Old Colorado City was once the stuff of a John Wayne movie.
Nestled between what is now Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, the small town was then known as Colorado City and was teeming with gambling dens, brothels and saloons. Native American encampments dotted the landscape, cowboys trotted on their mounts, and Laura Bell McDaniel was a lady with street cred.
Founded in 1859, Colorado City functioned as Colorado’s territorial capital and wealth center for a short time due to the gold that flowed from Cripple Creek. It was the first stop for the miners on their way down the mountain, where they squandered their newly acquired wealth on hedonistic pastimes.
And we celebrate its rich history every year with Territory Days, when the free Memorial Day weekend festival takes place on Colorado Avenue between 23rd and 27th streets.
“This is a celebration of Colorado’s original territorial capital and all that comes with it,” said Jim Wear, president of Pro Promotions and organizer of Territory Days.
You can still see some of the history today, if you take a stroll through Bancroft Park in the heart of Colorado’s Old Town. Garvin’s Old Cabin, built by Dr. Charles Garvin in 1859, functioned as the Territorial Capital building, until some Washington, DC government guys came for a visit. They looked at the rudimentary cabin before heading to Denver, where people there showed off a grander building, and told the DC group they would give it up to become the state capital.
A few years later, in 1917, the history of Colorado City came to an end, when it was annexed by Colorado Springs.
This year’s event is particularly significant for Wear, as it’s the first festival since 2019 that hasn’t been canceled due to the pandemic.
“Two years of cancellations is almost like starting over,” Wear said. “We have a full band schedule, a full suite of vendors, features and entertainment. We look forward to having what will feel like traditional, regular Territory Days.”
Attendees can expect all the music, homemade craft vendors, festival food and beer garden adventures of yesteryear. Slight changes include more space for spectators in Bancroft Park due to renovations over the past three years and an expanded children’s area.
As always, parking could be a struggle. Visitors are encouraged to use the free shuttle departing from Coronado High School throughout the weekend. Or ride your own bike or a bike from PikeRide, a self-service e-bike. The non-profit organization will offer free valet parking to all bike users, and if you ride a PikeRide to the valet tent, your ride will end for free.
Wear loves the festival for its volumes of free entertainment on three stages.
“It’s not like most of your music festivals, which cost hundreds of dollars for a ticket,” he said. “If you can get there, you don’t have to spend a dime. There is no other festival in this area that offers the number and types of vendors and bands that Territory Days offers.”
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