100 years ago, bad-boy Ramona became Westside’s ‘whiskey town’
Edited from a West Word article
by Sharon Swint
Almost exactly a century ago, a town was founded on the Westside for one purpose - alcohol.
Ramona, also known as “whiskey town,” sprang into life overnight and disappeared almost as fast.
Colorado Springs had begun dry, while Colorado City, just west of Colorado Springs, was as wet as they came. But a combination of greed, politics, prohibitions and feuds eventually caused Colorado City to go dry.
In 1911, “those in Colorado City who favored prohibition managed to get an election called,” reads a historical article in the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph of Dec. 19, 1954. “The prohibitionists in Colorado City turned out to be unexpectedly numerous, and when the ballots were cast, Colorado City remained wet by one vote. But the handwriting on the wall was seen. Another election was called and prohibition carried the day.”
Colorado City voted to go dry in early 1913. A legal challenge of the election was unsuccesful. Two men, Frank L. Wolff and Clarence Kinsman, hatched the idea to start another town.
Armed with land owned by Wolff and $20,000, plans took shape. He and Kinsman started a petition that would justify incorporation of a 360-acre tract of land just six blocks north of Colorado City, and 49 people signed it as residents. The Old Colorado History Center has a copy of the petition. It's dated July 17, 1913, and lists all 49 names.
More legal disputes followed, but on Aug. 21, 1913, the legality of the Town of Ramona was recognized.
The first order of business was an ordinance authorizing the sale of liquor. “Saloon buildings were hastily moved there or constructed,” the 1954 article states. “Bars and brass rails were toted over to the place and there a new oasis was established.”
Ramona was for drinking. The residents knew it and advertised it as such. The Colorado City Iris, a weekly paper at that time, reports in its issue of Nov. 21, 1913, “Ramona, the new booze annex to Colorado City, opened Monday night in a blaze of glory, and according to the papers, 'Carriages met the cars at Fourth Street to carry patrons.' But were the carriages on hand to haul them home after the festivities ended?”
Ramona consisted of a town mayor, marshal, town council, jail, athletic club, dairy and a handful of other businesses besides saloons. The town even built a small arena for boxing and wrestling matches.
Despite Ramona's attempt to act and look conventional, Colorado City and Colorado Springs were sickened with the new town. In early 1914, Colorado Springs refused water permits for Ramona businesses, calling the town “a moral cesspool.” Outraged, Ramona took the city to court to force the issue. Colorado Springs argued that if Ramona could sell liquor how and to whom they wanted, why could Colorado Springs not do the same with its water?
Ramona eventually lost the court battle, and in February 1914 all water was cut off to its businesses. In an effort to bypass the ruling, the town marshal, Lennie Moats, began wheeling a water tank down to Colorado City each evening and filling the tank from the street fire hydrants.
The largest saloon, the Heidelberg Inn, was owned by George and Rose Geiger. They ran it until prohibition took effect statewide in 1916. The Colorado City Iris carried a story that January about the Heidelberg's farewell turkey dinner, prepared by Mrs. Geiger and served by George for former employees and a number of friends.
The Geigers took pride in their establishment with fine decorating, quality service and upscale serving ware. They even incorporated Van Briggle pottery items into their business. The artists at Van Briggle designed a Heidelberg Inn mug, based on a mug from the pottery's regular line, design #28B. It is not known how many of these mugs they made, or even how many survived the short existence of the Heidelberg Inn, but they are extremely rare.
In 1916, statewide prohibition passed, and what had started as a grand idea was over with the stroke of a pen. Frank Burnett and Bill O'Neal leased the Heidelberg Inn for a short time from George Geiger. They tried to keep the business open as a restaurant, holding periodic fights and boxing contests. Ramona attempted to continue as a legitimate town, but that was impossible because the majority of its revenue was based on saloons.
An article in the Colorado City Iris dramatically stated, “No more will the musician sit before the piano at Ramona and tickle the ivories while men line up before the bar and keep time with the clink of glasses. No more will Colorado City officials be required to spend most of their time at the corner of Fourth and Colorado Avenue to act as a steering committee to pass the booze-soaked hides, on down the line to Colorado Springs…”
In 1917, Colorado Springs annexed Colorado City, changing 4th Street to 24th Street. Thorndale Park (neighboring Ramona at present-day Uintah and 24th streets) was laid out, making the former “wild side” a more traditional neighborhood.
In January 1919, the United States ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, essentially putting the final nail in the coffin for Ramona.
The town lasted as a legal municipality until April 1, 1947, when it disincorporated on a 46-4 vote of its residents. The area was annexed to Colorado Springs in 1955.
Swint is president of the OCCHS. Her article originally appeared in the September 2006 edition of West Word, the society's newsletter, and is used with permission. The edited version also draws from an article on Ramona by Vaun Benjamin in the November 2006 Pioneer Courier, published by the El Paso County Pioneers' Association.
The Swint family, which currently owns the safe that was used in the Heidelberg Inn, plans to donate that item to the Historical Society during its annual Colorado City Founders Day Saturday, Aug. 10 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.