Man on the Iron Horse Downtown Colorado Springs

Man on the Iron Horse

In 1871, William Jackson Palmer, a Delaware Quaker, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and Civil War General, brought the steam locomotive (the Iron Horse) across country with his Denver and Rio Grande Railway Company. They often refer to him as the Man on the Iron Horse. His goal was to build a City with a healthy quality of life. He bought land just south of Denver at the base of Pikes Peak to develop his dream.

Colorado Springs was a teetotaling town, thanks to the Quaker influence of not only General Palmer but many friends 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 paralyzed when he was thrown from his horse at his beloved castle, Glen Eyrie, in Garden of the Gods. Against all odds, he survived and thrived for three more years. When he died in 1909, friends and townspeople were devastated and erected a memorial in his honor. Over the years they collected monies to build a monument. With the advent of World War I, the collected monies were donated to the War effort.

In 1922, the project to complete the statue was again underway. Because it had taken so long, the $20,000 they thought they would need to complete the statue was now a whopping $30,000. An all-out effort went throughout the community. By mid-1929, everything had fallen into place, including the location.

Downtown Colorado Springs Traffic Hazard

Motor cars were becoming more and more popular. There was great opposition from auto-clubs trying to prevent the placement of a huge statue in the middle of a busy road. The monument was to sit on twenty tons of concrete in the center of Nevada and Platte Avenues. General Palmer considered the location to be the heart of the City. He had even located his beloved Acacia Park there.

The plan was to place the statue with the General facing Pikes Peak on a bronze likeness of his beloved horse Diablo. The townspeople wanted the monument named the Man on the Iron Horse. Despite the opposition (which continues to this day), they placed the statue in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Downtown Colorado Springs in early September 1929. Many thousands of residents were in attendance.

The statue is the object of several local traditions. It is located within a few dozen feet of the main entrance of Palmer High School. 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 challenging and 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 dearly loved. It is unlikely anything will ever induce the City to move it, even though the discussion is brought up often.

By Mimi Foster

About the Author

Mimi has received the honor of being voted one of Colorado Springs' Best Realtors five years in a row. With over two decades of experience, she is committed to making the home buying/selling process as easy and enjoyable as possible. Read Full Bio…

Helping buy and sell homes throughout Colorado Springs,
Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, and surrounding areas




6 thoughts on “Man on the Iron Horse Downtown Colorado Springs”

  1. Mimi – I was having a conversation with my husband about who was on that horse downtown and we found your article and I was delighted to see your name on it! And to see your picture, oh, dear friend from VSPC! I recently saw a realtor’s sign near my home by Valley Hi golf course also with your name one it. Busy girl, Mimi! Keep it up.

  2. Just curious is it just an urban myth or did students (in 70’s or ’80) fill Diablo with water so he would be seeming to relieve himself? Thanks

    • I have heard the same “legend,” Cindy. Especially during the 70s, I imagine it was totally true. And if not (I could find nothing to prove or disprove), it’s still a good story. Thanks for commenting!


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