over there are samples of mankind’s earliest paper money, which started in China. There’s currency of the Roman Empire here, that of the Dark Ages there.
And over there is a kids corner asking: “What is money?” Even for adults who know money all too well, the museum stirs new wonder.
Manitou Springs Heritage Center
Free, 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, 517 Manitou Ave., 685-1454, manitouspringsheritagecenter.org
A more elegant stop for history in Manitou would be the Miramont Castle, impossible to miss along Ruxton Avenue. On the town’s main street, meanwhile, hides this little corner hub.
“Keep Manitou Weird” is the mantra of Manitoids, and the heritage center has been known to keep the weirdness: Sasquatch tales, for instance, and the peanut that supposedly was pushed by one’s nose up Pikes Peak. Yes, the tall, rusted bottle that once gushed spring water was an unexpected sight on this visit.
But we found the museum dedicating most of its space to the story of Bob Jackson, the resident who took the Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot.
Dr. Lester L. Williams Fire Museum
Free, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 375 Printers Parkway, 385-5950, williamsfiremuseum.com
The museum’s namesake volunteered to tend to the department’s medical needs and worked to preserve its history. The museum ensures “that his memory and memorabilia will be a living testament for current and future generations to view.”
In books, Williams traces the city’s organized firefighting to 1872, where begins a colorful timeline covering a wall. An ordinance that year established the Colorado Springs Hook and Ladder No. 1. The City Council created a paid department in 1893 in response to a mill fire, just one tragedy chronicled here. Another came in 1950, when nine perished in an inferno that raged between Cheyenne Mountain and Camp Carson.
Most eye-catching are the steamers of the 1890s. Other apparatuses of the day are found at every corner of the museum, along with the gear of heroes past.
Rocky Mountain Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame
Free, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 5867 N. Nevada Ave., themotorcyclemuseum.com
The confines rattle from the mighty engines rumbling below, but here on the upper level of Pikes Peak Harley-Davidson, the motorcycles have fallen silent. Their days of riding are gone, but their glory lives on — more than 75 enshrined to represent American innovation through the 1900s.
Local aficionado Jim Wear has set aside a slice of motorhead heaven with his collection. The 1914 Indian Twin is among original hot rods, still standing to represent one of the industry’s first chain drives. Placards detail eras of technology and design and also shed light on lesser-known history, such as motorcycles’ use in World War II. The restored 1942 Harley-Davidson WLA is an example.
The museum isn’t complete without the hall of fame, keeping alive the stories of riders who made their mark on the local scene. Newspaper clips also recount some of the earliest moto climbs of Pikes Peak, including that of Augusta and Adeline Van Buren, descendants of the president who were out to prove that women could ride as well as anybody.
Ghost Town Museum
Admission $7.50 for adults, $5.50 children ages 6-16, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, 400 S. 21st St., 634-0696, ghosttownmuseum.com
To locals, it might seem more of a tourist attraction than a museum, and so they might skip this one beside U.S. 24. Step in, though, and you might be surprised.
Through the doors on the other side of the gift shop, you’re transported to the dusty world of the Wild West. Clanking can be heard from the blacksmith shop, while imaginary sounds of a piano drift from the saloon. Those storefronts line a boardwalk, where wagons have parked to tend to other business at the bank, barbershop or grocery, all stocked with artifacts. A hotel’s walls are velvet, and from a red-lit room above, a promiscuous hand waves.
Through another passage, visitors get a glimpse of Victorian life in a meticulously designed home. Outside, we saw families trying their hand at gold panning.
Contact the writer: 636-0332