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COBWEB CORNERS: Two buildings before Pikes Peak's summit house

By Mel McFarland

        I never get enough information about the top of Pikes Peak. The present summit house was built over 60 years ago to replace two previous buildings. One was originally the weather station, and the other served the Pikes Peak Highway.
       The weather station was built of stones, many of them found right at the top, to be able to withstand the extremes of weather seen up there.
       In 1872, efforts were made to get the US Army to locate a weather station on the summit. The next year work started on the shelter where soldiers would live year- round. The first building was quickly built, serving only briefly.
       The formal station opened in October 1873, starting a severe test for the crew assigned the task of recording the mountain's weather. There were three in the first crew, two more in Colorado Springs, and another with the job of handling supplies. Initially, the weather reports were sent to Colorado Springs using mirror flashes, but with the mountain's unpredictable visibility, a telegraph line was built.
       Sgt O'Keefe is by far the most famous soldier to be assigned to the station. He wrote fabulous tales of his time on the mountain and sold them to various eastern publications. He is best known for stories about his wife and daughter (who never actually existed) and their time on the summit. Tourists flocked to the top, asking about the daughter's grave, and they would be shown a board with the name "Erin O'Keefe" on it long after the sergeant had moved on!
       Over the years the weather damaged the structure, and the military abandoned the station in the late 1880s. It was occasionally used by hikers as a shelter until the Manitou & Pikes Peak Railway reached the summit in 1891.
       The railroad used the building as its station and made many changes to it. The biggest was the addition of hotel rooms along the west side, but the most striking construction was the multistory tower. It was certainly striking, as the greatest danger at the top is lightning, even during snowstorms! The view from the tower was quite impressive, with a 360-degree view of the horizon, but the electricity in the air often danced on the metal railings. The structure lasted until a fire in the 1950s.
       The old highway summit house used to be west across the relatively flat summit parking lot from the weather station. It was built in 1916. It too eventually had a tower and was lost to fire in the late 1950s. But you can still find the concrete and tile floor. The Pikes Peak Hill Climb finish line is a short distance away.

(Posted 5/23/14; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

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