COBWEB CORNERS: Downtown Colorado City in the 1880s
By Mel McFarland
If we could go back to when the first store buildings were built on Colorado Avenue, it might be fun. The town of Colorado City was still quite a frontier town until the 1880s. The look of Colorado Avenue was far from what it would be just 10 years later when gold was discovered in Cripple Creek. Cucharras was not yet a business street, and most streets were residential. Many familiar locations were vacant lots. When the Colorado Midland railway started in the late 1880s, this brought money to town, and new buildings started going in, particularly along the avenue.
Anyone coming into Colorado City would be pleased to enter the stores. What would it be like? In front, the big windows allow plenty of light, providing displays of the latest in clothing or products. Not far from the entrance is a stand with the latest items for the patrons to see and cases featuring the recent arrivals from the East. Nearby is the sales counter with its brass cash register and rolls of wrapping paper. Handsome shelves and cases extend the length of the store. The floor is finely outfitted with the latest floor varnish. A large coal-fired boiler provides plenty of steam for keeping the store warm on the coldest days. The store is lit by groups of kerosene lanterns along the ceiling, augmented by a number of glass sky lights. Over in Colorado Springs, the early gas lights were just being replaced by electric power. In the back of the store is the owner's office.
Over the years, stores saw several changes of ownership and were remodeled and upgraded as the town grew. The dangerous kerosene lighting was changed to the much safer electric lights when the big power plant was built near Colorado Springs and electric lines were run west. In fact, Colorado City merchants were eager to be some of the first customers. If we look at pictures of Colorado Avenue at that time, the sky is filled with electric, telephone and streetcar wires. When we walk into shops on the avenue today, only a few show much of their history. We are lucky that we still have the old buildings, thanks to people like Dave Hughes.