Welcome to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

West side of the building with entrance, July 2020.

Welcome to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Allow me to introduce to you one of my favorite home-grown institutions, where I have happily served as a volunteer docent for over five years.

Our local history museum is located in the former El Paso County courthouse. The building was commissioned in 1899 and completed in 1903, then served as the county courthouse until the early 1970s. It was clearly built to last, but very nearly fell victim to urban renewal during the 1960s and -70s. If it weren’t for a group of engaged (and enraged) citizens, this gem would have been reduced to rubble, like other iconic downtown Colorado Springs structures.

The museum relocated from its previous, far smaller quarters into these more spacious surroundings, and reopened its doors in 1979. The building not only houses myriad fascinating artifacts, but represents the most elaborate showpiece of the entire collection. Though few people today fail to be impressed by its commanding presence, it has not always enjoyed favorable sentiments. Rather, it was embroiled in a series of controversies from the start.

Southeast corner with surrounding Alamo Square Park, June 2017.

Similar angle in February 2018. What a difference 8 months can make!

Situated in the middle of Alamo Square Park, the site was originally known as South Park and was the counterpoint to North Park (present-day Acacia Park) several city blocks north. Against the wishes of many lawyers, who would have preferred their future work place nearer their elegant homes in what is now called The Old North End neighborhood, the more southern location was chosen. Local residents protested the felling of trees from South Park, which had been painstakingly planted and raised. And, to add fuel to the fire, the selection of self-trained and inexperienced architect, Augustus J. Smith, ruffled feathers among the architectural establishment, who were aghast that an outsider would get credit for what promised to be a prestigious project. But no gnashing of teeth or maligning resulted in the reversal of the county commissioners’ choice, and Mr. Smith immortalized himself by erecting the 9th incarnation of the El Paso County courthouse in the then-popular Italian Renaissance Revival style, modeled after imposing Renaissance residences in Italy.

Characterized by flat or low-pitched roofs, wide eaves, central cupolas, vertical and arched windows, the design of the courthouse also pays homage to Greek antiquity by incorporating, in order of increasing complexity, Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. This classification is based on the elaborateness of the columns’ capitals (or crowns), not the shafts. While the building base is solid and square and adorned with sturdy Doric columns, the architecture becomes more detailed and elaborate before culminating in Corinthian columns in the seemingly central clock tower. Not unlike a wedding cake, to which it has been compared, its most eye-catching features adorn the top.

To honor its rootedness in the American West, the edifice incorporates Manitou Springs green sandstone in its foundation, and Platte Canyon granite and lava rock in its walls, materials all quarried in Colorado. The ornate if not slightly ostentatious enterprise came at a cost, but $420,000 seemed an appropriate price to pay for the then 30-year-old community of Colorado Springs. By the turn of the 20th century, not only did it enjoy a growing reputation as a health resort for sufferers of tuberculosis, it also benefitted from the river of gold flowing down the slopes of Pikes Peak, where the precious metal had been discovered in 1891.

View from the northwest corner with reflection in the adjacent building, July 2019.

In case you are surprised at the opulence you see before you, a recent article in our newspaper suggested that of all the historic courthouses in Colorado’s 64 counties, our local El Paso County example is by no means the most lavish or luxurious (though it might afford the most stupendous view).

April 2016. Westard view from the clock tower, showing the Front Range with Pikes Peak in the distance, and in the foreground, the 10th El Paso County courthouse, successor to its much more attractive antecedent.

If you enjoyed today’s tour, which highlighted some of the building’s history and exterior, I hope you will join me again one week hence, when I will give you a glimpse of the museum’s interior treasures.

My Turtle Self

In the lowermost layer of the pond I make my home. In the deepest, darkest, and dankest part of the pool I sleep through the cold season. By immuring myself against cold and hunger, my immovable body becomes part of the watery world, my immobile form invites vegetation to take hold, and aquatic animals live in the forest I carry on my back. Alone, yet not lonely, I lead my life, too old to propagate my seed and species.

From time to time I emerge from the murkiness to linger, to drink in the blue sky, the golden rays of sun, the fresh and fragrant air. These elements fill me with pleasure, but what lies beyond the perimeter of my circumscribed existence does not. Pollution, loss of habitat, hate and strife and war. I want no part of it.

I submerge myself once again, seeking oblivion. Ignorance is my bliss.

More Mural Magic-Part 2

I will dedicate an occasional post to murals I have encountered during my forays in Colorado. Each will be introduced by the featured photo above, which also depicts a mural from a local coffee shop in Manitou Springs, our direct neighbor to the west, and which offers an interpretation of the Colorado State flag, shown here:

The two horizontal blue bars represent Colorado’s blue sky, the white bar its many snowcapped mountains. The red “C” stands for our state’s ruddy soil, and the central golden globe for our many days of sunshine, averaging more than 300/year.

In today’s post, I am showing paintings that highlight various facets of our state, ranging from the very practical to the very whimsical.

Colorado without horses is a thing unimaginable. Bingo’s Saddle Shop in Colorado Springs has sold saddles and other equipment for both Western and English riding styles since 1929.

The quintessential Western scene.

Poor Richard’s in downtown Colorado Springs started out as a used book store but has since expanded to include a pizzeria, wine bar, and delightful toy store.

This fisherman’s dream mural graces a wall in the little town of Buena Vista, about 70 miles west of Colorado Springs. I don’t think it adorns a fishing shop, but it should.

Not a fisherman’s dream, but a cow’s. 🙂 Seen on a wall in the little town of La Veta, about 110 miles south of Colorado Springs.

If you have missed my previous posts about murals, or would like to revisit them, please follow the links below:

Mural Magic

More Mural Magic-Part 1

In Harmony With Nature

Who Am I?

More often than not, you will see signs of my activity, rather than see me personally. I gnaw off tree trunks and branches, which serves a threefold purpose: it keeps my teeth, which grow throughout my lifetime, at the proper length; it provides me with nutrition, herbivore that I am; and last but not least, it affords me the material needed in the construction of lodges and dams for which I’m famous. I have been called nature’s engineer, you see.

I’m typically active during the night (people call me a nocturnal animal), but you might catch a glimpse of me during the day, especially close to dusk when I’m beginning the night’s labors after having rested in my comfortable, elevated sleeping quarters inside my domicile, which I reach through an underwater entrance, invisible to you. If I perceive potential danger while swimming, you might hear me slap my tail on the water, creating a nice, big, loud splash, before I dive out of sight.

That tail is a thing of beauty, if I may say so myself. It’s flat, black, and adorned with scales. Not unlike fish scales, but please don’t confuse me with a fish, as I’m a mammal—more specifically a rodent. Why some prejudices exist against my large family, I don’t know. Methinks it’s because we like to gnaw on things you don’t want us to gnaw on. That tail of mine, which has been described as a paddle, would make me a great ping-pong player, if I were a little faster on my feet. You might call me corpulent, but I need my thick, insulating adipose tissue to keep me warm in the cold water where I spend many of my waking hours.

My lipid layers are encased in a splendid fur, which was the reason you once hunted us nearly to extinction. But that sad story I will leave for another time. I spend a lot of time combing and grooming that coat of mine, and applying a waterproofing, oily substance called castoreum. Both this and our scientific name, Castor canadensis, are derived from the Latin “castor” (and from the Greek “kastor”), meaning beaver. Castor nordamericanensis might be a slightly more apropos appellation, since we occur not only in Canada, but across most of North America.

Sometimes we act in unpredictable ways—and who doesn’t? Such was the case on an unusually mild day in March, when some of you were lucky to see me in broad daylight for an extended period. Even a beaver craves a little sunshine on occasion. I had ventured away from my usual haunt to inspect a nearby pond. Not finding it suitable to erect a mansion, I nevertheless did a little foraging and, in between, hauled out on a platform in the water to soak in some warmth.

Did you notice my sleek, shimmering coat? And did you see my tail? (Have I mentioned this wondrous appendage before?) How about my agile front paws, which enable me to carry sticks underwater, to groom my handsome face, and to hold a morsel and eat it. Let’s not forget my hind paws, each of which has five toes—just like your feet. Unlike yours, mine are webbed, and aid in propelling me forward. I bet you had no idea that I can swim at a speed of 6 miles per hour once I get going. And that I can hold my breath for up to 15 minutes!

But pardon me for digressing. And for, perhaps, appearing slightly immodest.

Who am I? Allow me to introduce myself. I am the American Beaver, at your service.

Pleased to meet you.

With thanks to my fellow blogger, Steve @ Portraits of Wildflowers for reminding me of the etymology of “castor.”

Bitte verzeiht mir, daß es wegen der Länge dieses Beitrags heute keine deutsche Übersetzung gibt.

Apríl, Apríl, Does What It Will

The title is a direct (if slightly old-fashioned) translation of a German saying, “April, April, macht was er will” (the emphasis being on the second syllable of Apríl, which is why I spelled it with an accent mark). The month with the reputation of being fickle, of doing what it wants with regard to the weather, has already lived up to its reputation. Sandwiched between two spring-like stretches, Colorado Springs awoke to 4 to 5 inches of fresh snow on April 3. As we tend to teeter on the verge of, if not the actual side of drought, any form of moisture is usually welcome (save during the rare but repetitive bouts of flooding the region experiences periodically).

Der Titel ist die englische Übersetzung des deutschen Sprichworts „April, April, macht was er will“. Der Monat ist seinem wechselhaften Ruf bereits gerecht geworden. Eingerahmt von zwei frühlingshaften Perioden erwachte Colorado Springs am 3. April mit etwa 11 Zentimeter Neuschnee. Da wir uns fast immer nahe, wenn nicht sogar jenseits der Dürregrenze bewegen, ist jegliche Art von Feuchtigkeit willkommen (es sei denn, die seltenen aber periodisch auftretenden Überschwemmungen betreffen die Region).

During this brief, wintry interlude, I set out to explore two of my regular birding destinations, both of which are located within walking distance from home. Few people were milling about on this cool and overcast morning, making it easy to keep a safe distance. The cover of snow and clouds swallowed most sounds and created a cocoon-like sense of calm and peace. To my utter delight, my feathered friends were out in full force. I hope you will enjoy the following impressions as much as I did.

Während dieses kurzen, winterlichen Intermezzos besuchte ich zwei Orte, wo ich regelmäßig zur Vogelschau unterwegs bin. Beide sind von zu Hause aus zu Fuß erreichbar. Da an diesem kühlen und bewölkten Tag wenige Menschen unterwegs waren, war es einfach, eine sichere Distanz einzuhalten. Die Schnee- und Wolkendecke dämmten die meisten Geräusche ein und vermittelten ein Gefühl der Ruhe und Geborgenheit. Zu meinem Entzücken waren meine gefiederten Freunde sehr betriebsam. Ich hoffe, die folgenden Eindrücke werden Dir ähnlich gut gefallen wie mir.

To enlarge a photo, click on it. To read its caption, hover cursor over it.

Zum Vergrößern, das Bild bitte anklicken. Um den Titel zu lesen, mit der Maus darüber schweben.