"To me no place could be more unattractive than Colorado Springs, from its utter treelessness."

- Isabelle Bird, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, 1879


Twenty years after the publication of Bird’s description of our city’s “utter treelessness,” the first reference of a landscaped median on North Nevada Avenue was mentioned in an article in The Weekly Gazette (June,1899). The greening of the city was powered by water from the El Paso Canal, and from the vision of two men: Charles Robinson, Secretary of the Municipal Art League of America, and from our founder, General Jackson Palmer, who desired Colorado Springs to be a “garden city”. As mentioned by Judith Rice-Jones, the “landscaped medians contributed to Palmer’s inspiration to 'provide open space so that city residents could never be deprived in their walks, rides, or sports of that glorious sense of being all out of doors.’” The leafy canopy and grassy medians are a unifying design element of the Old North End Neighborhood. NEW comprises the latest iteration of a long line of people who have planted and replanted the trees to maintain our gorgeous, graceful landscape.

Old North End Neighborhood
Historic Medians

         The presence of medians in Colorado Springs probably began when the town founders decided to provide for wide streets.  The plat of the original Town site specified street right of ways of 100 feet for streets and 140 feet for avenues.  Intended to preclude the possibility of traffic congestion, the generous width has been attributed to General William Jackson Palmer, who intended to allow a multiple-horse carriage to turn around without having to back up.

         The original roadways were dirt and the citizens objected to the resulting pools of water and subsequent dust.  Local quarries eventually provided gravel for the streets.  A street sweeping district was formed to remove animal droppings, but dust remained of primary concern.  In 1872, the edges of the roads were first improved by extending the El Paso Canal, which diverted water from Fountain Creek to irrigate grass and trees along the streets.  This practice continued until 1956 when Colorado Springs Utilities closed the canal.  Thereafter the medians were watered by hand until sprinkler systems were installed. Photographs from the turn of the century show substantial trees in the middle of Cascade and Nevada Avenues, irrigated by narrow ditches.

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Why We Must Work to Save the Historic Medians

  • The grassy, tree-lined medians are the single-most defining, unifying element of the streetscape in Central Colorado Springs.
  • They are part of the historic fabric of the neighborhood and are a testament to the wisdom of the “Colorado Springs, the City Beautiful” Plan established in the early part of the century.
  • The trees provide important buffers to visual, noise and air pollution; they slow the rate of rainwater runoff and erosion.
  • Traffic calming and increased safety result for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Their parklike effect draws people out of their homes to walk, sit on porches and visit with neighbors.

Judith Rice-Jones

We are truly grateful for the generous gift of these digital images from the Pikes Peak Library District.