History of the Tri-Lakes Area

History of the Tri-Lakes Area
History of the Tri-Lakes Area
Historic photos

Brief History of the Palmer-Divide Area:

The Palmer-Divide is the highest point on the Front Range, (approx. 7500 feet at Monument Hill) a geological ridge running from Palmer Lake eastward, it creates it own weather patterns & separates the Arkansas River drainage to the South, & the Platte River Drainage to the North.

The earliest known area inhabitants were native-American tribes - the Mountain Ute, Arapahoe, Kiowa, & Cheyenne. The earliest recorded activity in the area was the Army's Major Stephen Long Expedition of 1820, which discovered the Colorado State Flower, the Columbine, somewhere between Monument and Palmer Lake. Many homesteaded ranches & farms straddled the El Paso/Douglas County line as early as the 1860s. Mr. David McShane is credited with being one of the first homesteaders, 1865, in the Town of Monument. Henry Limbach and his family were also early arrivals and had much to do with planning and developing of Monument which prospered as the commercial hub for the area on arrival of the railroad.

General William J. Palmer came west after the Civil War to found the City of Colorado Springs & start the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, a 3-ft. narrow gauge line in 1871. He purchased the land known as the Monument Farms & Lake Property. Palmer Lake was critical to the railroad because the steam trains chugged up to the summit and had to take on water to head down. The lake was the only natural water supply available. Passenger trains would stop for 10 minutes to take on water, or you could get off for a day of picnicking, fishing, and boating or wildflower hikes for a fee of $1.00 roundtrip from Denver.

Dr. William Finley Thompson, a dentist originally from Baltimore and practicing in Denver, purchased land & platted the Town of Palmer Lake in 1882, intending it as a health resort & vacation community. He built the Victorian mansion, Estemere in 1887 for his family, but was facing bankruptcy by 1891 & fled from his creditors. Prior to the automobile, Palmer Lake enjoyed visits from Denverites and others wishing to beat the heat of city summer temperatures. The Rocky Mountain Chautauqua - a people's vacation university - was active from 1887 - 1910, hosting programs in music, art, drama, religion, & nature. The Rockland, a sixty-one room hotel, provided all the amenities any visitor could wish for to include a petting zoo.

Past industries in the area included harvesting ice from Monument & Palmer Lakes which continued until 1941, fox farms, sawmills, angora rabbit raising, and dry-land potato and grain farming. In 1894 there were over 20,000 acres under cultivation but in 1895 some of the potato crops did not mature because of a disease (potato blight) and potato growing slowed and finally stopped. At that time, Monument was famous for holding an annual �Potato Bake,� a fall celebration where a free feast would be held just across the tracks from Front and Second Streets.

The area around the two towns remained largely as ranch and farmland until the Air Force Academy was opened in 1958. Woodmoor was originally planned to be an area where the staff of the Air Academy and other military retirees could take up residence. From the Monument and Woodmoor area to the south, the land kept to its ranching heritage until the growth of Colorado Springs spawned housing developments starting about the mid 1980�s. Most growth along this part of the I-25 corridor has occurred since 1990.

Our area has a remarkable history including events associated with the �wild west.� There have been Indian raids, scalpings and saloon shootings. There were several forts in the area where settlers could hole up until the trouble passed. One of these is the �McShane Fort� located just off highway 105, close to the railroad overpass. Posses have apprehended and strung up murderers on the outskirts of Monument and Palmer Lake. The area was home to five gold mines however, none hit the mother lode. Our historical heritage is rich with the knowledge of our pioneer pathfinders who settled the land and left their mark for all to see and learn from. Lt. Governor Higby of Monument patented a jet engine in 1929!

In 1964 the Palmer Lake Historical Society started a Museum & Library in the former Santa Fe Railroad Section Foreman's house. Lucretia Vaile, our area Museum's namesake, spent summers here with her family starting in 1881. She was instrumental in starting the Yule Log Ceremony, and was a founding member of the Colorado Mountain Club. Always active in community affairs, she left money to be used for cultural purposes, which aided in the building of the present Museum/Library in 1981. The Palmer Lake Historical Society and the Vaile Museum proudly serve as the main repository for Tri-Lakes history. Come and visit at our website: www.ci.palmer-lake.co.us/plhs/ and tour the museum on Saturdays, 10 AM � 2 PM, 66 Lower Glenway St., Palmer Lake

Provided by the Palmer Lake Historical Society / Lucretia Vaile Museum


  • Ladies out for a picnic along Monument Creek in the late 1800s
  • The Star on the mountain is pictured behind Palmer Lakes historic old log church.