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Originally used as a physician's office and drug store, this building later became the city's courthouse

Old Colorado City, strategically located at the base of Pike’s Peak, was established in 1859 while still part of Kansas Territory as a supply center for prospectors to purchase provisions before heading up Ute Pass into the mountains in search of gold. Originally called Colorado City, the town’s population boomed later that year as miners passed through as they headed home, or sought temporary refuge from the brutal Rocky Mountain winters.

By 1860, Old Colorado City was second in size to Denver with several hundred houses and a myriad of businesses including a post office, drug store, a number of general store, hotels and boarding houses, and of course, saloons.

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Original Capitol Building
In 1861 Congress created the Territory of Colorado and the first territorial legislature convened in Colorado City. Governor William Gilpin designated Old Colorado City the capitol that fall. However, the following summer, after only a few days in session, the capitol was relocated to Denver where there were better accommodations for the representatives and access to supplies necessary to administer the territory.

With the capitol moved and alternate routes heading into the mountains, the economy in Colorado City began to fall apart. Locals turned to farming along Fountain Creek to supplement their income. Irrigation ditches allowed for better cultivation of crops and higher yields. Excess crops were sold to either mining towns or sold in Denver.

Although Colorado City had become an established town, it was still vulnerable to Indian attacks. Early in the city’s history, interaction with neighboring Native Americans was described as peaceful, and the citizens were unafraid. In 1864 however, after a series of violent encounters across the Front Range, Colorado City settlers recognized the danger and built fortifications in the city. Those living on outlying farms evacuated, moving in town. Indian raids in the area continued for the next several years before finally tapering off.

The arrival of William Jackson Palmer and his railroad provided Colorado City with its “Old” designation as Colorado Springs became a destination for tourists and those suffering from such pulmonary diseases as tuberculosis. Old Colorado City was able to benefit from the growth of Colorado Springs due to the increased demand for labor and supplies. Another venture that helped keep the city economically sound was stone quarrying. The sandstone that was mined was used not only for building projects in Colorado, but across the country.

The Colorado Midland Railway’s introduction in 1875 gave Old Colorado City another much needed boost. Residents were able to find numerous jobs in both construction and maintenance of the rails, and fill crew positions on the trains. A roundhouse was built along with several repair shops and offices.
The Midland Terminal Railroad Roundhouse. Photo courtesy of the Old Colorado City Historical Society.

As Colorado City entered the 1890s the population continued to rise, demanding more resources for construction of houses and commercial buildings. New businesses were established including glass works, a bottling company, and a paint company. A foundry and lumber company were also built, providing supplies both for the railroad and new construction throughout the city.

When the Midland Terminal Railroad connected Old Colorado City with Cripple Creek and Victor, more hotels, restaurants, saloons, and shops were built to accommodate the passengers from Denver that had to change trains before continuing on into the mountains. The desire to spend the night in Old Colorado City was logical. While the neighboring towns of Manitou and Colorado Springs were dry, Colorado City was full of places, close to the trains, to buy liquor.

At the turn of the century, Old Colorado City was a vibrant town with tree-lined streets, paved sidewalks, and a plethora of successful businesses. Andrew Carnegie had donated a public library. The city now had its own bank. Mills were constructed to process the ore mines in Cripple Creek, providing hundreds of jobs.
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The original public library donated by Andrew Carnegie. It is now part of the Pikes Peak Library District.

The fortunes of Old Colorado City were inextricably linked to the success of mining operations in the mountains to the west. When the gold dried up in Cripple Creek, it marked the beginning of the end for the city. The reduction mills and railroads that depended on the ore gradually began to cease operations. Families moved on in search of jobs and businesses began to decline. World War I called many local men into military service causing additional businesses to close.

The once booming town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains fell into an economic slump. In 1917, residents of Old Colorado City voted for annexation and the city was absorbed into Colorado Springs. Because of the efforts of private citizens to preserve the history of Old Colorado City, it is enjoying a resurgence of interest. Spearheaded by retired Army Colonel David Hughes, a native of Colorado Springs, redevelopment and revitalization of the once derelict area has proven to be a highly successful venture. It retains its historical value having been designated as a National Historic District in 1983.

For further information, please see:

The Diary of A.Z. Sheldon located at the Colorado Springs Pioneer's Museum
Law and Disorder in Colorado City 1859-1917 by Barbara Barbaro
Historic Colorado City: A Quick History by Dorothy Aldridge
In & Around Old Colorado City: A Walking Tour by Cathleen Norman
The Old Colorado City Historical Society (

All photographs, unless otherwise stated, are property of the author.