The History of Palmer Lake Recreation Area
General William Palmer, a Civil War hero, came west and founded the city of Colorado Springs. He also started the Denver Rio Grande railroad from Denver to Colorado Springs. In 1872, he was credited for revealing Palmer Lake to the public when his passenger trains chugged up the divide and stopped in Palmer Lake to take on water from the lake. After a quick 10 minute stop, the train continued on to Colorado Springs. Passengers could get off the train at Palmer Lake and spend the day hiking, fishing or picnicking. The round trip from Denver cost $1.
Because steam engines required copious amounts of waters, the lake needed to be enlarged. Above the town, two reservoirs and a pipeline that carried water into the lake were built. One of the passengers on these trains was Dr. William Findlay Thompson, a wealthy dentist from Denver. He was charmed by the area and thought it would be an ideal spot for a health resort and vacation community. Dr. Thompson purchased 320 acres and platted the town. In 1886, he built a Victorian mansion, The Estemere, and the
town grew from there.
In the early 1900’s, a dance pavilion was built on the south side of the lake, so close to the lake it almost touched the water. It was an open air pavilion with drop down shutters that could be lowered in bad weather. There was a raised platform in the center for a band or lecturer. Dances were held there for many years.
Over the years, the lake and surrounding park has hosted many events and celebrations that have become town traditions. Ice skating on the lake was always a winter favorite made even better by a huge bonfire.
The Town of Palmer Lake and El Paso County entered into a lease agreement in 1986 that provided the County the opportunity to construct a playground, parking area, pavilion, and restroom facility on the east side of the lake. This area also became a
trailhead for the New Santa Fe Trail.
In 1996, the Lake Restoration Committee was formed to save the lake from silt buildup that was making the lake too shallow to sustain the fish population and causing other environmental issues. The lake was drained, dredged and refilled.
Due to the drought and the pipeline from the upper reservoir being shut off, the lake virtually dried up in 2003. The Awake the Lake Committee was formed to find a permanent solution to preserve the lake and bring the water level back to historic levels.