Man on the Iron Horse
In 1871, William Jackson Palmer, a Delaware Quaker, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and a Civil War General, brought the steam locomotive (the Iron Horse) across country with his Denver and Rio Grande Railway Company, and he was often referred to as the Man on the Iron Horse. His goal was to build a City with a healthy quality of life, and he bought land just south of Denver at the base of Pikes Peak.
Colorado Springs was a teetotaling town, thanks to the Quaker influence of not only General Palmer, but many others that he brought with him from his younger days. Colorado Springs was a thriving Western town, and General Palmer was its hero.
In 1906, General Palmer was thrown from his horse at his beloved castle Glen Eyrie in Garden of the Gods, and was paralyzed. Against all odds, he survived and thrived for three more years. When he died in 1909, the townspeople and friends were devastated and decided to erect a memorial in his honor. Over the years they collected monies to build a monument, but with the advent of World War I, the money that had been collected was donated to the War effort.
In 1922, the project to complete the statue was again underway, but because it had taken so long, the $20,000 that they thought they would need to complete the statue was now a whopping $30,000. An all-out effort was put out throughout the community, and by mid-1929, everything had fallen into place, including the location.
Because motor cars were becoming more popular, there was great opposition from auto-clubs trying to prevent the placement of the huge statue on twenty tons of concrete in the center of Nevada and Platte, a location that General Palmer considered to be the heart of the City, and even located his beloved Acacia Park there.
The plan was to place the statue in the center of the street with the General facing west on a bronze likeness of his beloved horse Diablo, and call him the Man on the Iron Horse. Despite opposition (which continues to this day), the statue was placed in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Downtown Colorado Springs in early September 1929, with thousands and thousands of residents in attendance.
The statue is the object of several local traditions. Palmer High School is at the same intersection as the statue, and their rival school paints a ‘W’ on the horse each year. Another tradition is for the Cadets from the Air Force Academy to paint a certain part of Diablo’s anatomy blue each year (for their school colors, of course). Being in a well-lit, busy location makes these undertakings the very definition of ‘stealth.’
To this day, the statue continues to be a traffic hazard. But the Man on the Iron Horse is as much a part of the City as the Peak that Palmer so loved, and it is unlikely that anything will induce the City to ever move it, even though it is a discussion that is brought up often.