Editor's note: This July, as Colorado Springs gears up for its 150th birthday on the 31st, The Gazette has prepared a series of articles on the history of our city. Check back for fascinating glimpses into the people and events that have shaped Colorado Springs into the landmark it is today.
Bijou Street. Mark Dabling Boulevard. Cache La Poudre Street.
A trove of stories about Colorado Springs history, geography and culture were written into the names of the city's streets.
Many of the street names seen today originate from the initial town plans from 1871, Tim Scanlon, a former Colorado Springs city planner, said.
"Street names provide a perspective of history," Scanlon said. "There was an evolution in terms of utilizing certain street names in order to identify place names and locations."
Gen. William Palmer, the city's founder, played a hand in naming the streets, Leah Witherow, curator for the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum, said.
"His travels through this area are no doubt connected to the place names of the found colony," Witherow said.
Palmer's wife, Mary Lincoln “Queen" Mellen, might have also played a role in naming the streets, based on information in Palmer's biography, Witherow said.
"We don't have any other evidence of that, but we also don't have any evidence to disprove it," Witherow said. "So she may have been a part of that naming process."
If Queen did contribute to the street's naming, her efforts likely bolstered the city's Hispanic and Indigenous roots, Katherine Sturdevant, a history instructor at Pikes Peak Community College, said.
"These help retain the authentic and diverse history of the community, which founders also saw as attractive and advantageous to growth," Sturdevant said.
However, some street names include misspellings of words that originated from French, Spanish and Indigenous languages.
"There were critics who complained — sometimes in the newspaper — that the names were hard to spell and pronounce," Sturdevant said. "We might read this today as a kind of code for resistance to cultural diversity, and it might have been so then, too."
In Colorado Springs, street names also hinged heavily on geographical features of the land, as well as notable figures in the city and state's history. The north-south veins of the city are named after mountains and mountain ranges, while the the east-west streets are named after rivers and river basins. Powers Boulevard and Austin Bluffs Parkway commemorate locals Ray Powers, a Republican stalwart and former president of the state Senate who died in 2008, and Henry Austin, a wealthy land owner during the 1870s who helped incorporate the northern neighborhood along what is now the parkway into the city.
Certain neighborhoods have methods of naming that include alphabetical streets near Colorado College, names of Indigenous peoples on the southwest side of town, and others streets that denote bird species, ski locations and presidents.
"The names really speak authentically to this place in the deep history here," Witherow said.
Some street names invoke memories of stories such as Cache La Poudre Street, which looks back to a story about a store of gunpowder fur trappers hid near what is now referred to as the Cache La Poudre River.
Other names are unique to Colorado Springs, such as Union Boulevard named for the Union Printer's Home, the largest union-sponsored care facility for tuberculosis; Mark Dabling, which remembers a Colorado Springs police officer killed in the line of duty; and Bijou, meaning "jewel," a reference to Palmer's search to find an idyllic spot or "little jewel" where he could build his home.
"When you think about place and creating a sense of place, I think it's really interesting," Witherow said. "I believe it to be a really unique aspect of our history that those names are connected to the geography and history of the place."