How to Celebrate Colorado Springs’ 150th Birthday

    The Colorado Springs Sesquicentennial is on, celebrating its past, present, future and 150th birthday. Here’s how to party like it’s 1871, January through July.

    Early survey of Colorado Springs, circa 1871. The city celebrates its 150th birthday in 2021.
    Early survey of Colorado Springs, circa 1871, near the current Cascade and Pikes Peak avenues. The city celebrates its 150th birthday this year. Photo courtesy of Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    On July 31, 1871, local leaders drove an iron stake into the ground on the southeast corner of Pikes Peak and Cascade avenues and declared Colorado Springs an established city. Now the 39th largest city in the U.S., the Springs has come a long way. This July 31, Colorado Springs will celebrate its 150th birthday, and this Sesquicentennial year will be filled with festivities. 

    “We must never think of history only in the past tense and lose sight of the fact that we are presently engaged in the task of making it,” said Mayor John Suthers in his State of the City address last fall. “Despite the difficult challenges the last year has brought, including a worldwide pandemic that has impacted our economy, Colorado Springs has proven itself resilient and prepared to move forward towards our city’s 150th birthday and beyond.”

    The Sesquicentennial celebrations kicked off on New Year’s Eve when the AdAmAn Club launched a 150-firework show from the top of Pikes Peak. Other events begin in January and lead up to the July birthday fest. Here’s what to expect, how to join the fun and how to gain a deeper appreciation for your hometown. As Suthers says, “We’re gonna party like it’s 1871.”

    The Log Cabin, Colorado Springs' first hotel, in 1871
    The Log Cabin, Colorado Springs’ first hotel, in 1871. This year marks the Sesquicentennial of Colorado Springs, it’s 150 birthday. Photo courtesy of Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    COS@150 Exhibit at the Pioneers Museum

    Jan. 30 opening

    The Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum has compiled 150 objects to illuminate 150 stories that will commemorate 150 years. The artifact rich timeline explores the community’s history and culture through the people, places and events that helped shape Colorado Springs. The challenge though is what stories to select, says Matt Mayberry, museum director and cultural services manager. Expect to find the distinctive red jacket of the Tuskegee Airmen owned by local resident Frank Macon. And the story of Hewlett Packard’s role in bringing the tech industry to the Front Range and its influence in the founding of UCCS to train future employees for its Silicon Mountain. “All things past help us understand who we are now and how we want to move forward,” Mayberry says. “It all influences who we are as a community and culture.”

    Watch for the launch of the Mobile Story of Us in January too. “The map-based, GIS [Geographic Information Systems] tool tells not only what happened but where it happened,” Mayberry says. The app will allow users to discover noteworthy events, people and places at points all around the community. 

    Learn more at cspm.org.

    Colorado Springs Tree Month

    April

    When the Springs was founded, it lay on a treeless plain. General Palmer envisioned a resort community for residents and visitors to find restoration among its natural beauty, but that beauty needed a little enhancement. “Some of the first things Palmer imported were thousands of trees from the Arkansas River Valley to make the city green,” Mayberry says. The COS 150 Tree Challenge aims to continue the legacy by working with residents to plant 18,071 trees by the end of 2021. The City, Colorado Springs Utilities and local nurseries are partnering on the project and encouraging people to enter and be counted on the COS150 Tree Tracker. So far, 2,024 trees have been registered in the count. You’ll also find tips on planting and caring for your new trees at coloradosprings.gov/tree150.  

    DiscoverCOS: Tree Challenge Kick-Off from City of Colorado Springs on Vimeo.

    Beards, Bonnets and Brews Fest

    June 12

    Step back to the future in this family-friendly festival at historic Rock Ledge Ranch. Join the Best Beard and Best Bonnet competitions. You’ll be up against Mayor Suthers who has pledged to grow a beard to get in the spirit of the Sesquicentennial. “Palmer’s vision included the Springs as a dry city, so we’re poking a little fun at that,” Mayberry says. “But we also want to show that city’s do change time.” Axe and the Oak distillery will be making a signature bourbon for the city, and other distillers and breweries will be sharing inspired beverages for tasting, alongside culinary creations from local chefs and restaurants. There’s even a vintage baseball game as part of the authentic era fun. 

    Learn more at rockledgeranch.com.

    Then and Now Photo Exhibit

    July 8 opening

    Local photographer Mike Pach has been recreating historic photos in an insightful then-and-now series. Don’t expect just places; these photos will capture the people of the region too. One example is a shot of Mayor Suthers dressed in fly fishing gear at Quail Lake, holding the same pose as Mayor George Birdsall in the 1930s. Fifty pairs of original and replication photos will be displayed at Library 21C for two months before rotating through other local venues. Watch for a sneak peak at coloradosprings.gov/cos-150.

    Earliest buildings in Colorado Springs in 1871.
    The earliest buildings rise in Colorado Springs in 1871, including the Colorado Springs Hotel at left, which opened on Jan. 1, 1872. The view is looking north on what is today’s Cascade Avenue from just south of Pikes Peak Avenue. Photo courtesy of Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    Sesquicentennial Gala

    July 17

    The Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC hosts a Sesquicentennial themed gala at The Broadmoor to celebrate 150 years of business in the Springs. The formal, ticketed event will feature 1871 decor and food options. Expect to mingle with some of the oldest and newest businesses in the region. Keep an eye out for the ghosts of ol’ Speck Penrose and General Palmer. Watch for tickets and info at coloradospringschamberedc.com.

    Downtown Festival

    July 31

    Happy Birthday, Colorado Springs! This is the big party blowout that brings it all together. A community parade will celebrate the region’s culture from its Native American roots to its Space Force future, and it will roll down the redesigned Vermijo Street past the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum. A Team USA pep rally will be part of the festivities to celebrate the Tokyo Games, which currently are scheduled to be underway. And, of course, there will be live music, food and more fun for families. As for that pandemic? “We’re making plans A, B, C, D, E and F,” says Vanessa Zink, City senior public communications specialist. So expect a party one way or another. “We’re encouraging people to find meaningful ways to help celebrate throughout the year,” Zink says. “That’s different for every celebration.” 

    View of Pikes Peak down Pikes Peak Avenue, circa 1882.
    View of Pikes Peak down Pikes Peak Avenue, circa 1882. Colorado Springs celebrates its 150th birthday this year. Photo courtesy of Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    More Sesquicentennial Celebrations

    Watch for more events and community celebrations throughout the year at coloradosprings.gov/cos-150. You can also tap into the Pioneers Museum 2021 Scholar Series of virtual lectures at cspm.org/scholarseries to explore topics such as local Black history, rodeo, the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, women in the region, archaeology and more.


    Read More

    Books: A Reading Guide to Colorado Springs History

    Rosie Collins Broke Down Racial Barriers in Colorado Springs

    Prospect Lake: Historic Recreation Hub

    SHARE