Walk Through History
Wandering past 120-year old homes and storefronts offers a glimpse of life back when the homes were new and the towns were young. We can envision the people: architects and laborers who built communities that long outlived them and manage to thrive today. Walking these historic streets is a continuing delight, as the past is made tangibly alive.
Check out a few of southern Colorado’s best historic neighborhoods for a quiet stroll through history.
Colorado Springs was never the Wild West. Colorado Springs’ founder, railroad man General William Palmer, gave land for parks, opera houses, churches, and colleges with the intention of creating a sophisticated resort community, free of smoke-belching factories, saloons packed with drunken louts, gun-toting outlaws, or bawdy houses. He succeeded in creating a genteel little city at the foot of Pikes Peak. The wealthy easterners who flocked to the city built stately homes and mansions, while the Cripple Creek boom in the 1890s made Colorado Springs one of the most prosperous cities in the west. The homes and neighborhoods created then are largely intact and eminently walkable now.
OLD NORTH END NATIONAL HISTORIC DISTRICT
Located north of Uintah, east of Monument Valley Park, and west of Wahsatch, the Old North End features hundreds of beautifully preserved 19th and early 20th century homes. General Palmer’s railroad brought a second wave of settlers to the west, many of them refined folk who came seeking health in a dry climate. They built substantial homes in Palmer’s carefully planned community—many designed to comfortably accommodate a family, live-in servants, visitors, and guests. Thanks to the efforts of generations of homeowners, the area remains completely residential.
The mature trees and large manicured lawns have been well maintained since the homes were built between 1885-1910. Just a few blocks from downtown Colorado Springs, the area remains the city’s most desirable neighborhood. Stately mansions, single-story cottages, and relatively modest 2- and 3-story homes stand side by side, often guarded by low wrought-iron fences—fences made in Old Colorado City 120 years ago and which elegantly define the property lines without closing the homes off from each other.
Suggested walk: Start on Cascade Avenue just north of Uintah, walk north to Buena Ventura, then west to Wood and south to Uintah.
OLD COLORADO CITY AND THE WESTSIDE
North and south of Colorado Avenue and west of I-25, particularly between 21st Street and 30th Street outside of the original city limits, the Westside community has an altogether different vibe. The area predates Colorado Springs, though it was sparsely populated in the beginning. Old Colorado City really developed during the Cripple Creek gold boom, and while its sophisticated neighbor was dry, OCC boasted bars, saloons, gambling houses, and a few discreet brothels. Once the Cripple Creek boom ended, the brothels and gambling houses faded away, and the Westside became what it is today: safe, stable, picturesque, and unpretentious.
Hundreds of cozy 800-square foot ‘shotgun cottages’ with adorable front porches border the tree-lined streets north and south of Colorado Avenue. The houses are clustered on narrow lots, sometimes so close to each other it seems their roofs might touch. A stroll through this historic area summons images of hard-working folks raising their children, attending one of the dozens of small churches that are still scattered through the extensive area, and enjoying life in their close-knit community.
A century later, the Westside hasn’t changed. Suburban growth in Colorado Springs led to decades of stagnation on the Westside, but the area has undergone a dramatic rebirth in recent years. The shabby cottages that could be purchased for $30,000 twenty years ago have mostly been renovated, and now sell for $200,000. It’s now a diverse, friendly area with plenty of pedestrian traffic, young families, and agreeable eccentrics.
Recommended walk: Leave your car at 20th and Bijou. Walk east through the neighborhood park behind West Middle School and continue east on Kiowa for 5 to 10 blocks. When you’re ready, turn south, walk a block, and return to 20th via Pikes Peak Avenue.
Colorado Springs’ founding fathers didn’t live in the Old North End, which wasn’t developed until the 1890s. They built fine houses between 1870-1890 in and around Manitou Springs. The homes that border Manitou’s historic downtown are distinct. They’re not like the spacious mansions of the Old North End—there were no level one-acre homesites on Manitou’s steep hillsides—yet many are
elegant and impressive.
Recommended walk: Start and end at the historic Cliff House at 306 Canon Avenue and cross the street to Grand. Walk west and enjoy the amazing houses at 2, 26, 32, 41, and 42 Grand.
Salida still looks like the Old West. The historic downtown is a picture-perfect western setting. The community sprouted and thrived because of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and industry bloomed in what became the seat of Chaffee County. Mining, quarrying, and smelting built the foundation of the town’s economy. As a tough workingman’s town, Salida was a robust and colorful community. By the early 20th century, Salida became a sedate little western town, if less so than Colorado Springs. Today those downtown buildings are filled with art galleries, restaurants, and outdoor recreation companies. A stroll reveals distinct turn of the century western and mining architecture throughout the downtown area and an eclectic mix of small cabins and stately brick homes in the surrounding residential areas.
Suggested walk: Find a place to park downtown and explore. You won’t be disappointed!
Pueblo was the most prosperous city in Colorado in the early 1900s. Seated at the confluence of Fountain Creek and the Arkansas River, Pueblo owed its success to General Palmer’s Denver & Rio Grande railroad. The General sought to connect Colorado and the west with Mexico and California.
Steel and smelting plants made Pueblo an industrial hub. Opportunities abounded, and people came from all over the United States and Mexico to work. In 1921, a massive flood wiped out the city’s downtown, closing some of the industry. Efforts to rebuild were successful until the Great Depression when the city’s economy collapsed. Pueblo recovered when World War II started, prospering until the steel industry withered in the 1980s. Today, Pueblo is a vibrant city on the verge of another era of prosperity, although still inexpensive compared to other Front Range cities. The city is home to scores of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, many clustered in or near downtown.
The block between Jackson and Van Buren Streets along Pitkin Avenue in Pueblo is home to seven of the most beautiful historic homes in southern Colorado. Built in the 1890s by the architect/contractor team of George Roe and E.W. Shutt, these artfully conceived brick and stone houses feature turrets, stately entrances, and welcoming front porches. The houses are very different, although sharing a sophisticated architectural sensibility. They’re still single-family homes, proudly maintained by their present owners—lucky folks!
Colorado’s rich western history is evident in cities across the southern part of the state. Visitors have the opportunity to enjoy leisurely strolls through celebrated neighborhoods, marvel at well-preserved downtowns, and celebrate revitalized businesses. This summer, consider enjoying the history as you enjoy the beautiful weather: take time to explore any or all of these gems. Southern Colorado, and its treasured past, won’t disappoint.