The history of Manitou is forever linked with the springs around which is was founded. Created during the same geological uplift that gave us Pikes Peak, the water rises naturally from aquifers deep below ground, where it absorbs minerals in high concentrations; sometimes two to three times the amounts found at more familiar watering holes like Saratoga Springs or Baden-Baden. Still, it's the bubbles in the water that made Manitou famous. The intense effervescence, caused by high levels of carbonic acid, created the first carbonated drink long before the artificial process was invented. No wonder French missionaries christened the local creek Fontaine qui Bouille or Boiling Fountain.
Now picture how the first Native Americans must have seen this valley as they traveled from the plains. The verdant box canon, nestled into the foothills of the great peak, was full of game, attracted by the meandering creek and the surrounding springs. Deposits of minerals dating back thousands of years had created large natural basins into which the soda water erupted and then overflowed into the stream. As one approached, a deep rumbling could be heard, as the gases and water boiled up from the depths. Large groves of cottonwoods and picturesque boulders completed the picture. You can understand why the native tribes considered this a sacred place where the spirits of the gods and men interacted.
The Nations of the Ute, Arapaho, Cheyenne and Kiowa were all frequent visitors to this neutral ground; a place where anyone could relieve their physical ailments without the worry of defending themselves. The Indian diet was especially hard on the digestive tract for which the soda water was a perfect tonic. It also had a miraculous effect on dry skin. Signs of gratitude and worship were said to surround the springs in the form of beads, clothing, weapons, and talismans.
The United States first came to know about the springs with the 1803 purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon. President Thomas Jefferson ordered several military surveys of the area, of which Lewis and Clark's is the most famous. Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike explored the southwest portion of the Territory in 1806 and, though he never climbed the peak that bears his name, he did publish a report that attracted a lot of interest to the area. Major Stephen H. Long arrived in 1820 and it was the surgeon of his party, doctor Edwin James, who finally conquered the peak and wrote glowingly of the health benefits of the mineral waters. Daniel Boone's grandson, Colonel A.G. Boone, visited the springs in the winter of 1833 as the first cure seeker. Brevet Captain John C. Fremont, the "Pathfinder of the West, passed through in 1842 on what is now called Fremont's trail. Perhaps the most exciting and influential book to include a description of the area was "Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains", written by George F. Ruxton, a Lieutenant in the British army, whose pleasant 1847 visit to the boiling springs was interrupted by a forest fire set by hostile Indians.
The native tribes had become increasingly unhappy with the influx of visitors to their holy places and this problem multiplied when gold was discovered in the mountains in 1858, making Ute Pass a convenient road to the gold fields. Horace and Augusta Tabor camped in Manitou on their way to destiny in Leadville. The inevitable conflicts between white settlers and the Native Americans didn't end until the Cheyennes and Arapahos were removed to a reservation in1868. The Mountain Utes remained friendly and continued to camp at their sacred springs until 1879, when they too were relocated.
Between 1859 and 1868, the springs and surrounding valley passed through the hands of roughly a dozen men, including the infamous Colonel John Chivington, perpetrator of the Sand Creek Massacre. Then, in 1868, General William Jackson Palmer, a veteran of the Civil War, and Dr. William A. Bell, an English gentleman and adventurer, traveled to the area on a surveying expedition for the Kansas Pacific Railway and noticed the great natural potential for profit in the valley of the boiling springs. Palmer already had visions of a vast railroad system stretching from Colorado to Mexico with new towns dotting the route, one of which could be a marvelous health resort built on the fame of these mineral springs. Within four ears, the city of Colorado Springs had been founded and LaFont or "the fountain" was being laid out by John Blair, a noted landscape designer from Chicago. William Blackmore, an English investor and riend of Dr. Bell's, suggested that the name "Manitou", which he might have heard of through Longfellow's poem "Hiawatha," had a much more romantic ring to it than LaFont. The names was changed and the first hotel, the Manitou House, was opened by August of 1872. The city was laid out just like a European Spa town, with public facilities, hotels, and parks occupying the central core, and villa lots spreading out along the hillsides. Unfortunately, the financial panic of 1873 hit Manitou especially hard and images of beautiful villas evaporated into small wooden shops and cottages.
Even if the reality of Manitou did not live up to the dreams of Bell and Palmer, it was nonetheless a popular and successful health resort. By the end of the 1890's, the town could boast of a magnificent Queen-Anne style Bath House, a large bottling plant for the ever popular Manitou Table Water and Ginger Champagne, seven elegant hotels (the Barker House and the Cliff House still exist), two railroad connections, numerous spring pavilions, the engineering marvel of the Manitou and Pikes Peak Cog Railroad and the many natural attractions of the area, like the Cave of the Winds and Garden of the Gods. Each summer, families would arrive with trunks full of clothing, ready to enjoy the area for months. Hack drivers offered buggy rides to all the sights and, for the more adventurous, there was the burro trail to the summit of Pikes Peak for a view of the sunrise. Each hotel hired popular bands of the time to play during meals and at the hops (casual dances) to which all guests of the town were invited. Gentlemen would spend many a night at the private Hiawatha Gardens; an exclusive casino and club. For those who could afford it, life ate the "Saratoga of the West" must have been a dreamy, pampered existence; like living in one of those hand tinted postcards that sold so well at the local shops.
For the health seekers, usually tubercular patients, a stay in Manitou Springs was a chance for a cure. These people were escaping the polluted air and tainted food in the industrial cities for dry mountain air and medicinal waters. Manitou quickly became a town of doctors and the hillsides were dotted with tubercular huts and tents, since the best treatments of the time included lots of fresh air. There was even one female doctor, Dr. Harriet Leonard, the resident physician at the Bath House for many years, who specialized in Russian Vapor Baths.
Many famous personalities of the day enjoyed the charms of the town, like Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant, who dedicated the Denver and Rio Grand depot in 1882. Grace Greenwood, a popular writer and early suffragette, built one of the first cottages in town to which she brought many of her artistic and society friends for the summers. P.T. Barnum, the photographer William Henry Jackson, Thomas Edison, and Lilly Langtree all took the cure at the Manitou Soda Spring. John Nicolay and John Hay, who had been President Lincoln's private secretaries, rented a cabin in the foothills above town to write their best seller, The Life of Abraham Lincoln. Jerome Wheeler, a president of New York's famous Macy's department Store, brought his wife here in 1883 for her health. What he saw made him stay and his contributions to the town, including the magnificent Town Clock, rivaled Dr. Bell's.
After the turn of the century, tourists began to replace health seekers and Manitou Springs was forced to adapt. Tuberculoses was no longer a national threat to health, making prescriptions for mineral water less popular. Thereafter, the valley of the boiling springs was usually a stopover rather than a destination. Visitors began to spend days rather than months and they wanted to be entertained with the latest attractions. The Mount Manitou Incline, the Red Mountain Incline and the Cliff Dwellings Museum date from this period. On a promontory north of downtown, a local entrepreneur built Busby's Park, a small amusement park with a large dancehall, rides and a miniature train. Not to be outdone, Hiawatha Gardens changed from a gambling parlor to a ballroom, which booked well known acts like Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians and Fats Waller. Rudolph Valentino even gave a dancing exhibition there. The once grand hotels were now considered old fashioned and those that had not burned down were remodeled and redecorated. Small rental cottages began to cluster around the larger houses as residents decided to profit from the crush of summer visitors. The transitory nature of the visitor also altered the makeup of the downtown business district from general stores and doctor's offices to shops and ticket offices.
The advent of the automobile had the greatest impact on this narrow valley. Of course, the streets and the businesses had been designed around the horse. As cars became more popular, the many stables were turned into garages or torn down. Manitou's position on the first intercontinental road system, known as the Ocean to Ocean Highway, vastly increased the auto population and was the focus of the town's advertising campaigns for years. With this new form of transportation came the autocourt motel, a modern accommodation intended to keep the tourists as close to their cars as possible, even as they slept. There were four different types of autocourt motels, all of which are still represented on the east end of Manitou Avenue. During the Second World War, Manitou's new motels, old hotels and large Victorian residences became housing for soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Carson, who were kept well entertained by swing bands like Tommy Dorsey's.
After the war, Manitou Springs experienced the same rapid growth and change in lifestyles as the rest of the country. The Fifties brought an economic boom to the area, but in the 1960's U.S. 24 bypassed the town, leaving family-run businesses to cope with the decreased traffic. Aluminum and plastic storefronts began to replace the stone facades and older homes became rentals as newer developments were built on the edges of town. Even the mineral springs were capped off as nuisances and their locations were paved over or ignored.
With the 1980's came a revival of all that makes this valley a special place to live and visit. The formation of a National Historic District (one of the largest west of the Mississippi) spurred the restoration of many commercial buildings as well as the older homes surrounding them. An art colony began to grow and prosper with the founding of Commonwheel Artist's Coop and the Business of Art Center. Tourists rediscovered the charms of all the traditional attractions, plus a new emphasis on outdoor activities like the Intemann Trail. The family-run motels continued to offer small town hospitality while more and more Bed and Breakfasts joined their ranks. New residents were attracted to Manitou Springs by its visual beauty and quality of life, creating a renewed sense of pride and volunteerism. The ultimate symbol of this renewal is the resurrection of the springs by the Mineral Springs Foundation, organized in 1987. Now, thanks to their efforts, most of the traditional mineral springs are once again accessible, surrounded by their restored pavilion, and safe to drink. Please don't forget to sample the waters from which our town began.
References: Cunningham, "Manitou, Saratoga of the West" Daniels and McConnell, "The Springs of Manitou" The City of Manitou Spring, "Design Guidelines Handbook"
Copyright: Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce, 2000