Horse Alleys: If You Don’t Mind, Please Park Your Horse Out Back

Without kids for the day, my husband and I decided to do a little cultural tourism in our own backyard. We headed over to Old Colorado City (1859), a national historic district in Colorado Springs, for some lunch and wandering.

Because I love, love, love (did I say love?) architectural walking tours, and because my husband is a good sport, we decided to follow a self-guided tour published by the Old Colorado City Historical Society before we ate lunch. Centered along Colorado Avenue, the tour focused on commercial buildings which were mainly grocery stores, fraternal lodges and saloons in their heyday.

But the real story here is in the space between those buildings…

As you walk down Colorado Avenue, every so often, you pass a tiny 6-foot wide surprise. Small buildings housing boutique shops and an art gallery fill in spaces left behind by “horse alleys”.

While there isn’t a lot of documentation on the horse alleys, from the few written references available, the history goes something like this:

Patrons of Old Colorado City would ride their horses to town to run errands and entertain themselves in the buildings lining Colorado Avenue. And while they took care of their business, the horses took care of their business. (If you know what I mean.)

By all accounts, Old Colorado City was a raucous town, full of gambling rooms, brothels and bars. But, it was also home to a group of visionary women. Women who, while putting up with a lot of disorderly conduct in their small town, drew the line at horse piles along the main street.

So, these women reportedly fought for rules that required a “horse alley” be left between any new buildings. And they won.

With the new laws in place, a visitor would ride their horse up to a store, and rather than tying the horse up out front, would instead dismount and chivalrously walk the horse through the alley to the back of the building.

     

Today, as you walk along the 2400-2500 blocks of Colorado Avenue, you can see where several of the horse alleys once were. At least one of the alleys is still open for pedestrian traffic, a narrow path allowing access to cars now, rather than horses.

There must have been other towns with horse alleys in the middle of blocks like this, but I don’t see a lot of information out there. Does your town have a history of horse alleys?

…..

Resources: Cathleen Norman, In & Around Old Colorado City, A Walking Tour. Colorado, Preservation Publishing, 2001.

Hughes, Dave. “The Horse Alleys of Colorado City.” Fresh Ink, June 23, 2010.

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19 thoughts on “Horse Alleys: If You Don’t Mind, Please Park Your Horse Out Back

  1. That’s a great book about the architecture of Old Colorado City – I read last year and recently started reading it again. Though I haven’t been able to ditch the kids for a day to actually be able to do the walking tour in OCC! Thanks for sharing the pics on the tiny alley buildings! I’ll have to look for those next time I am in OCC.

    • I know–it is a great book. We only did one of the walking tours–I think there are four or five in the book. My 2-year old may have to endure a long stroller ride so that I can do one of the routes focused on residential architecture…

  2. So great! I love learning little historical quirks like this one. My dad lives in Bisbee, AZ, a town that has changed very little in the last 100 years. There are little alley ways and mini-shops there, just like the ones you have pictured. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

    • Me too! I always get so much more out of a place when I know a little bit of its history. And, I feel like I read a travel article about Bisbee a while ago, and it sounded like a great place. I may have to make a trip there one of these days.

      • It is absolutely unique and I strongly encourage you to visit. There is no place like it. Everytime I go there I learn something new and since my dad is there, it has been my second home for the last 20 years. Tombstone is only 30 minutes away, as well. Very interesting for sure.

  3. Who knew? That’s a cool facet to learn about one’s city. I’m not sure if Seattle has horse alleys — but going on a historical walking tour is on my to-do list.

  4. I too, love learning about the unique history of places I travel to, or through. It’s cool that you took a tour close by. There’s so much a person can learn in their own backyard, too.

  5. Great story about the horses and the women of Old Colorado City! It’s so much fun to discover (or rediscover) the history of places close to home.

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