‘Historical Context’ in Guidelines
Part of the recently completed Historic Westside Design Guidelines is an explanation of how it got to be the way it is.
The segment entitled “Historical Context” includes various bits of little-known information about how Colorado City developed - from its origins as a supply depot for Front Range-bound gold-seekers in 1859 through its resurgence during the Cripple Creek gold boom of the late 19th century and to the slower years that followed the town's annexation into Colorado Springs in 1917.
One obscure point brought out in the Historical Context is the key role played by H.M. Fosdick, over and beyond being the surveyor for the original 1859 Colorado City plat. Two years later, the town was losing residents “due to the Civil War and declining productivity of the gold mines,” the Context states. Although the popular view at the time was that the climate here was too dry for crops, Fosdick “planted a few acres of grain and vegetables along Fountain Creek and showed that farming could be successful… During the 25 years after the founding of Colorado City, agriculture and several food processing businesses economically sustained the Westside community.”
According to the Historical Context, another “immense impact” on Colorado City was the development of Colorado Springs by William Palmer starting in 1871. Nationally advertising his new town helped make it pre-eminent in the region, but it also resulted in people moving to Colorado City, the document points out.
The Westside became the industrial area for the region's development, including quarrying in what is now Red Rock Canyon Open Space and later gold-milling and railroads. As a result, the residents were largely working-class people, according to the Context. And, the saloon trade flourished, filling a need resulting from Palmer outlawing alcohol in his new town.
But Colorado City had a split personality of its own, with all its churches (most of them on what is now Pikes Peak Avenue) north of Colorado (then Huerfano) Avenue and its saloons and brothels on the south side.
Overall, “a variety of people of a variety of means settled on the Westside,” the document states. “This was likely to have led to the mix of architectural styles and dwelling sizes found on the Westside.”
About 300 buildings, most of them Victorian residences, remain on the Westside from the era before the Cripple Creek boom starting in about 1895, the document states.
The property that is now Bancroft Park has had a busy past. Colorado City originally deeded it to El Paso County in 1872 for a courthouse. But in 1873 Colorado Springs outvoted Colorado City for the county seat, and the square was deeded next to the Colorado City School District, which first used the courthouse and in 1888 built the Bancroft School and a smaller high school on the site, the Context states. “These buildings remained Colorado City school property until after 1917 when the Colorado City school district was dissolved and the schools closed. The property then became Bancroft Park.” Its bandshell and picnic shelter were added during the New Deal era of the 1930s.
The Westside had massive growth between 1898 and 1900, when approximately 1,000 homes were added. But unlike modern-day subdivisions, “houses were built on a smaller scale and only two or three homes [often identical in appearance] were built on a block at a time,” the Context relates.
(This style of growth changed after World War II, the report indicates, with the help of federal government programs and more prevalent automobile ownership that encouraged higher-volume construction away from central city areas. Pleasant Valley is an example.)
A distinctive Westside style from the 1800s was narrow, deep lots, with alleys behind them. “These alleys were likely designed for horse and barn access to the rear of the properties,” the document reports. “The long narrow lots were likely platted to allow adequate space between the homes and the horse barns; in an era before indoor plumbing, outhouses were also located at the rear of lots.”
A later building practice, still noticeable in the parts of the Westside where it was done, was building wider roads and narrower alleys. “It is likely that the roads were wider due to the variety of travel methods available at the time. Streetcars, pedestrians and horses were utilizing the same transportation networks,” the Context states.
“By 1914 plats had been recorded for 80 different developments on the Westside,” the document continues. “The development pattern for lot layout had not changed from the initial plat. Land adjacent to streams was a typical grid pattern of streets superimosed on the land. Principal streets roughly paralleled Fountain Creek and Monument Creek.”
There were attempts at other commercial centers and even new towns. One center “arose around 15th and Colorado Avenue,” the Context reads. “This cluster of commercial buildings included a postal substation, grocers and meat markets, barber shop, real estate office and a drug store.”
The mixed commercial/ residential uses along Colorado Avenue have a long history, with conversions of homes to businesses there already occurring after World War I, the document states.
The Context also addresses more recent times. It is noted how the closing of the Golden Cycle mill and the Midland railroad in 1949, followed about 10 years later by the Highway 24 bypass, economically damaged the former Colorado City downtown (by then called Old Colorado City). But it goes on to describe the public-private resurgence of the 1970s that revitalized Old Colorado City and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Westside Pioneer article