I wish that American courtrooms still looked like the one on the third floor of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. Elegant design and artistic craftsmanship like that just aren’t around much anymore. I wanted a good photograph of it, so I stood at the back of the courtroom so that I could capture the ornately decorated, coffered ceiling, the stately bench, and the exquisitely worked paneling that outlines the room.
As the paneling comes together on either side of the judge’s bench, it borders a recessed and equally ornate backdrop that draws the courtroom visitor’s attention to the front and center of the room. That’s as it should be. The tall backdrop that nearly touches the ceiling coupled with the bench’s height reemphasize that the judge is the person in charge of the proceedings. The majestic atmosphere reminds you that this is a room where important proceedings are conducted and impactful decisions are made. It’s so real and so well restored that I can imagine any number of film directors who would love to film their next courtroom drama using this place as their stage.
Actually, I wish all buildings today could look like the one that houses the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. They just aren’t built like this anymore. Completed in 1903, the building is the former El Paso County Courthouse. Built in the Italianate design on the east and west side and the Doric design on the north and south side, it’s facade has a base of gray granite blocks topped with large gray concrete bricks. Extending from the top is an ornate clock tower that has working clocks on each side. Had someone placed me in front of the building without telling me where I was, I would have guessed, from the building’s majestic appearance, that I had been transported to some European city. It’s that impressive.
On the same floor as the courtroom are several other exhibits. One traces the history of medical care in the Pikes Peak Region. Many came to the region in the 19th century seeking relief from tuberculosis, one of the most common infectious diseases of the period. Few survived beyond any reasonable amount of time, and, not unexpectedly, none were cured. The Albert Glockner Memorial Home was the first facility built for the treatment of tuberculars in the late 1800’s in the Pikes Peak Region. Treatments included plenty of fresh air, bed rest, and a bizarre diet that included, among other things, excessive amounts of milk and raw eggs. Did it work? Probably not, but it offered the best that 19th-century tuberculars could hope for.
One tubercular who came to the region hoping to cure his TB was Artus Van Briggle. Using the local clays, he combined Chinese pottery glazes with his Art Nouveau style. He fought off the insidious disease for five years, and, despite his affliction, left a legacy of pottery making the product of which is still desired by collectors around the world. Van Briggle Pottery & Tile is still in business, and some of his work is on display on the second floor.
In another the history of the region from the perspective of the American Indian is displayed. The exhibit, entitled Cultural Crossroads: Highlights of the Museum Collection, has the useful items that somehow American Indian craftspeople made durable enough for daily use, yet beautiful enough to be collected and preserved as works of art. One is a beaded dress that is so meticulously decorated that it weighs 50 pounds. Two others are cradleboards. Indian infants stayed in the boards for the first year of their lives, but again utility is not without artistry. The extra length provided for the attachment of a sunshade while also leaving room for creative designs.
The objects showcase what the Indian craftsman could make. But how did they obtain the diversity of components? Well, in that regard, they weren’t much different than their European counterparts then or even today. The trade network that existed in the American West amongst Indians and the European settlers was extensive and complex. Tribes traded with tribes so much that it is not inconceivable to assume, that by the time a Ute acquired some raw material, he or she had no idea where it originated from. Are we any different? No. Think about it. Where did the leather in your shoes come from or the marble on your floor. More than likely, they and many other raw materials that you and I consume originated overseas.
Other displays include One Man and His Vision: General William Jackson Palmer, a glimpse into the life of Colorado Springs’ founder; the Helen Hunt Jackson House, the novelist and advocate for American Indian rights whose home is on display inside the museum; Behind the Lens: Photography in the Pikes Peak Region, a history of photography technology and its use in the area; and the Murals Of The Pikes Peak Region, the work of artist Eric James Bransby whose spectacular murals depict the history of the region from 1540 to 1960.
Have I listed everything that there is to see and learn here? No. It’s not necessary, and I see no need to give it all away. I, at the least, want to provide enough of a glimpse into what you will experience here to motivate you to visit it. It’s worth your time, about two hours of it and maybe more. So if you are in the area, make the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum one more educational and enlightening diversion on your next museum road trip.