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Green Mountain Falls: From mountain resort to Colorado Springs suburb | Cronin and Loevy | Opinion

5 min read
Green Mountain Falls: From mountain resort to Colorado Springs suburb | Cronin and Loevy | Opinion

El Paso County is in many ways “Colorado in Miniature.” The eastern half of the county is part of the Eastern Plains of Colorado, which is high prairie lands characterized by cattle grazing and dry farming.

The western half of the county is a significant portion of Colorado’s Front Range, that lengthy urbanized corridor that runs from Pueblo on the south through Colorado Springs and Denver to Greeley and Fort Collins on the north.

And west of Colorado Springs, in the Ute Pass area up U.S. Highway 24, one finds the Rocky Mountains portion of El Paso County. There is a 14,000-foot-high mountain – Pike’s Peak — and in the foothills below the Peak are colorful mountain towns with names like Cascade, Chipeta Park, and Green Mountain Falls.

Eastern Plains — Front Range — Rocky Mountains. Colorado has all three, and so does El Paso County. The county is indeed “Colorado in Miniature.”

One of our favorite towns in the Rocky Mountains portion of El Paso County is Green Mountain Falls. It has quite a history.

Originally founded as a high-class mountain resort in the late 1800s, it was characterized by Log Cabin style vacation homes in the early 20th century. Today it is sprouting typical single-family middle-class homes such as you will find throughout the Colorado Springs metropolitan area.

In 1886 the Colorado Midland railroad began building its main line westward out of Colorado Springs up Ute Pass headed for the silver mines in Leadville and Aspen.

Local landowners in the Green Mountain Falls area realized the railroad could bring vacationers from the hot and humid Midwest to their town to enjoy the dry and cool Rocky Mountain air in the summertime. The railroad management agreed with this idea, designated Green Mountain Falls a station stop, and constructed a passenger station.

To add to the attractiveness of the town, an artificial lake was dug out and filled with water close to the railroad and the train station. A scenic island was created in the middle of the lake and a classic Late Victorian gazebo built on the island.

The lake, the island, and the gazebo became the iconic symbols of Green Mountain Falls. Equally important were the many scenic waterfalls in the mountains surrounding the town.

Hiking trails were built to the various falls. Signs were put up identifying the various falls by name, and wooden bridges were constructed to carry hikers over streams and rocky patches. Some of the falls were equipped with benches where hikers could sit and rest and enjoy the natural beauty of the falling water splashing on rocks, all of it surrounded by heavy forestation.

The first major building constructed in the new resort town was the Green Mountain Falls Hotel. It was three stories high and had 70 rooms. Many rooms had a veranda where vacationers could sit outside and see the surrounding mountains.

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Typical of luxury buildings of that era, the hotel had two large decorative towers, with pointed roofs, rising above its main roof. Opened in 1889, the hotel sat on a hilltop adjacent to the lake. It provided luxury accommodations amidst Rocky Mountain beauty. Its size and design quickly made it a local landmark.

Houses, some for year-round occupancy and others for summer-use-only, were constructed in the late Victorian style of the times (1880 to 1910). One to two stories high, these homes sported gable or hipped roofs, horizontal wood siding or wooden shingles, and big front porches on which to sit and enjoy the fresh mountain air.

They resembled the late Victorian houses being built in the Old North End and Near North End in Colorado Springs at the same time.

By the early 1900s, however, housing styles began to change in Green Mountain Falls. Increasingly popular, particularly for summer-use-only homes, was the log cabin style. Making use of logs or unpeeled half-log siding, these rustic-looking homes were easy to build and blended in well with the mountain setting.

Time passed, and things began to change in Green Mountain Falls. In 1908 the Green Mountain Falls Hotel caught fire and burned to the ground. It was not rebuilt. Colorado lost forever one of its most beautiful and ornate historic hotel buildings.

Then in the 1930s Colorado Springs Utilities built dams and diverted the water that made the waterfalls above Green Mountain falls so lively and attractive. The diverted water was added to the Colorado Springs water system.

In 1949 both the freight and passenger trains stopped running to Green Mountain Falls. The railroad tracks through town were torn up and scrapped, and the train station removed. All at once there was no remaining visual evidence of the railroad, which had been so important in the early economic and social development of the town.

And the state Highway Department rerouted the main highway, U.S. 24, from the center of Green Mountain Falls to an unobstructed higher-speed bypass on the mountain side north of town.

By the 1970s the log cabin era was coming to an end in Green Mountain Falls. Ranch houses and split-level homes that resembled those being built in Colorado Springs were the new order of the day. Thanks to the convenience of the four-lane highway down Ute Pass to Colorado Springs, many of the homes were being built for year-round residents who had full time jobs in the Colorado Springs area.

The latest addition to attract tourists is Skyspace by artist James Turrell. Located on a butte overlooking the town, this building with an opening roof provides the opportunity for a light and color encounter at sunrise, midday, and sunset. A short hike is required (15 to 30 minutes) to get to this sensory and contemplative experience.

And so the town that began as a summer resort in the Rocky Mountains with beautiful waterfalls and a luxury resort hotel continues in the present as a lovely mountain suburb of Colorado Springs. The lake, the artificial island, the gazebo, and the hiking trails are all still there.

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