Tunneling to the Wild Side
Updated: May 19
One of the perks of being a novelist is that I can go exploring and call it research. I need to research a lot of things. For a decade, I drove past Old Colorado City, on the west end of Colorado Springs as part of my daily commute. Cute shops in historic buildings line a few blocks in the center of town.
I discovered some fun historic tidbits.
First of all, it was named for the wrong river. I thought it had been named for the state, but the town was founded before Colorado achieved statehood. It was still part of the Kansas Territory.
City founders thought the Colorado River ran through town and named if for that. But the Colorado River is a hundred miles away. Fountain Creek runs through town.
I’m trying to imagine the conversation that took place when people figured it out.
“Do you think anyone will know?”
“Nah. I already had city stationery printed up. Just leave it.”
“Maybe someone will name the whole place Colorado. Then no one will be the wiser.”
Colorado’s first territorial capital was in Old Colorado City. It lasted for one legislative meeting in 1861. The building is shown in the picture below. It wasn’t big enough for all the politicians (and their egos). They adjourned and went up to Denver.
Situated below Pikes Peak, Old Colorado City was a rough and tumble gateway to the Colorado gold country. It maintained that reputation in 1872 when Colorado Springs was established as a “dry” upscale resort town. Old Colorado City was a “wet” town with a plethora of thriving saloons.
Even more interesting is the network of underground tunnels to transport citizens from the respectable part of town to the district with saloons and brothels. I wonder if the politicians would have stayed if they had known about the tunnels.
Colorado Avenue was the main street. Still is. That’s where the cute, respectable shops are. Cucharras Street runs parallel to the south. It offered more nefarious opportunities. Someone could volunteer to run an errand at a shop on Colorado Avenue, go to the basement and through a tunnel for some fun. No one would be the wiser . . . Unless the errand was forgotten.
“I saw you go into the barbershop. Why is your hair still shaggy? Is this lipstick on your collar?” So many story ideas. This mural highlights this part of the history, complete with the tunnel.
I wonder if that’s why the historic churches are on the north side of Colorado Avenue.
Most of the tunnels are long gone. The few that survived are in disrepair and are not open to the public. I’ll just have to imagine.
I’ve walked through Old Colorado City dozens of times as a shopper and diner. But this time, I looked at each building with a new eye. What story does it hide?
I wonder what else is sitting in plain sight. More photo adventures may be in my future.