Did you know that less than half of Colorado residents were born here? If you’re like me, you simply arrived in this beautiful state as soon as you could, but you may know little about how Colorado Springs was founded.
Here are four facts for you and your kids about two major players in the city’s history: General William Jackson Palmer and Spencer Penrose.
Born more than 30 years apart, these two men both have roots in Philadelphia. General Palmer, the elder of the two, moved to Philly with his family at age 5; Penrose was born into a prominent family there. Palmer eventually married into another prominent family when he took Mary Lincoln Mellon as his wife.
Fun fact for kids… General Palmer’s wife’s nickname was “Queen,” so it should be no surprise that General Palmer built her a castle. You can visit that castle today at Glen Eyrie, a hidden gem very close to Garden of the Gods.
Despite their well-heeled backgrounds, these two men could not have been more different.
General William Jackson Palmer
One of Palmer’s early passions was the railroad, and he was quite effective early on in his career. He convinced the owners of the Pennsylvania railway to switch to coal rather than the traditional wood-burning locomotives. The railway was the first in the US to do so. He soon put his career on hold to join Union forces in the Civil War, eventually rising to the ranks of brevet Brigadier General and earning the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor at age 29.
Within two years, he headed west to seek his fortune and to continue building his first love: the railroad.
Palmer was tasked with finding a route to California. Enamored with the beauty of our region, he settled here and continued to invest, founding the Denver and Rio Grande railway that ran across Colorado’s prolific mines. In some ways, this is where Palmer and Penrose’s paths cross.
Spencer Penrose was born after the Civil War ended, and was considered by many to be a black sheep of sorts. He graduated last in his class at Harvard and went west to prove himself. Legend has it that he landed in Colorado Springs at age 27, flat broke and promptly landed in a bar fight!
When Penrose arrived in 1892, Colorado Springs was forming under General Palmer’s vision for a genteel, dry city. Spencer Penrose was a major fan of the very vices General Palmer sought to outlaw: gambling and drinking.
Fun fact for parents… Penrose eventually lost an eye several years after an injury sustained in college. As his fortunes grew, he had two glass eyes made: one with normal veining, and another to match his more common hungover and bloodshot look for the mornings!
While Palmer built his fortune by rail, Penrose dug deep and made money in mining. Only later did he come to invest in the property we now know as the Broadmoor.
Antagonism Starts With A
Palmer and Penrose both had visions for the city and for those who would come to visit. Palmer built the Antlers Hotel in the center of downtown. Penrose wanted the freedom to drink as he wished, went further south and built the Broadmoor Hotel.
Fun non-fact… Many have speculated that the small A in the Broadmoor’s logo was a snub directed at Palmer’s less tony Antler’s hotel. Although that story could fit Penrose’s more salty persona, construction on the Broadmoor began almost ten years after Palmer’s death. (And after the Antlers had burned to the ground and was rebuilt). Instead, the small A was an attempt to circumvent copyright issues with the Broadmoor name.
Some have described these two men as rivals, but their presence and desire for the well-being of our city continue to shape life here today.
Deep Pockets and Great Amenities
As General Palmer planned out the city, he gave land for schools, churches, and especially parks. As he retired from business, he focused on philanthropy. He gave roughly $4 million dollars (over $110 million today) to ensure the city would thrive.
Fun fact for everyone… Nearly 20 years after Palmer died, residents of the city raised funds to honor him with a statue. Palmer considered the intersection of Nevada and Platte as the heart of the city. He placed one of the first parks—Acacia Park—there for its stellar view of Pikes Peak. Called “the Man on the Iron Horse,” the statue reflects Palmer’s love of horses and the outdoors while also alluding to his role in bringing the railroad to the west.
We can also thank Spencer Penrose for the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, originally created to house his growing exotic animal collection. He and his wife were also major donors to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. They also founded the El Pomar Foundation, which continues his legacy of giving and sustaining good works throughout the entire state.
Many of the amenities we enjoy in Colorado Springs were planned from its earliest days due to the influence of these two men. Their foresight (and some would argue, elevated tastes and standard of living) benefit us today.