Do you spend a lot of time driving around town? Have you (or the eager new reader hanging out in your backseat) read the names of road signs and wondered how they came to be? Over half of Colorado Springs’ residents were born somewhere else. That means you may not be aware of how our street names reveal a lot about our city’s growth and values!
My oldest is a curious kid and is in the “why” stage of development. So, learning about road names has been a fun adventure for us. What amazes me is how much his little brain soaks up, and how much he can recite back to me at three years old.
Know Your Geography
Take downtown Colorado Springs, for example. What newcomer hasn’t stumbled over road names like Uintah or Bijou? Legend has it that the city founder General Palmer’s wife Queen suggested using the original street names to honor western heritage, geography, and places her railroading husband explored.
In the downtown area, north-south roads such as Cascade, Nevada, Sierra Madre, Wahsatch, and Tejon are named after mountain ranges. The east-west thoroughfares are named for rivers and river valleys (hence Platte, Colorado, Cache La Poudre, Cimarron, Boulder, and St. Vrain). Uintah is the Ute word for either pine forest or streams of water, both typical of our high elevation in the west. Others say Bijou points to the French explorer who helped discover the area and uncover the beauty of Colorado’s state flower, the columbine.
Famous National and Local Names
On the north side of the Old North End, streets don the names presidents and Civil War generals, a common practice in the decades surrounding Colorado Springs’ founding.
As the city grew, roads were often named for the largest land owner nearby. Roads like Bradley, Burgess, and Drennan were named after early homesteaders, as is Janitell Road near I-25 and Lake.
Marksheffel Road runs along the eastern edge of the city. It is likely named for the Marksheffel automobile company and its owners, who ran the company in the early 1900s.
The Powers thoroughfare honors the family of State Senator Ray Powers, who also owned a dairy farm near what is now the intersection of Powers and Constitution Ave.
Referencing Minor Landmarks
Many street names in the Springs are obvious. Garden of the Gods Road, Academy, and North Gate simply make sense. But other names reference landmarks that may be long gone. Maizeland Road recognizes a pocket of town once known for its cornfields. Templeton Gap may bear the name of an early settler, but may also describe the land between the hills of Austin Bluffs and Union Boulevard.
Some road names are under dispute – does Union refer to the Civil War victors, among whom was our city founder, General Palmer? Or does it commemorate the Union Printers Home at the intersection of Union and Pikes Peak?
Woodmen Road may also be a nod to a large union presence in the early life of Colorado Springs. A fraternal organization called the Modern Woodmen of America (a group which sells life insurance, of all things) opened a tuberculosis sanitorium on land west of I-25. You can still visit parts of the sanitorium, now run by the sisters at Mount St. Francis.
Honoring Service and Sacrifice
Shoup Road on the northeast side running through Black Forest recognizes the first Springsian elected Colorado governor (Oliver H. Shoup, who served from 1919-1923).
Mark Dabling honors a police officer killed in the line of duty in 1982.
The road into the Colorado Springs Airport carries the name of a local civil rights icon, the Reverend Dr. Milton E. Proby. He was a tireless advocate for justice and equality who served countless impoverished communities in our region. Proby also founded a local food bank during his time as senior pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church.
Have you noticed interesting road names around our city? What makes you or your little ones curious?