History: Area’s oldest businesses

Since 1891, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway has been the only privately owned American passenger railroad in continuous service since the 19th century.

Since 1891, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway has been the only privately owned American passenger railroad in continuous service since the 19th century.

Businesses, like natural persons, are mortal. They’re born, struggle through youth, flourish for a while, and then pass quietly away. Few attain the biblical lifespan of three score and ten – in fact, most expire within a decade or two.

Colorado City was founded in 1859, Colorado Springs in 1871, Manitou Springs in 1872. By the turn of the century the three communities were booming, thanks to the Cripple Creek gold fields. Thousands of businesses served residents and visitors, ranging from vast enterprises such as the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad to sole proprietors peddling everything from art (Charles Craig) to violin instruction (Charles Dopf).

Do any of these 19th century establishments still exist? Do any still offer the same goods or services that they advertised at the turn of the century?

Using multiple contemporary sources, we compiled a top 10 list. Our criteria:

• The company had to be in continuous operation since founding.

• It had to appear in city directories, telephone directories and other local publications during the 1890s, the 1920s, the 1960s and today.

• It has to be actively doing business today.

Some subtle differences

The 1898 “Blue Book” of Colorado Springs, Colorado City and Manitou offers a fascinating glimpse into the business and social life of the three little cities beneath Pikes Peak. Like most publications of its time, the Blue Book omits any mention of the working class. It features a complete list of the members of the El Paso Club, notes that the clubhouse was designed by Barber & Hastings, but the builder is unmentioned.

Gen. William Palmer’s legendary Denver and Rio Grande Railway bought two full-page ads in the Blue Book, emphasizing that its train could take disappointed prospectors from Cripple Creek to the Klondike. The D. & R.G. survived multiple bankruptcies, thrived as a major freight and passenger railroad in the 1940s and ’50s until acquired in the 1970s by Philip Anschutz. Anschutz merged it into the Southern Pacific, which merged into the Union Pacific. Today, UP trains deliver coal to Colorado Springs power plants, but the Denver & Rio Grande survives only in memory.

Other leading businesses of the era have disappeared as well. In 1900, more than 400 Cripple Creek mining companies maintained offices in Colorado Springs, and four Colorado City mills crushed and refined ore from the “world’s greatest mining camp.” Nothing remains, other than the smokestack of the Golden Cycle Mill just south of U.S. Highway 24 near 21st Street.

So which businesses made it? Here’s the top 10:

In 1950 the Gazette Telegraph occupied this building at 18 E. Pikes Peak Ave. At that time, the newspaper was one of two daily newspapers published in Colorado Springs.

In 1950 the Gazette Telegraph occupied this building at 18 E. Pikes Peak Ave. At that time, the newspaper was one of two daily newspapers published in Colorado Springs.

1. 1872, The Gazette. First established as an occasional chronicle of events in General Palmer’s newly created city, The Gazette began publishing four or five days a week six years later. Palmer’s colony grew, prospered and then exploded when gold was discovered in Cripple Creek. By 1897, The Gazette and the Evening Telegraph were bitter rivals, running dueling advertisements in the Blue Book. The Telegraph claimed to have the largest circulation of any newspaper in Colorado Springs, while The Gazette claimed “a larger local circulation than all others combined.” The two dailies merged in the 20th century, moved to new digs on Prospect Street in 1961, and returned this year to rented space at the same Pikes Peak Avenue location where it all began.

2. 1880, Sinton Dairy. George and Melvin Sinton’s dairy was located on a small tract of land just east of the city. Initial production amounted to 14 quarts of milk daily from “12 red cows delivered by a horse drawn cart to the residents of Colorado Springs at 10 cents a quart.” Sinton’s introduced pasteurization to the Springs in 1907 and has prospered since, now with outside ownership. Today, the company processes more than 220 million pounds of milk annually, distributed through seven branch offices and four independent distributors.

Cave of the Winds, which overlooks Williams Canyon and Manitou Springs, has been a popular tourist attraction since 1881.

Cave of the Winds, which overlooks Williams Canyon and Manitou Springs, has been a popular tourist attraction since 1881.

3. 1881, Cave of the Winds. The famous cave system in the hills above Manitou Springs was discovered in 1869, then commercialized in 1881 by an enterprising New Yorker, George Washington Snider. Exploring the cave in 1880, Snider found the entrance to “Canopy Hall,” as he called the spectacular cavern that he was the first known Euro-American to view.

“It was as though Aladdin with his wonderful lamp had effected the magic result,” Snider wrote, no doubt thinking of the golden rain of tourist dollars that would soon manifest itself. The cave opened for guided tours in 1881, and its owners have benefitted from Snider’s vision ever since.

4. 1883, Antlers Hotel. General Palmer’s first Antlers burnt to the ground in a spectacular blaze in 1898, just 15 years after it was built. Undeterred, Palmer spent four times as much building a second, much grander structure on the site. That building endured until 1964, when it was pulled down and replaced with today’s undistinguished structure. Old-timers who still mourn the loss of the second Antlers may have been consoled by the opening of the Mining Exchange Hotel in a turn-of-the-century building two blocks east on Pikes Peak Avenue. As the Antlers emerges from a recent bankruptcy, its new owners may have the financial capacity to make the extensive renovations that the faded old lady of Pikes Peak Avenue so sorely needs.

Much of the built infrastructure of Seven Falls was destroyed in the floods of 2013 but the falls remain.

Much of the built infrastructure of Seven Falls was destroyed in the floods of 2013 but the falls remain.

5. 1885, Seven Falls. The 19th century entrepreneurs who built the visitor industry in Colorado Springs were practical visionaries who understood how to turn the most mundane of natural phenomena into cash cows. Beginning in 1882, James Hull acquired the Falls and the land surrounding it, thereby controlling all access to the site. He constructed a road through the canyon, built a stairway along the side of the Falls and installed a toll gate at the foot of the canyon. Seven Falls quickly became a prominent attraction, and has remained so ever since. Sadly, the attraction is temporarily closed because of extensive damage from flooding in 2013.

6. 1890, Bennett-Shellenberger Realty. Chas. P. Bennett opened a business at 5 E. Pikes Peak Ave. in 1890. By 1898, a half-page ad in the Blue Book solicited “a share of your real estate, loan, and insurance business.” Thirty years later, the Bennett-Shellenberger Realty Company had moved a couple of doors to the west into space now occupied by the Phantom Canyon Brewing Company. In 1961, the company had expanded into a modernist structure at 619 N. Cascade Ave. Today, a small residential brokerage at 1710 E. Pikes Peak Ave. bears the company name, having survived the notoriously volatile Colorado Springs real estate market for 124 years.

7. 1891, Pikes Peak Cog Railway. What Springs historian Marshall Sprague called “Zalmon Simmons’ perky little railroad” made its first run to the top of Pikes Peak in 1891. Prior to the Cog, Prairie Dog O’Byrne (famous for his Colorado City team of elk) worked as a stage driver on the 1889 toll road. It wasn’t an easy job.

“In 1890 I was caught in a fierce hailstorm below Glen Cove,” he wrote. “Hailstones as big as hen’s eggs fell. I was driving four horses and got my hands all skinned and beaten up trying to hold the horses. Hailstones went through the top of the coach — some storm!”

The road shut down within a year, driven out of business by the speed and comfort of the Cog. And despite the changes brought by the re-opening of the road, the advent of automobile tourism and the end of passenger railroads, the Cog Railway has prevailed, the only privately owned American passenger railroad in continuous service since the 19th century.

8. 1897, Broadmoor Hotel and Casino. Count James Pourtales came to Colorado Springs in the 1880s, bought most of the land on the Broadmoor Mesa, and launched an ambitious land development scheme. He built a casino, plotted the land, dammed a stream to create a lake — and went broke. He left town in 1893, $450,000 in hock to an investor group, which tried to recoup its investment by building a 100-room hotel next to the Casino in 1897. In 1909, they sold the entire property to the Stratton estate for $350,000. The estate retained the eastern half of the property, and sold the rest to Spencer Penrose in 1916 for $90,000. Penrose retained the casino, which became the Broadmoor Golf Club, tore down the hotel and built today’s five-star Broadmoor hotel.

9. 1902, The Transcript. Originally called the Colorado Springs Transcript, the paper changed its name to the Colorado Springs Transcript and Mining News in 1909, then shortened it to Transcript in 1915. It was then, as it is now, the paper of record in the Pikes Peak Region, publishing legal notices and court news. Long edited and published by the Bernheim family, the Transcript was acquired by the Colorado Springs Business Journal in 2002.

10. 1907, Manitou Cliff Dwellings. Virginia McClurg was a reporter for the New York Daily Graphic who wrote about the ruins of Mesa Verde in the 1880s. Seeking to preserve the ancient cliff dwellings, which were even then endangered by vandals and pot hunters, she sought to have Mesa Verde declared a national park. She was unsuccessful, and decided that the best way to preserve the ruined structures might be to move them elsewhere. Despite her preservationist roots, she removed an extensive group of ruined buildings from Mesa Verde and reconstructed them beneath a sandstone overhang near Manitou. She was shunned by her former partners, but she created something of value.

Is it a monument to hucksterism, or the real thing? Maybe both.

One Response to History: Area’s oldest businesses

  1. Small business seems to suffer from perpetual neglect here in CS. Little or no support from local government and a community more interested in foreign franchises will put local owned companies to sleep pretty quick.

    Steven Shepard
    March 31, 2014 at 12:13 pm