Historical Society's Tunnel Tales tours highlight Old Town's rowdy past
Five Old Colorado City sites linked to the former wild west town's legendary tunnels enthralled about 140 people for Tunnel Tales July 22.
Consisting of a series of guided tours, the five-hour event was a fundraiser for the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS), netting about $2,200, according to OCCHS Treasurer Susie Schorsch.
Each tour lasted about an hour and a half. The nonprofit's volunteers organized activities at each location. Featured were more than 20 people in period costume acting as characters from more than a century ago.
Even when the rain - which had been threatening all afternoon - turned into a downpour during the last half-hour, nobody seemed to mind. “People were so wonderful about the rain,” said Schorsch, who also served as one of the tour guides. “I think they were so happy to see it, we got only laughter and no complaints.”
She quoted one attendee as saying: “Let it rain. This is fun.” No one was heard to ask (though some may have thought it) if they could access an underground passage to get out of the elements.
It was the OCCHS' second Tunnel Tales. The first was held in 2015, after members Sharon Swint and Leo Knudson researched Old Colorado City's many historic buildings to verify various old stories/rumors.
This summer, the society also published a 48-page book on the subject, titled “Tunnel Tales of Old Colorado City,” which is for sale at its History Center
The book cautions the reader that there is “very little” documentation of the tunnels, and most of what's known “is anecdotal, oral history and word of mouth. That doesn't mean it isn't true, but the stories may be a bit more colorful than the actual facts.”
For decades, tunnels have been part of local lore. Based on the stories, the hidden routes allowed those worried about their reputations in the late 1800s and early 1900s to secretly enjoy Colorado City's nightlife.
Colorado City was the name of the Westside town until it was annexed into Colorado Springs in 1917. “Old Colorado City” has been the term used to market the historic area since the 1970s.
Adding to the town's rowdy popularity around the turn of the 19th century was the alcohol ban at that time in Colorado Springs, explains a general history of Colorado City that's part of the "Tunnels" book. The saloons were also
But there was more to Colorado City than debauchery, the book outlines, describing it as a “working man's town with factories, mills, repair shops for trains and a quarry.” The cultural mix included the Women's Improvement Society and Women's Christian Temperance Union, which would lead Colorado City to vote dry in 1913, five years before the nation did.
The tunnels themselves - those that are known - have long since been blocked off, but signs of where they started or ended are evident. A typical example is a basement wall where newer bricks have been cemented into a door-sized space.
Some tunnels were dug under Colorado Avenue (the south side had most of the bars) and others went south from there to Cucharras Avenue (which had most of the bordellos).
The five tunnel-linked tour stops were represented by these present-day businesses/locations: Safron's, Squash Blossom and Mother Muff's (2500 block of West Colorado Avenue), the Wobbly Olive (2600 block) and the Templeton Building (2500 block). The presentation for the latter stop used the porch of the one-time Templeton family house at Pikes Peak Avenue and 25th Street.
Another place on the tour was the 1859 Garvin Cabin in Bancroft Park (2400 block of the avenue). Relocated several times, it had no reported tunnel activity, but is one of the oldest buildings in the region and is often used by the OCCHS for its events.
Westside Pioneer article (Community: Old Colorado City History Center)