Pikes Peak History

A timeline of historical events associated with Pikes Peak, the Cog Rail, the Pikes Peak Highway, Glen Cove and the Summit House. Also includes notable people such the Ute Indians, President Jefferson, Zebulon Pike, Steven Long, Julia Archibald Holmes, Spencer Penrose, Katharine Lee Bates and the Frozen Five.

Date Historical Info
Unknown

Though the Ute Indians were the first documented people around Pikes Peak, it is very likely that a much younger generation of native Americans roamed the Rocky Mountains some 12,000 years earlier. Known as the Clovis Culture, these were descendents of an ancient people who crossed the Bering Land Bridge between Russia and Alaska at the end of the last ice age.

Pre-1800

The Ute Indians, also known as the Blue Sky People, referred to the mountain as the Sun Mountain Sitting Big.  They believed that the entire world was created at this location by the Great Spirit who poured ice and snow through a hole in the sky to make the mountain.  While there is no hard evidence that they reached the top of the peak, it is very likely since they often scaled mountains to set traps to obtain their ceremonial eagle feathers.

1779

Juan Bautista de Anza, then Governor of the Province of New Mexico, leads a force of about 800 soldiers and Ute and Apache allies against Comanches at what is now Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs. It is not known whether he or any of his army climbed Pikes Peak.

1803

President Thomas Jefferson completes the Louisiana Purchase. Purchased from the French for approximately $15 million, more than 828,800 square miles, including Pikes Peak, is added to the United States.

1805

James Pursley (or Purcell) spends the winter with the Ute Indians in South Park, and finds gold flakes in a stream. He is believed to be the first known "American" in Colorado.

1806

Lt. Zebulon PikePresident Jefferson dispatches explorers to survey the new land acquired though the Louisiana Purchase. The well-known Lewis and Clark expedition is sent to explore the northwestern part of this claim. However, another party, led by Lt. Zebulon Montgomery Pike is sent to explore the southern region.

Pike and his men leave Missouri in the summer of 1806 and take four months to reach the area. As they neared the front range of the Rockies, Pike spotted what he called a “small blue cloud,” which later revealed itself to be a towering mountain. When they reached the area that is now the city of Pueblo (about 35 miles to the south), Pike ordered most of his expedition to build a small stockade, while he and three of his men struck out to further explore what he named Grand Peak.

When Pike and his men left St. Louis the previous summer, they had thought their exploration would last less than six months. As such, they had not prepared for the cold weather that was now upon them. When Pike reached the base of the mountain, he certainly felt the affects of this poor planning. Clad only in summer clothes, they would spend only one very cold November day reaching one of the lesser peaks, which historians now believe was Mt. Rosa. Despite his efforts, he left the area without reaching the summit of his newly discovered great mountain.

While many claim that Pike stated that no man would ever reach the summit, a closer review of his journal shows that Pike thought the top was indeed obtainable – just not by him, at that time, given his summer clothes, lack of food and waist-deep snow.

For more information about the life and travels of Lt. Zebulon Pike, please visit: www.zebulonpike.org.

1820

The first recorded ascent of Pikes Peak.

In June of 1820, Major Steven Long and 22 men leave what is now Nebraska to explore the source of the Platte River. After three weeks of crossing the tall grass prairies of eastern Colorado, the expedition catches their first glimpse of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. Following several more days of marching, the Long Expedition finally reaches the base of Pikes Peak.

Being rather impatient with the progress they had made so far, Major Long is anxious to continue on the expedition and return home. However, Dr. Edwin James, a naturalist with the expedition who had been personally selected by Major Long, convinces him to wait a couple days at this location, so James could climb Pike’s Grand Peak. Long reluctantly agrees and grants Dr. James three days to climb the peak, make his observations and return to camp. Unlike Pike’s winter attempt, James’ climb is unencumbered by the weather.

Dr. Edwin JamesDr. James and two men reach the summit on the afternoon of the second day and spend only an hour on the summit before it is time to start the trip back down. They spend the second night just below the summit, but without blankets or provisions, as they had lightened their load the day before to speed their ascent.

James returns to Long’s encampment on the night of the third day completely exhausted. However, not only has he managed to scale the mountain, he also has made many notes in his journal and returned with many examples of previously unknown plants and flowers, including Colorado’s state flower, the blue Columbine. Impressed with his efforts, Major Long names the mountain for him, declaring it James Peak.

1840

The official name of "Pikes Peak" is adopted by the Army's Topographical Corp, led by Major John Charles Frémont. Even though Dr. James was the first to reach the summit of the mountain, Frémont believes Pike earned the naming rights as the first American to document the existence of the mountain. Moreover, he imposes his view by referring to the mountain as Pikes Peak in his many journals and maps. A different mountain in Colorado was later named James Peak in honor of Dr. James' contributions.

Late 1850s

Pikes Peak or Bust WagonPikes Peak serves as a landmark to gold seekers heading into the region for Colorado's gold rush in the late 1850s and early 1860s. It is estimated that more than 200,000 wagons rolled across the prairies of Kansas and Nebraska in 1859 and 1860, many of them carrying a sign with the now famous phrase “Pikes Peak or Bust.”

1858

Julia Archibald HolmesJulia Archibald Holmes becomes the first recorded woman to climb Pikes Peak. She makes the ascent with the Lawrence party and stays on the summit for two days. Holmes becomes known as the "Bloomer Girl" because of the bloomers she wore while climbing the peak.

1859

Colorado City, the first city in the area, was founded by suppliers to the gold seekers. Colorado City was named capital of the newly formed Colorado Territory in 1861. Shortly afterwards, Golden, Colorado became the capital because state delegates could not meet in the “crude and inhospitable” accommodations of Colorado City.

1860

Ute Pass Wagon RoadConstruction of the Ute Pass wagon road begins as a way to help settlers cross through the pass and travel further to Colorado's gold mines.  It is the first road through the valley northeast of Pikes Peak. U.S. Highway 24 now follows most of this route.

1860s

While many families homesteaded on Pikes Peak – primarily along Ute Pass on the north side of Pikes Peak and what would end up being the Cog Railway route on the south side – life on the mountain was not easy. Early squatters could claim 160 acres for about $1.25 an acre through the Homestead Act of 1862. However, to qualify, families needed to live on the land and cultivate it for three years. Given the poor soil conditions and the weather this was no easy task. Many attempted, but few succeeded.

1871

The City of Colorado Springs was founded.

1873

In July 1873, two U.S. Army Signal Service enlistees, Sgt. George Boehmer and Private James H Smith, were ordered to climb to top of Pikes Peak to determine if a weather observatory could be established. They loaded a burro with supplies and proceeded up the mountain on horseback, reaching the top on the second day. They returned to their Colorado Springs office exhausted and reported back to the Signal Service's Washington office and General Myer.

Another trip was planned, this time with Boehmer, Smith and three others, Private Edward Boutelle, Officer Fitch and C. Ford Stevens. Boehmer and Boutelle sustained injuries related to their horsemanship and returned to Colorado Springs. The other three pressed on. When they reached the summit of Pikes Peak, all agreed that this location would be ideal for the research of atmospheric phenomenon and its relationship to weather and forecasting.

Etching of the Original Signal Station on Pikes Peak

Before the winter snows, a Denver builder and civilian workers were paid $2,500 to build a "signal station." They completed the job in four weeks. The original building was 18 by 30 feet long, and ten feet high, with walls 18 inches thick. There were two rooms. One was the office and bedroom for the officer in charge (typically a sergeant). The other served as the kitchen, storeroom and sleep quarters for the assistants. The station was constantly manned - both summer and winter.

The Pikes Peak Weather Observatory was officially dedicated on October 11, 1873.

 

1882

Pikes Peak Signal Station #1The original signal station was replaced with a new and larger structure - one that could accommodate more people for longer periods of time. This larger structure was needed due to the growing number of visitors who rode horses and burros to the summit.

1886

One of the early settlers on the mountain was a man by the name of Frank Tweed, who homesteaded the area currently called Glen Cove. To capitalize on the growing tourism business in the area, he converted his two-story cabin into a motel and dining room in 1886. Mr. Tweed’s original log cabin remains the cornerstone of the northwest section of the Glen Cove Gift Shop. This building was added to the State Register of Historic Places in 1999.

1887

Pikes Peak Carriage Road, circa 1887Though foot traffic and burro rides up Pikes Peak were common in the earlier days, the first crude road up the mountain opened in 1887. Built by the Cascade and Pikes Peak Toll Road Company, this new road afforded sightseers and thrill seekers the ability to reach the top of the mountain via the more comfortable wagon or carriage seat, especially when compared to riding on the back of a donkey. Travelers could pay a $1 and use their own vehicles, or they could pay $5 and be treated to a nine-hour ride on the Pikes Peak Carriage Line.

Photograph by William Henry Jackson,
Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District

1888

Signal Station on Top of Pikes PeakDespite its reconstruction, the army closes the signal station in 1888 after it concluded there was little correlation between the weather on top of Pikes Peak with that of the plains to the east. However, visitors continue to scale the mountain. For example, the text at the bottom of the photo to the left states this was a press excursion on September 6, 1888.

 

 

Photograph by William Henry Jackson,
Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District

1888-1892

Major John Hulbert of Manitou and several well-chosen (and well heeled) gentlemen organized the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Company on November 14, 1888, one day after the anniversary of Lt. Pikes original sighting. Starting at the top of the mountain in 1889, their team surveyed and plotted the course of what was then called the Cog Road. Trying to get a head start on the weather, they started at the top of the mountain in the fall, but were soon unable to continue due to a winter storm that dumped four feet of snow on their efforts. So, they moved their teams to the bottom of the mountain until the snow thawed the following June.

The actual laying of the track rails on the Cog Road began on June 11, 1890, and was completed four months later on October 20th. However, it wasn’t until the following year that the first train made the complete trip to the top. Until then, many passengers would take the cog rail to the halfway house and then finish the trip to the top on the backs of horses or donkeys.

On June 29, 1891, the first rail car and engine transcended the entire line from Manitou to the top of Pikes Peak. The Locomotive John Hulbert and the coach car named Denver were loaded with a passel of dignitaries and town officials. Leaving the Manitou Depot shortly before 8:30 in the morning, the passengers made it as far as Windy Point before being forced back down the mountain by a boulder slide. As workers toiled to clear the boulder slide, the coach returned to the bottom and dropped off the first set of passengers. With the hopes that the line would soon be cleared, the coach was loaded again and left the Manitou Depot in the early afternoon. This attempt proved successful and the first passenger rail car reached the summit of Pikes Peak at 5:20 p.m., some 27 months after the survey of the mountain began.

Cog Engine John Hulbert at the Summit House on Pikes PeakThe Cog Route remained open that year through mid October and managed to ferry almost 10,000 passengers in its first season of operation. Some of those passengers enjoyed the Cog's first nighttime ride to the top, while others took the train for the first wedding on the top of Pikes Peak. The round-trip then cost riders $5 – a significant sum for its day.

 

The Locomotive John Hulbert at the Summit House on Pikes Peak (circa 1891), Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District

1889

In 1889, a homestead claim for the summit of Pikes Peak was filed by Dr. Alfred G. Lewis, physician and mayor of Manitou Spring. Soon after, he built a log cabin near the signal station to satisfy part of the homesteading requirements. He attempted to fulfill the agricultural requirements by hauling dirt to the summit to plant corn, wheat, oats and potatoes, which had no chance of growth. His aspirations were never to operate a real farm, but rather to sell donuts and coffee to tourists. His “lunch counter” operation continued for five or six years, however, Dr. Simmon's homestead claim was eventually denied by the Dept. of Agriculture.

1892

The Pikes Peak Timber Reserve was created under the Forest Reserve Act of 1891, after which all land grants and homesteading on the mountain were suspended. This massive area west of Colorado Springs included almost the entire mountain. Additional land was later added to the reserve to protect the forests along the South Platte River and the Plum Run. In 1905, under the newly created U.S. Forest Service, these areas were combined and then renamed as the Pike National Forest.

1892

In 1892, the Department of Interior grants an easement to the Cog Route for a train terminal and guest house on the summit of Pikes Peak, thereby allowing Cog Rail owners to restore and enhance the unused signal station. Once refinished, the summit house would accommodate 15 guests, a lunch counter and a souvenir shop. The Summit House was later upgraded and enlarged again to accommodate even more guests and facilities.

1893

Upon reaching the summit of Pikes Peak on a carriage ride, Katherine Lee Bates writes in her diary, "We stood at last on the gate of heavens summit….and gazed in wordless rapture over the far expanse of mountain ranges and the sea-like sweep of plain." After she returned to her room that night, she remarked to friends that countries such as England had failed because, while they may have been "great", they had not been "good" and that "unless we are willing to crown our greatness with goodness, and our bounty with brotherhood, our beloved America may go the same way."

Using some of those same words, Bates later wrote a poem that has now become our classic anthem "America the Beautiful." The original four stanzas were printed on July 4, 1895 in an issue of The Congregationalist newspaper. Then, after several revisions the final poem was published in the Boston Evening Transcript nine years later. While Bates retained the copyright on her poem to protect it, she never sought any payment of royalties. It was her personal gift to the country.

In 1926, a strong push was made to adopt the hymn as the national anthem. However, the "Star-Spangled Banner" was chosen by President Hoover instead.

Circa 1900

The Summit House was again upgraded and enlarged to accommodate even more guests and facilities.

An elevated tower was first constructed on the ground near the Summit House. It was later moved to the roof on the north end of the building, which enabled tourists to experience the complete panoramic view from the peak. This privilege cost them 25 cents.

Summit House and Cog Train 1907 Summit House 1921

Summit of Pikes Peak

1901

Locomobile at Summit House on Pikes PeakOn August 12th, a two-cylinder Locomobile Steamer driven by C.A. Yont and W.B. Felker becomes the first automobile to reach the summit.

Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District

1906 Centennial Coin

Colorado Springs citizens celebrate the 100th anniversary of Zebulon Pike's discovery of Pikes Peak. In addition to many various celebrations held throughout the year, the Pike Centennial Committee commissions the Philadelphia Mint to strike medals to commemorate the event. 10,000 medals the size of half dollars are struck and sold ($1 each for silver, 50 cents each for bronze). Sales were slow, so many were made into watch fobs or pendants.

1911

Yandell Henderson, J.S. Haldane, C.G. Douglas and E.C. Schneider formed the Anglo-American Pikes Peak Expedition of 1911 (also known as the Yale-Oxford expedition) to study the effects of high altitude on human physiology. The multinational members of the expedition (from Oxford, Yale and Colorado Springs) rode the Cog Rail to the summit in July. Staying in the Summit House for five weeks (courtesy of J.G. Heidstand, the proprietor), the expedition members observed and tested themselves and tourists for "acute mountain sickness," which apparently was quite severe in many cases. A female scientist, Mabel Fitzgerald, was also part of the original expedition, but did not stay on the summit (presumably due to the close quarters in the Summit House and subsequent possible perceptions of impropriety). Instead, Fitzgerald left the summit and researched the the CO2 concentrations and hemoglobin of miners who operated at the relatively lower altitudes.

Details from the 1911 Pikes Peak Expedition is described in the 1913 edition of the Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Vol 203.

Henderson's interest in high-altitude physiology continued throughout his life. One of his last papers concerned the problems of reaching the summit of Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen, a challenge that he and other notable scientists of the day thought was impossible. Despite those beliefs, the first successful ascent of Everest without oxygen occurred in 1978.

1914

The improvement of a trail up the east face of Pikes Peak is undertaken by Fred Barr and his father. Using only rudimentary equipment and burros, they construct a trail from the top of the now defunct Manitou Incline Railway all the way to the top of Pikes Peak. Work is completed in December of 1918. The trail is later named Barr Trail. In 1922, Barr Camp was constructed about halfway up the trail. This rest stop offers weary hikers an overnight stay in a cabin, an A-frame or a lean-to.

1915

In 1915, Spencer Penrose requested permission from the Secretary of Agriculture to refine and complete the road to the summit of the mountain so it would be more suitable for the growing number of automobiles and tour busses. The new highway follows the previously constructed carriage road and costs $500,000 to build. In exchange for his efforts, Penrose was granted a 20-year license to maintain the road and permission to charge a $2 toll for the duration of the agreement.

Pikes Peak Highway and Tour BusCar Traveling up Pikes Peak Highway Before the First Ws

1916

To promote tourism in the area, as well as his newly completed highway, Spencer Penrose sponsors an auto and motorcycle race up the mountain in 1916. This was the birth of what is now known as the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Winner of the First Pikes Peak International Hill ClimbThe winner of the first Penrose Trophy was a man by the name of Rea Lentz. He drove a homemade car powered by an airplane engine to the top in just under 21 minutes. For his efforts, Lentz received $2,000 in prize money.

 

 

Onlookers watching Rea Lentz cross the finish line at the first Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District

1916

In support of women’s rights, 30 women motor to the summit to plant a huge flagpole and fly an oversized purple, white and gold banner to draw attention to the Susan B. Anthony amendment. The 19th amendment did pass, but not for another four years.

1917

Pikes Peak Summit Auto House 1917On July 27, 1917, the new Pikes Peak Summit Auto House opens, which is intended to cater to the growing automotive traffic on the Pikes Peak Highway. Built of concrete (30’ x 40’ in size), the Summit Auto House includes a lunchroom, rest rooms and shelter. The original Summit House and its observation tower remain.

 

 

 

Pikes Peak Summit Auto House 1925

1922

New Year's Eve Fireworks on Pikes PeakTwo brothers by the names of Ed and Fred Morath decide to climb Barr Trail on December 31st and shoot off fireworks from the summit of Pikes Peak. Sensing the historical significance of the event, they also take along three of their friends: photographer Harry Standley, Willis McGee and the trail builder himself, Fred Barr. This first winter ascent of Pikes Peak has since become an annual tradition.

At first, they referred to themselves as the Frozen Five, but at the suggestion of one of the members on the climb, they decided to add one more person to the group each year. This action then gave them the new moniker of the AdAmAn club. Though restricted only to men for most of its history, they opened their doors to women in 1997. To this day, the AdAmAn club ushers in each New Year with a barrage of fireworks from the frozen top of Pikes Peak.

Photograph by Harry Standley, Courtesy of Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District

1935

Toll Gate for Pikes Peak Auto HighwayThe Pikes Peak Auto Highway is added to State Highway Systems.

1935

Crystal Reservoir is constructed.

1936

In 1936, the Pikes Peak Ski Club builds a ski area just below Glen Cove. Though hardly comparable to modern facilities, the slopes offer skiers a choice of 3-4 runs and a tow rope to return to the top. The tow rope used at these slopes was the first documented in the state. Due to the tremendous growth of Colorado’s other ski areas, the ski slopes on Pikes Peak close in 1983.

1936 Tourist View Into Bottomless Pit on the Pikes Peak Highway

Responsibility for the highway returns to the U.S. Forest Service. For the next 12 years, the road is operated as a toll-free highway. However, without the maintenance afforded by the tolls, the road deteriorates greatly and is almost abandoned. In 1948, the U.S. Forest Service issues a special-use permit to the City of Colorado Springs, which then became responsible for maintaining the road to the top. The City continues to maintain the road to this day.

1937

South Catamount Reservoir is constructed.

1938

Streamline Cars for Cog RailStreamline cars replace the steam engines used by the Cog Rail.

1951

A second story and observation tower are added to the Summit Auto House (now called the Pikes Peak Highway Summit House).

Pikes Peak Auto Summit House Pikes Peak Auto Summit House

An advertising flyer describes the building as having Free Parking, Glassed-In and Heated Observations Room, Open-air Promenade Deck, a Crow's Nest Observation Lounge, large Telescope and Field Glasses and a Pike National Forest Visitor's Register. The advertising flyer also contained a sticker for your windshield. The photo above on the right was likely taken from the Observation Tower on the other Summit House.

1953

The Pikes Peak Highway Summit House is destroyed by fire from an exploding oil heater on August 12. Officials from the U.S. Forest Service and the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway meet two days later to determine the fate of the ruins. Options they consider include building a new and bigger Pikes Peak Summit House (and destroying the still-standing Cog Rail Summit House), not replacing the now-burned Highway Summit House at all, asking Congress to appropriate reconstruction costs (because the Highway Summit House had been a paying investment, or asking for private investors to rebuild the Highway Summit House in exchange for long-term leases.

1956

The Pike Sesquicentennial Marathon, a foot race on Barr Trail to the summit of Pikes Peak and back, is held as a challenge between smokers and non-smokers. (The non-smokers won; not a single smoker completed the roundtrip.) In 1957, the race was called the Pikes Peak or Bust Marathon. Afterwards, the race was called the Pikes Peak Marathon.

1960

North Catamount Reservoir is constructed.

1963

The land on Pikes Peak higher than 14,000 feet in elevation is declared a National Historic Landmark.

1963

The current Summit House is constructed for $500,000. The previous Summit House and its observation tower were demolished the following year. However, part of the original structure can still be seen southeast of the current summit house today.

1969

Construction of a U.S. Army Research Building on the summit is completed. The Army's original purpose for the building is to research the effects of high altitude on animals. In 1970, the research extends to humans.

1970

The world’s highest underground power line is installed. The line runs under the road itself, from Glen Cove to the Summit House.

1979

According to an article in the April 25 edition of the Colorado Springs Sun, the Colorado Springs City Council approved an effort to place a "permanent home for the U.S. Olympic Flame at the summit of Pikes Peak."

1983

The Pikes Peak Ski Area (built in 1936) closes.

1987

Forty hydraulic jacks are installed under the Summit House to support and level the structure after changes in permafrost shifted the foundation.

1992

The North Slope Recreation area opened for fishing, including the Crystal Creek Reservoir and North and South Catamount Reservoirs.

1992

The first (and only) Pikes Peak Solar/Electric Challenge is held. Electric and solar-powered vehicles raced from the starting line (MM7) to Glen Cove (MM13). Heavy snows the night before made the summit unattainable.

1993

A large bronze plaque commemorating the 100th anniversary of Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful” was placed on the summit.

1996

The Crystal Creek Reservoir Visitor’s Center opens.

1999

Severy Creek Trail on the northeast side of Pikes Peak is closed to protect a rare population of the greenback cutthroat trout. The greenback cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias) - once thought to be extinct - is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It is also the Colorado State Fish.

1999

The Sierra Club and Colorado Springs city negotiators reach a tentative settlement to end a lawsuit regarding environmental damage caused by erosion run-off from the Pikes Peak Highway. The settlement calls for paving the entire length of the Pikes Peak Highway. Opponents to the project claim that paving the highway will forever alter the character of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

2001

Renovation of Glen Cove Inn is completed on June 14.

2001

Operations begin to pave the entire highway to the summit.

2002

A USGS survey resets the altitude of many peaks and places in state, including Pikes Peak, which is now declared to be 14,115 feet above sea level.

2010

A helicopter crashes near the summit while filming Audi’s "driverless" car. Occupants of the helicopter suffered non-life threatening injuries.

2011

Japanese driver Nobuhiro Tajima becomes the first driver to break the 10-minute mark for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

2011

For the first time ever, the entire surface of the Pike Peak Highway is paved - top to bottom.

2012

The Waldo Canyon Forest Fire (burning just north of Pikes Peak) forces the closure of the highway from June 23 to July 2.

2012

Three new tollbooths open at the gateway to Pikes Peak.

2013

Bicycling on the Pikes Peak Highway is approved.

2013

French driver Sebastien Loeb becomes the first driver to break the nine-minute mark for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

 

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