Dig of the Week: Garden of the Gods Dig

FILAMENT FOUND- Broken Light bulb filament is compared to a complete 1800’s era light bulb from Glen Eyrie Estate.

Photo Courtesy of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services

By Carla Charter

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO- Artifacts from the estate belonging to General William Jackson Palmer, and discarded by the estate in the late 1800’s were recently uncovered in a midden, an archeological term for a find of historical trash.

Palmer a founder of Colorado Springs and a wealthy railroad magnet, moved to Colorado Springs in 1871 with the goal of making the city into a “little London.” His estate, which he named Glen Eyrie, included a castle,  a stable, gardens and a greenhouse. “It was not just his trash. It was his families and entire estate’s as well, all the people who lived and worked with him,” said Anna Cordova, Lead Archaeologist, City of Colorado Springs, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, who made the discovery.

In 2012 and 2013 there were large fires above the estate area in the mountains which resulted in flooding.  A flood mitigation was begun to minimize future impacts, when the discovery of the midden occurred.  “I discovered the trash. There were two federal agencies installing drop structures which are artificially made drops in a creek that are created to slow down water in the creek to help prevent flooding. They were doing some work along the creek.  Some Ute tribes had asked me to watch for artifacts as they worked on the drop structures,” Cordova said.

An access road had been built to allow construction vehicles to access the creek. “I went out and there were artifacts where vegetation was worn away due to the road. A previous identification survey had labeled the area as an ineligible trash scatter of little significance. It was believed to be smaller than what it turned out to be because the vegetation had covered it, she said.

Many items uncovered were from residents from a higher socio-economic station, so it wasn’t too hard to make the connection to Palmer.   Certain articles found were undeniably from Glen Eyre.  “We found the bottom of light bulbs with the filament still in tact and paper with the patent number and serial numbers on it. If someone had lightbulbs from this date in Colorado Springs it was someone who had money. When we showed the current castle owners the bottom of the light bulb filament the owner pulled out a light bulb box with the same serial and patent numbers that we had,” Cordova said.

“Along with the light bulb we found a white enameled brick It said Chicago on one side and Tiffany on the other side. I googled Enameled Tiffany Brick Co. and Chicago and Palmer’s name. A magazine catalog for the company came up from 1904 stating “Our bricks were used in the following locations.” Among those locations listed was the home of General Palmer. Its rare to have the specific thing identified,” Cordova continued.

In 1907 Palmer fell off his horse and was paralyzed from the neck down. Even paralyzed he could afford care. “We found of the early IV bottles. Its possible it did not belong to him. His daughter also had tuberculosis but I am not sure that was treated with an IV.  Among the other items found are peoples shoes horse shoes, a huge variety of complete dishes and saw cut bones all dated from 1870-1920.

The midden was discovered in November 2016. The actual excavation began in October 2018 and went on for eight weeks. Cordova added, “The excavation site is very dense and there is not a whole lot of repetition in artifacts. I feel it may be the site of my career. He was the Rockefeller of the West, except that we don’t have Rockefeller Midden.”

The City Parks and Recreation Department are also responsible for the Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum.  “We are planning a display on Palmer in 2021 for the 150th anniversary of Colorado Springs There is the possibility of a display of items also at the Garden of Gods Visitors Center. The Glen Eyre Castle is available for tours.