In Monument Valley Park along the west banks of Monument Creek in downtown Colorado Springs, sheltered by a grove of towering old trees just past the pedestrian bridge, sits an octagonal concrete pad with a stone well in the middle.
But the well is abandoned and there are only hints to what stood there decades ago.
Two holes in the well’s concrete cap reveal where a steel pipe once was attached to a hand pump and another to a drain.
Along the perimeter of the large concrete pad, steel bolts protrude — evidence of benches now long gone.
You have to really use your imagination to guess this was the site of a large, Spanish-style pavilion with ceramic roof tiles, stucco walls and eight arches surrounding one of the alluvial springs that gave the city its name.
This was Tahama Springs and the elegant structure — gone nearly 50 years now — protected a steel hand pump used to draw water.
It also sheltered three large, round bronze plaques, or medallions, honoring city founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, explorer and Army Lt. Zebulon Pike whose name graces our signature mountain, and Chief Tahama, the Sioux Indian from Winona, Minn., who befriended Pike and became famous as an Indian ally to the U.S. government who even fought for this country in the War of 1812.
Tahama was known for his trademark stovepipe hat, as a powerful speaker, as a liaison between whites and Indians and as the “one-eyed Indian” after a childhood accident left him blind in one eye, according to the South Dakota Historical Collections.
The Tahama Springs pavilion was built in 1926 and suffered heavy damage in the Memorial Day flood of 1935 that killed upwards of 18 people in the region, destroyed every bridge over Monument and Fountain creeks but the one at Bijou Street and did $1.7 million in damage.
A second major flood in 1965 killed two children, washed out roads and bridges, and caused millions of dollars in damage, including destroying the Tahama Springs pavilion. The exact location of the shale formation which produced the mineral water also was lost.
Ever since, various groups have tried to generate interest in rebuilding the spring. But none has gotten very far until now.
A new coalition including the Historical Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation, Colorado Springs Utilities and even a couple young professionals who don’t even work in the city any longer, among others, are making a strong push toward restoration.
They have hired experts to conduct civil engineering of the site, scope out the spring with an underground cam and take water samples for testing.
In addition, an architect has produced drawings to guide reconstruction of a pavilion.
And a Mitchell High School freshman even created a small model of the proposed pavilion.
Soon they will try to raise $250,000 to finance restoration and reconstruction of the pavilion and provide a trust for future maintenance.
It’s an exciting time for Jeff Long and Tim Boddington, preservation alliance members, who have hoped for this project to take flight for years. They were thrilled when a pumping company drilled and located the spring.
“After all these years we did find the spring,” Long said. “It’s still there. We’re really excited about it. The HPA has been wanting to do this for years.”
Tahama Springs is one of three that once attracted visitors with jugs and bottles eager to fill them with the “health-giving drink,” according to a Nov. 2, 1941 story in the Gazette and Telegraph.
Its waters were valued for their high levels of calcium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, sodium chloride and a handful of other minerals. They were not dissuaded by the “negligible amounts” of lithium revealed by a “spectrascope.”
A key feature the coalition hopes to reproduce is the bronze artwork of Palmer, Pike and Tahama.
After the 1965 flood, the medallions disappeared. Efforts to find them have failed.
“The Gazette even wrote a story about the missing medallions in 1998 or so but no one came forward,” Boddington said. “We’d sure like to find them.”
One of the most interesting aspects of the restoration push is that two key players — LeeAnn Westfall and Nick Kittle — no longer work in Colorado Springs. Kittle even moved away when his job with the city was eliminated.
Westfall is the sustainability coordinator for the Douglas County School District and Kittle works for Adams County and lives in Parker. But both are committed to the Tahama Springs project. Westfall is focusing on fundraising while Kittle is leveraging his relationships from his days at City Hall to push the technical aspects of the project forward.
“We had several questions to answer including: Is the spring still there,” Kittle said. “Then we had to find out if the water is drinkable.
“When we tested it, we found a flow rate of two gallons of water per minute.”
The question of its drinkability will determine how the project proceeds. Will they try to install a filter system to purify the water coming out of the new pump or will they simply tap into a nearby CSU water main and turn it into a glorified drinking fountain, as Kittle described it?
“We want to restore it to the most historically accurate structure possible,” Kittle said. “That’s our goal.”
Either way, all involved seem determined to see the structure built, one way or another.
I wondered why Westfall and Kittle would be deeply involved since both have had to go out of town to find jobs.
“We are just so committed to the community,” Westfall said. “It’s important for the city to know young professionals care.”
For Kittle, the issue is personal.
“For me, this project is a passion,” he said. “When I tell people about this project, they get really excited. Just because you leave doesn’t mean you don’t care. This is a labor of love for me and for all of us. It means a lot to be able to say I helped preserve something that is a big part of our history.”
I have no doubt this group will live up to their rallying cry: “We’re going to put the springs back in Colorado Springs.”