The county seat (1871, 6,012 feet) was planned by General William Jackson Palmer, whose equestrian statue (1929, Nathan D. Potter) is at Nevada and Platte avenues. Palmer, founder and president of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, planted his model town just outside the boundary of extant Colorado City so that he could more easily acquire and control real estate—the same strategy he and the D&RG would use in Pueblo, Antonito, Durango, and many other Colorado towns.
Palmer envisioned Colorado Springs as the state's elite residential city. Smoke, sweat, and noise would be banished to Denver, Colorado's rail hub, and Pueblo, the manufacturing center. Palmer's chief construction engineer, William H. Greenwood, platted a city of seventy blocks, each 400 feet square, with broad avenues lined by irrigation ditches, planting strips, and parks. After Greeley, this was perhaps Colorado's best-planned city.
The first stake was driven in 1871 at the southeast corner of Pikes Peak and Cascade avenues. Palmer took aesthetic advantage of the setting by aligning Pikes Peak Avenue and the Antlers Hotel with Pikes Peak and setting aside frontage on Fountain Creek as a park. He hired John Blair, who had worked on Chicago parks, to help design parks, trails, and bridges for Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, and his own estate at Glen Eyrie, on the northwest edge of town. Initially, Colorado Springs attracted English settlers and wealthy tuberculosis patients, who helped build fine institutions and neighborhoods. The ideal of broad, tree-shaded avenues is perpetuated in the residential North End Historic District ( EP25).
In the 1870s Palmer brought Philadelphia architect George L. Summers to Colorado Springs, establishing a genteel tradition continued by Thomas MacLaren, the city's best-known architect. Born in Scotland and educated in London and on the Continent, MacLaren moved to Colorado Springs for his health early in the twentieth century. He designed many notable residences, churches, and public buildings in Colorado Springs and elsewhere in Colorado. MacLaren, working alone and with various partners, including Thomas P. Barber, Charles S. Thomas, and Thompson D. Hetherington, favored traditional revival styles that reflected his classical British training. Thomas P. Barber, also English-born, practiced here along with his younger brother, William. Barber designed public buildings around the state, including school buildings in Greeley and Boulder, before moving to Los Angeles, where he designed the Methodist Church in Hollywood. Charles S. Thomas, the son of an English stonemason, was a popular Colorado Springs architect who also served as a mayor of the city from 1917 to 1919.
Local artisans also contributed to the county's many fine buildings. Artus and Anne Van Briggle of the Van Briggle Art Pottery made building tiles and trim as well as prized pottery. The Van Briggles, like many others, came to Colorado Springs hoping to recover from tuberculosis. The Hassell Iron Works of Colorado City, which was founded in 1887 and produced iron goods until the 1920s, provided superb woven-wire fencing, iron castings, structural iron, and ornamental ironwork, still found in fences and roof cresting of Colorado Springs houses. The Hassell House, 1422–1424 Wood Avenue, displays the firm's “double daisy” iron fence. Limestone from quarries around Manitou Springs and sandstone from Red Rock Canyon were used throughout the county and elsewhere in the state. Despite the availability of fine stone, frame construction has been more prevalent, perhaps because Colorado Springs never suffered a major fire.
General Palmer provided land for Evergreen Cemetery, the Colorado College, and Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. He also donated the land and funding to maintain a park system which started with Alamo Park (now the courthouse square) and Acacia Park in 1871. The system grew to include Monument Valley Park (1907, Edmund C. van Diest), along Monument Creek, incorporating the Horticultural Society Garden and a “geological column” displaying samples from local rock formations. Palmer Park, on the bluffs northeast of the city, commemorates the city founder as part of a 1,638-acre park system also encompassing mountain parks and drives, including the Garden of the Gods.
Palmer found a successor in Spencer Penrose, the bon vivant whose Broadmoor Hotel and many philanthropic donations to the city reinforced Palmer's original dream of a cultural, residential, and recreational haven. Neither man could foresee the post–World War II growth which has created a city of some 300,000.
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