From Deadman's Trail

A USAFA Nearby Neighborhood History
by Bill Eckert

A USAFA Nearby Neighborhood History

The Land. Seventy million years ago Sun Hills (just east of Gleneagle) was a sandy bottom beneath the sea. Then volcanic pressure tipped up deep layers of hard igneous granite (laced with many other minerals including gold) to form the young Rocky Mountains. The entire center of the United States rose to drain the sea down to what is now the Gulf of Mexico. Colorado was left with a paradoxical mix of huge mountains and seabed fossils. Sun Hills was left with big sandstone rocks sitting in some of our yards, and sandy alluvial soil so loose that your house's foundation can slip if you water too much on the uphill side.

This sandy soil will grow almost anything if it gets enough moisture, but Mother Nature doesn't provide adequate rain & snow to support more than conifer trees, scrub oak, tough grasses and some great wildflowers. Yucca, small cactus and other desert plants are happy here.

The Dawson and then Denver aquifers are the first two aquifers below us, from which our individual wells draw water. As long as they last, we won't have to ask the State Engineer for permission to drill deeper, into the Arapahoe and then Laramie-Fox Hills aquifers (at great expense), or have to ask Colorado Springs to annex us so we might use the water it must pipe in literally through the mountains from as far away as Breckenridge. Water is the major long-term ecological concern of Colorado, of Colorado Springs, and of Sun Hills.

Pioneers Before Us. In 1833 the first settlement in what is now El Paso County--one of the original seventeen counties of the Colorado Territory formed in 1861--was Jimmy's Camp, at a natural spring about twelve miles southeast of Sun Hills (just north of Highway 24 near its intersection with Constitution Ave). A seasonal trading post offering trinkets, metal tools, rifles and liquor to the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa, Ute, Sioux, Crow and Comanche for valuable furs and buffalo skins, Jimmy's Camp was a key stop on the shortest trail (aka Trappers' Trail, Cherokee Trail, et al) below the Front Range from Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River through what later became Pueblo and Denver up to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, where it joined the Oregon Trail. Bent's Fort, also established in 1833, was just five miles east of today's city of La Junta--"the junction" of the Santa Fe and Navajo Trails. Kit Carson worked there as a hunter and scout.

In 1843 the famous explorer Captain John Charles Fremont described our area as "black masses of timber," and drew a sketch of it with the mountains in the background.

The 1858 discovery of gold along Cherry Creek caused both the 1859 Colorado Gold Rush ("Pike's Peak or Bust") and the founding of Denver. It also initiated the flow of frustrated gold miners and covered-wagon pioneers who settled along Monument Creek, which parallels I-25 just to the west of us on Air Force Academy property. With the establishment of Colorado City in early 1859, the two-day Colorado City-Denver stagecoach route began on May 1, 1859, passing nearby about where today's North Gate Road intersects Highway 83. As population grew along Monument Creek, the stagecoach was routed up what's now 30th Street, passing Garden of the Gods, coming out what's now Woodmen Road, and then following Monument Creek northward. By the time of the Civil War, small ranches were scattered around northern El Paso County, raising livestock & grain and logging in what is today's Black Forest.

Having been offered most of the Colorado plains by the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie--which the U.S. Senate never ratified but which to them was a fine point--by 1863 the Cheyenne and Arapahoe lost their sense of humor over the settlers inspired by the Gold Rush ("the only good Indian is a dead Indian") and by the new Homestead Act of 1862, and began attacking them. So in 1864 Governor John Evans issued a proclamation ordering Indians to assemble at four locations near Army forts. After some 500 had done exactly as ordered, gathering at Sand Creek forty miles northwest of Fort Lyon (near today's city of Lamar), on November 29, 1864 the Third Colorado Volunteers under Colonel John M. Chivington, including men from El Paso County, surprised the Sand Creek Indian camp and killed & mutilated over 150 (mostly women and children) of the 500 Indians present. Following this event described by a U.S. Congress joint committee report as a "foul and dastardly massacre," Indian attacks continued for years.

On September 1, 1868, Cheyenne and Arapahoe war parties killed several men around the tiny town of Husted (HYUsted), established in 1866 along Monument Creek by homesteading sawmill operator Calvin R. Husted, about 900 yards south of today's Air Force Academy North Gate. In 1869 the Walker family built a Husted house roughly at the North Gate.

In October 1871, General Palmer's Denver & Rio Grande Railroad ran its first train southward from Denver, along Monument Creek through Husted, to the civilized town of Colorado Springs that the General established that same year downhill from the more raucous mining-camp support town of Colorado City. To attract high-class tourists, Palmer built a “destination hotel” just uphill from his train station in Colorado Springs, naming it The Antlers. This short-grass prairie area below the mountains essentially had no trees beyond the cottonwoods along Fountain Creek, so Palmer had many planted, which is why the attractive older sections of avenues like Nevada and Cascade are lined with huge, beautiful trees today.

In 1876, Colorado became the 38th state of the Union. And the next year, 1887, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad put down a competing parallel track from Pueblo up to Denver, part of which was pulled up beginning in 1982 to make the 15-mile New Santa Fe Trail we hike along today from the Academy up to Palmer Lake.

The town of Husted grew on railroad business, as wood-fired/steam-powered sawmills proliferated in what General Palmer called "the Pinery" (today's Black Forest) to supply railroad ties as well as firewood to power the trains' steam engines. By the 1890s, Husted's population rose to 75, taking advantage of the railroads to ship out lumber used to build much of Colorado Springs, mine timbers, meat, grains (corn, wheat, rye) and dairy products from local ranches, and potatoes that grow well in our sandy soil. The town had a general store, post office, saloon, church, and round-house for helper engines added to pull loaded trains up the steep grade to Palmer Lake, where they'd be taken back off the trains and returned to their base at Husted.

The Palmer Divide is the local high ground running from mountainside Palmer Lake through Monument Hill and out to the southeast, which splits the South Platte River watershed northward to Denver from the Arkansas River watershed southward to Pueblo. The Divide rises high enough from the surrounding landscape to pull down added moisture from passing fronts--enabling Black Forest ponderosa pine growth amidst the surrounding short-grass prairie. This altitude also contributes to temperatures somewhat lower than Colorado Springs, so in winter the added moisture means added snow.

By 1894, southern Colorado--especially our Palmer Divide area--became one of the nation's major potato-growing regions, with some 20,000 acres producing about 2,000 railcars of potatoes per year. About 1900, the KK Ranch alone produced 36 railcars of them. Nearby neighbor Betty Steppler recalls that the family farm on Steppler Road, a couple miles northeast of Sun Hills, used to ship at least a railcar of potatoes each year out of Husted or Monument--potatoes planted and harvested behind a four-horse team. The potato beetle knocked down the potato business in our immediate neighborhood by the 1960s, but in your grocery store you'll find bags of them from the Canon City and Brighton areas.

Related Agricultural Digression: You might want to give potatoes a try in your garden. In a good year they can get real big, along with apples, pears, cherries, asparagus, corn, tomatoes, onions, zucchini, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and carrots grown here successfully by neighbors. Periodic dry years and our area's infamous late-spring/early-autumn frosts, along with various bugs and fungi, can spoil some of these garden goodies, but you'll find enthusiastic gardeners in the neighborhood, happy to share their successes (and, when the season is right, their excess produce...).

The Mining Museum curator's farmhouse, which you see when you drive by (the beautiful main museum building is farther back on the 27-acre site, behind the trees), was built in 1894 by Joseph and Sarah Reynolds from Pennsylvania, who would have known their Husted neighbors well, as they bought the land in 1889 and he was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1891. So we have this one tangible tie to pioneers who lived in our immediate area.

Interestingly, as Colorado Springs grew with the automobile, Husted shrank with the railroads--and with the stripping of marketable trees from Fremont's "black masses of timber." On October 15, 1920 the Colorado Springs post office took over the work of the Husted post office. By 1941, Husted had only six residents. In 1956, the U.S. Government bought the last remnants of Husted for $551.25, and completed razing of the town during construction of the North Gate area.

Husted contributed to the shrinking of the railroads with two major head-on train wrecks nearby. The one on August 20, 1909 occurred on what is now the grounds of the Air Force Academy, killing 11 people and injuring 56. The one on August 14, 1914 killed a number of people including helper-engine fireman Jack Gossage, who had just waved to his wife upon passing their Husted home. The unfortunate Jack, pinned at his post between engine and tender, was a grandfather of famous baseball pitcher Goose Gossage, who played for various teams 1972-94, including the New York Yankees, and who's active in Colorado Springs today.

You can see some remains of the East Husted station (razed in 1955) on the former Santa Fe RR line by walking 3/4 mile southward from the North Gate along the New Santa Fe Trail (public trail parking lot next to the North Gate). A trail marker points out the still-visible concrete base of the station site. You can see a few remains of West Husted--the main part of town, on the east side of the still-active Denver & Rio Grande RR track--by walking 100 yards westward from the same North Gate parking lot to the bridge over Monument Creek and down to the gravel road below (look up and see hundreds of cliff swallow mud nests under the bridge), then following that road southward 1/2 mile, alongside both Monument Creek and the active (be careful) Denver & Rio Grande RR track.

Along this walk you pass the Dead Man's Canyon area of Monument Creek, where in the rough early pioneer days cattle rustlers and horse thieves once were hanged (you are in the American West...). In later years, during Prohibition, the canyons of today's Air Force Academy sheltered a number of bootleg whiskey stills. You'll also notice the layered clay soil holding up the canyon walls. In 1927, the enterprising Mr. Will Shoemaker appreciated this thick clay along Monument Creek at Husted enough to open a clay pit that shipped a railcar-load of clay per day to the Standard Fire Brick Company of Pueblo.

You'll see a lot of wild foxes walking around, both red and silver. A rising fur fashion in the Roaring Twenties caused local folks to observe that our cool climate induces nice thick coats on foxes. So fox farms sprang up all around the Black Forest area and in the valleys of what is now the Air Force Academy. During the 1930s and 1940s, hundreds of thousands of fox pelts were produced locally each year. In 1937, Mr. Shelby's Black Forest farm alone shipped 200,000 furs. Then in the late '40s a trade agreement with the Soviet Union flooded the U.S. market with communist pelts and killed off the Colorado fox farms. Disenchanted local patriots obviously let some get away....

Home of the U.S. Air Force Academy. In 1950, when the Service Academy Board recommended that an Air Force Academy be built (and 580 sites were proposed in 45 states), our neighborhood consisted essentially of cattle ranches raising mostly Herefords & Angus. Big Midwest corn farmers liked to stay at the Broadmoor, in the still-small town of Colorado Springs, while buying calves to ship home for fattening and later sale to Chicago packing houses. Most local ranches were small--the Academy's present 18,455 acres were pulled together by a State of Colorado Acquisition Commission from 135 separately-owned properties. The June 24, 1954 front page of the Colorado Springs Free Press splashed the news of Colorado Springs' selection to host the new Academy. Local excitement was tremendous, and building lots in Palmer Lake shot up from the then-going price of ten dollars. At Denver's Lowry AFB on July 11, 1955, the Class of 1959 was assembled as 306 young men were sworn in to be the first cadets. In August 1958, the Cadet Wing moved into the Rampart Range campus.

Sun Hills. But just before the cadets came here, on April 9, 1958, one George E. Hardesty, listed as owner of land to be called Sun Hills Subdivision No. 1, filed a plat with the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder, paying a fee of $8.50.

As General Palmer was building his D&RG RR in 1870-71, associates began acquiring wooded land in today's Black Forest area, to feed huge railroad demand for wood. By 1885, their Colorado Pinery and Land Company had acquired over 40,000 acres, including land all around what's now Sun Hills.

After the Colorado Pinery and Land Company expired in 1905, on March 20, 1908 a court-appointed trustee deeded to Mr. B.C. Allen some 650 acres. Allen enlarged the ranch with other purchases.

In 1947 the Allen Ranch was bought by Channing Sweet and named by him Escondido (Hidden Valley). Sweet later authored a book titled A Princeton Cowboy, which describes his life as a Colorado cattleman, mentioning his grandfather's arrival here six weeks after Colorado Springs' founding in 1871, his grandmother's riding down from Denver on General Palmer's first D&RG RR passenger train that year, his own boyhood rides on the streets of Denver with neighbor and inventor F.O. Stanley in his "Stanley Steamer" (which had the power to climb any hill and thus gained popularity), and his father's being Governor of Colorado 1923-25.

In 1950 George and Stella Hardesty (Stella Drive) moved here from near Raton, NM (Raton Road) and bought from Channing Sweet 1600 acres @ $50/acre (which Sweet wrote was twice what he'd paid for it) what is now Sun Hills, Gleneagle, and Pleasant View Estates. The Hardestys raised registered Herefords, and called the property Pleasant View Hereford Ranch, which is why some of us have the remains of old cattle pens and loading chutes on our lots. They moved into the Sweet house on Smith Creek that sits under big beautiful cottonwoods--still there with its pond and brick silo on Spring Valley Drive, just south of Fox Run Park. They bought another 600 acres between today's Roller Coaster Road and Highway 83, north of North Gate Road, then later in the 1950s sold much of this 600 acres, including what is now Shamrock Ranch.

After Stella Hardesty died in 1957, George asked Max and Oleta Goodrich to move down from Denver to live at the ranch with him, and they stayed with George for five years. Upon coming here in 1957, Mrs. Goodrich recalls that Fillmore was the northernmost street in Colorado Springs.

Soon after Sun Hills was born in 1958, it grew to 147 lots of five acres each, particularly as Air Force buddies associated with the new Academy and the North American Air Defense Command down in Colorado Springs called each other to share the good news of five acres of Colorado, minutes from the new campus, available for $3,000 or less. By agreement with George Hardesty, ownership of Sun Hills passed through a Subchapter S corporation (limited partnership) composed of five active-duty Air Force officers working at NORAD, who pursued the platting-out of today's Sun Hills, sold the platted lots by word of mouth mostly around the Air Force, and paid Mr. Hardesty for the land out of sales receipts. George E. Brown became CEO of the Sun Hills Corporation, later retiring as a Major General. The majority of lots initially were bought by Air Force officers, including General Earle Partridge, the first CINCNORAD ('57-'59), who bought Lot 3 between Sun Hills Drive and Rangely Road. The five partners received one Sun Hills lot apiece, plus the undeveloped land west of Sun Hills, which would later become Gleneagle.

That same year, 1958, our neighbor and early Sun Hills Architectural Control Committee Chairman Joe Greco bought the lot on
Silverton Road where he lived until he sadly passed away in 2004. Joe had flown over in a B-25 bomber to check out the neighborhood and select a lot. The Grecos had their Silverton home built in 1972. Their contractor, whom Joe asked to build this first new "Sun Hills" house from a simple diagram Joe provided, was the same Max Goodrich who'd lived for years on the Hardesty ranch. The Grecos, being in Connecticut, never saw the house until after it was completed. How's that for trusting your builder?

Dave Weber, whose family also moved into their new house on the corner of Sun Hills Drive and Rangely later in 1972, recalls seeing elk and antelope in the neighborhood, and being deployed to Vietnam leaving behind wife and children in a Sun Hills home on a gravel road with no electricity or telephone. The local pioneer spirit lived on....

Gleneagle. As the five Air Force officers comprising the Sun Hills Corporation retired or were reassigned from NORAD to elsewhere in the country, they completed the selling of Sun Hills lots but in 1970 decided to sell their undeveloped westward property to the Donala Corporation, which then developed the shopping center and golf course and began selling lots. The recession kicked off by the tripling of oil prices with the '73 Arab-Israeli War forced Donala into bankruptcy, though you'll still see the name around, and the Skiland Corp took over in November 1973. But they did nothing with the land, and in January 1984 the Gleneagle Association LTD (named for a famous English golf course) purchased the remaining vacant lots. In May 1992, in turn, the Bethesda Corporation purchased remaining lots. Finally, in January 1995, with a majority of lots represented, the Gleneagle Civic Association took control of managing the covenants that protect owners of Gleneagle property, and does so today.

Pleasant View Estates. In the early 1960s George Hardesty decided to move to California to live with his nephew, and sold the remaining 400+ acres of his ranch to local chiropractor Bob & Georgia McCollom and their partners Ed and Peggy Morast. Bob McCollom took the lead in developing Pleasant View Estates, naming Stella Drive after George Hardesty's wife, and building his first Pleasant View Estates house at the corner of Stella and Raton. Dr. and Mrs. McCollom's children Becky, Tari and Deby have streets named after them just southwest of Fox Run Park.

Homeowners. The Sun Hills Association articles of incorporation, under the Colorado Nonprofit Corporation Act, were notarized October 18, 1982. The Association was formed to assist the burgeoning numbers of new residents and to help ensure compliance with the covenants that protect the Sun Hills community's beauty and quality--appointing a similar Architectural Control Committee made up of volunteer residents, which faithfully does its job for all of us today. When the Northern El Paso County Coalition of Community Associations, Inc. (NEPCO) was formed in the year 2000, to help coordinate homeowner interests in the area, the Sun Hills Association was an early and active member.

And Again the Land. As fast-growing Colorado Springs brings its professional and shopping opportunities northward toward Sun Hills, along with its traffic, our five-acre zoning, strong covenants, beautiful nearby Fox Run Park, trails and open spaces protect the natural spaciousness and quiet that allow us still to smell the pine forest from our front doors--to hear the breeze in the trees--and to enjoy the coyote singing to the moon on nights so crystal clear that you can gaze bare-eyed not only at stars, but at galaxies. Here we find deer, antelope, coyote, fox, raccoon, porcupine, and even an occasional bear wandering through our western country community. These normal sights, sounds and scents of frontier America are now experienced by relatively few. We are fortunate that they are part of our life in Sun Hills, along with the privilege of witnessing gorgeous dawns that paint our landscape with what "purple mountains' majesty" really means.

This always has been good-neighbor country, and it is now. Enjoy.

Improvements invited: Bill Eckert,, 27 October 2015

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