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 him 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 to develop.
Colorado Springs was a teetotaling town, thanks to the Quaker influence of not only General Palmer, but many others 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, his friends and townspeople were devastated and erected a memorial in his honor. Over the years they collected monies to build a monument, but 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, 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 General Palmer considered the heart of the City. He had even located his beloved Acacia Park there.
The plan was to place the statue in the center of the street with the General facing Pikes Peak 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), they placed the statue in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Downtown Colorado Springs in early September 1929, with many thousands of residents in attendance.
The statue is the object of several local traditions. It is located within feet of the main entrance of Palmer High School, 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 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 so loved. It is unlikely that anything will ever induce the City to move it, even though it is a discussion that is brought up often.