Manitou springs, Colorado

Our history

Get to know our story

Manitou Springs is not short on history. That’s part of the reason why we love it here so much. Read below to learn more about our story and how we got where we are today. You could take a walking tour through town or visit one of our local museums for a hands-on experience!

Sip the Springs

Take a walking tour through Historic Manitou Springs to find the eight public cold-water drinking springs and learn what first brought travelers to the area.

Walk through History

Learn about our unique history at the Manitou Springs Heritage Center, Manitou's local free museum. There's a lot to see and learn!

Visit our castle

Visit Miramont Castle, home to the Manitou Springs Historical Society to learn about our Victorian History and some of the architecture around town.

'breath of the great spirit'

Manitou's effervescent Mineral Springs

Considering the picturesque location of the springs in a forested box canyon at the base of Pikes Peak, it is no wonder the Native Americans considered the location sacred. The eruption of bubbles in the mineral water was considered the breath of the Great Spirit, and offerings of beads and fetishes were left in gratitude. The soothing effects of the soda water on sour stomachs and dry skin attracted not only the Mountain Utes, who wintered here each year, but the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and other Plains tribes. All were free to share in the gifts of the waters without the worry of conflict.

Westerners discover the springs

Visits to the 'boiling' water

Lieutenant Zebulon Pike may be given credit for first writing about the peak that would bear his name, but he managed to miss the wondrous springs at its base. That privilege was left to the Long Expedition of 1820. Dr. Edwin James, the team botanist was the first westerner to “discover” the health-giving mineral waters. Thereafter, explorers made a point of visiting the “boiling” springs. Adventurer George Frederick Ruxton, an English military officer wrote of the benefits of the springs in his 1846 book, Life in the Far West.

The Original Coffin Race

Emma Crawford

Emma Crawford, a young woman seeking  the mineral springs “cure” from tuberculosis came to Manitou Springs in the 1800s. Sadly, Emma passed away in 1890. Before her death Emma wished to be buried on top of Red Mountain. Her wish was honored, and her remains rested peacefully atop the mountain. After several years of rain and harsh weather conditions, Emma’s remains slid down the mountain into the canyon below where two boys found the name plate and silver handles from her casket.

Since 1995, Manitou Springs has commemorated her race down the mountainside with the humorous and zany Emma Crawford Coffin Races.

'healing waters' of Manitou

A relief for tuberculosis sufferers

The springs of Manitou attracted tuberculosis sufferers in the early years, but the town did not thrive until a railroad spur was built from Colorado Springs in 1881. By the 1890’s, the resort town boasted of seven grand hotels, including the Cliff House, Barker House, and the Grandview, which still stand today. Smaller hotels, boarding houses, and summer rental cottages were also available for the thousands of visitors who came each season.

'Saratoga of the West'

Early sightseers

Guests could take the waters at the many springs or enjoy the many attractions like the Manitou and Pikes Peak COG Railway, Rainbow Falls, Garden of the Gods and Cave of the Winds. A plunge at the Manitou Bath House was especially popular, considering there were only a few bathrooms in each hotel. 

Famous visitors included several presidents and celebrities like P. T. Barnum, Thomas Edison, and Lillie Langtry.

Bottle that water

Manitou Table Water

Jerome Wheeler, a former president of Macy’s Department Store and Aspen mining magnate, built an estate in Manitou as well as a three-story bottling plant, so the mineral water could be shipped throughout the country. To celebrate the opening of the plant, Wheeler donated the Town Clock, which stills stands in the center of town. The goddess Hebe, cupbearer to the gods of Mt. Olympus and keeper of the elixir of eternal youth, adorns the top of this generous gift.

'Saratoga of the West'

Era of Auto Tourism

The advent of the automobile changed the type of visitor who came to Manitou Springs. Guests wanted to park their cars as close to their rooms as possible and moved on after only a few days. Thus was born the autocourt motel, of which Manitou has several fine examples. The latest attractions, including the Mt. Manitou Incline, the Crystal Park Auto Tour, and the Cliff Dwellings, catered to adventuring travelers. Dance pavilions, like Hiawatha Gardens, featured some the most popular bands of the era and nationally recognized restaurants, like the Craftwood Inn, could still attract the celebrities of the day.

Manitou Renaissance

In the 1970s, after decades of stagnation, Manitou began to reinvent itself based on its original strengths. The formation of a National Historic District encouraged the restoration of neglected structures and an art colony began to grow in the town’s idyllic setting. The mineral springs, which had been ignored for many years, were revived by the creation of the Mineral Springs Foundation in 1987.

References

  • Cunningham, “Manitou, Saratoga of the West”
  • Daniels and McConnell, “The Springs of Manitou”
  • Deborah Harrison, Historic Manitou, Inc.
  • The City of Manitou Springs, “Design Guidelines Handbook”