Just southwest of Colorado Springs tucked away deep in between the bright crimson rocks at the foot of Pikes Peak, you’ll see the faint glow of a little town known as Manitou Springs. You may know it for a few local staples such as the Manitou Incline, Miramont Castle, the Cliff Dwellings, and its effervescent mineral spring waters.
150 Years Old
It's quirky, it's quaint and beloved by locals and tourists alike, and this year it will be celebrating its sesquicentennial anniversary.
Those who have had the pleasure of wandering Manitou’s charming streets may have heard a tale or two about the history of the town. Although time has afforded embellishments of the lore, you’ll be pleased to find that Manitou is far more fascinating than even the enthralling stories that give it its unique reputation.
Digging through History
I was delighted to dig through some of the histories of the town by visiting the Manitou Springs Heritage Center & Museum and had the privilege of speaking with the man who knows Manitou: President Michael Maio.
A wealth of knowledge on the town’s past, Maio walked me through the history of Manitou, sharing detailed stories, some of which I had never heard before. As we examined gems from Manitou’s bustling past, I learned the true story behind the legend of Emma Crawford and the coffin races, the history of “the other” incline, and even found out about the 12-foot tall and vibrantly lit “Manitou Springs” sign that was rumored to be seen from the borders of Kansas.
Yet back before it was ever a town, legend has it that local Indian tribes believed the Manitou’s natural mineral springs waters had magical healing properties, a gift from the “Great Spirit Manitou.” Whether or not the legends are true, there’s no denying that there is something special about the waters of Manitou. As the town grew around the eight mineral water springs, its reputation reached the far corners of the country. Manitou was believed to be a miracle mecca, promising clear mountain air and the prospect of healing waters.
Gaining popularity, appeal, and thanks to the booming railroad industry, Manitou Springs became known for multiple unique tourist attractions, including what we now know today as the Manitou Springs Incline, the more elusive Red Mountain Incline, and the Cave of the Winds.
Manitou Springs became known for other attractions as well, such as the Ute Chief Gusher – a giant bottle that, well, gushed spring water, promoting the local bottling plant. It also became the birthplace of famous events such as a car race to the top of Pikes Peak that still happens annually and is known as the Pikes Peak Hillclimb. Or the more quirky, but notable, event of a man pushing a peanut up Pikes Peak with his nose. Yes, a peanut.
Manitou has no shortage of history and intrigues, and although I’ve only begun to scratch the surface, you can do a deeper dive by visiting the Heritage Museum yourself. Surely, there would be no better time than now, during the 150th anniversary of Manitou Springs, to take a walk down its charming streets and experience for yourself the town whose history runs deeper than the effervescent mineral springs running through it.
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