Gen. William Palmer founded Colorado Springs in 1871, hoping to build a peaceful, prosperous and temperate city.
Palmer’s vision may have been influenced by the purple prose of Fitzhugh Ludlow, who published “Heart of the Continent” in 1868, three years before the first stake was driven here.
“When Colorado becomes a state,” Ludlow grandly predicted, “the Springs of the Fountain will become its spa. The Coloradoan of the future, astonishing the echoes of the rocky foothills by a railroad from Denver to the Colorado Springs will have little cause to envy us Easterners our Saratoga, as he paces up and down the piazza of the Spa hotel, mingling his full-flavored Havana with that lovely air quite unbreathed before which is floating down upon him from the snow peaks of the range.”
Some early (and later!) promoters bought into Ludlow’s spa-centric vision, but most of the city’s residents had little interest in Havana cigars or piazzas. They were, as a contemporary journalist wrote, “descendants of the same stock which had pacifically bought the City of Brotherly Love in colonial days, here to inaugurate a wise and peaceful settlement.”
During the next three decades, these men and women labored to create a city worthy of America. They built businesses, schools and places of worship, tiny cottages and grand mansions. They started charities (or benevolent societies, as they were called in the 19th century), professional associations, patriotic societies and fraternal organizations. They laid the foundations of a civil and pleasant society. They were boundlessly energetic, generous, sociable and, above everything, community-minded.
They created organizations to protect the natural environment, care for the homeless, provide day care for the children of working women, keep boys out of trouble, pass on values of the nation’s founders, encourage temperance and protect animals.
Of the groups they created, a surprising number remain. Here are six that have served our city more than a century — and, if we’re lucky, will be here a century hence.
• The Colonial Dames (the Order of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Colorado).
They were incorporated in Colorado in 1894, with the goal of “commemorating the brilliant achievements of the founders of the great republic … to the end that (citizens) may be stimulated to better and nobler lives.” Today, the Dames are best known for saving the 1871 McAllister House from the bulldozer in the 1960s, restoring it and operating it as a house museum. Their goals haven’t changed.
• The El Paso County Branch of the Colorado Humane Society.
Incorporated in 1888, the local society had an initial membership of more than 100 who pledged “to be kind to living creatures and to protect them from cruel usage.” Its local successor has a different, more focused mission, but one that has not fundamentally changed. With total assets of $16.4 million, today’s Humane Society is one of the area’s largest single-purpose charities. In 2012, HSPPR received 25,029 unwanted and stray pets, adopted 8,523 animals to loving homes, reunited 5,980 lost pets with their families, provided foster care for 803 animals to ready them for adoption, provided emergency care for 704 animals and spayed/neutered 9,908.
• The Audubon Society of Colorado Springs.
It was organized in 1896 “to protect our native birds, of which Colorado has 300 species from the many cruel deaths which are likely to overtake them, not only from the hunter or the ruthless small boy but also from the devotees of fashion whose demand for wings, breasts and birds for hat decoration is as pitiless as constant.” Today’s Aiken Audubon Society is equally concerned with protecting Colorado birds. The organization’s dedicated birders are now focused on habitat preservation, hazard reduction and public education.
• Young Men’s Christian Association.
Founded nationally in 1844, the YMCA put down roots heres during 1878, creating the city’s first public library and reading room. The early YMCA sought “to do good, as we have the opportunity, as far as our influence may extend.” At the dedication of the new Colorado Springs YMCA building in 1901, Teddy Roosevelt said the YMCA “promotes industry, temperance and self-reliance. … It is a taxpayer’s best friend. It gives better government at less cost, and that is the ultimate of political aspirations.” Today’s Y operates facilities across the city and offers hundreds of health/fitness classes. What, one wonders, would our 1878 forebears make of “aqua zumba” and “silver sneakers yoga”?
• The Boys’ Club of Colorado Springs.
It was formed in 1888 “to provide a home-like meeting place for boys who might otherwise be led into temptation for lack of a place to spend their evenings.” It was the eighth such organization founded in America, and the first one west of the Mississippi River. In 1898, a charity ball raised an initial $170 for a building fund. General Palmer contributed land for development at the corner of Tejon and Rio Grande Streets in 1900, and the club’s building opened there in 1907. Today’s Boys and Girls Club operates two after-school youth development programs and six before-and-after-school child care programs in the region for about 3,500 kids.
• The Colorado Springs Day Nursery Association (now known as Early Connections Learning Centers).
Created in 1897, its mission was to “provide a place where the children of working women can be cared for during the day, with proper food and pleasant surroundings. Children whose mothers are absent at work may also be permanently boarded at nominal rates.” Beginning in the 1900s, medical services were provided. The nursery charged 10 cents a day for the first child in a family and 5 cents for each additional child. Noted philanthropist Alice Bemis Taylor funded construction of the 1923 Colorado Springs Day Nursery building in memory of her mother, Alice Cogswell Bemis. The building cost $262,040, and each worker was given a $20 gold piece when the nursery opened on Christmas Day. The magnificent building, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, still stands at 104 E. Rio Grande St.
• No longer with us.
Other organizations have faded into history. The Helping Hand, founded in 1896, described itself as “a place where worthy men out of work could labor at sawing and splitting wood until they obtained permanent employment.” During 1897, the organization gave, in return for work in the woodyard, 13,730 meals and 4,568 lodgings. The 1892 Children’s Home Society described its mission in a brief sentence: “homeless children for childless homes.”
The 1875 Colorado Springs Relief Society, with a mission “to care for the “needy poor” by providing food, clothing and coal to destitute families, had become the Colorado Springs Aid Society by 1890. Its mission foreshadows organizations such as AspenPointe, Pikes Peak United Way and Ecumenical Social Ministries.
Given our city’s present affection for firearms and cycling, it’s not surprising that both interests were represented 120 years ago. Two cycling clubs, the Pikes Peak Roadsters and the Century Cycling Club, were dedicated to “the advance of cycling and the promotion of good road-building.” The Roadsters held “occasional race meets.”
Up on Nob Hill, the 1892 Pikes Peak Gun Club held club shoots every Tuesday afternoon. The club was organized “to instruct its members in the art of wing and rifle shooting and to encourage the preservation of game.”
From the 1897 membership rolls of those three organizations, it’s interesting to note that A.J. Lawton served as secretary of both the Roadsters and the Gun Club. The energetic Lawton didn’t stop there. He become the city’s director of public works and persuaded a reluctant City Council to pave downtown streets in 1911. In a July 5 editorial, the Gazette took note of Lawton’s plans.
“Take notice, ye pessimists and doubters, that Colorado Springs is up and coming,” the paper thundered. “Today there is no city in the state more alert and progressive, more strenuous in its public activities, more determined to do the things that count for the best advancement along healthy lines.”
If Lawton were still around, you can bet that Mayor Steve Bach would find him a job.