(PALMER LAKE, Colo.) — The Tri-Lakes area came to be known as the Tri-Lakes because of the three community lakes: Woodmoor, Monument Lake, and Palmer Lake. But, how did it come to be?

The historians at the Palmer Lake Historical Society at the Lucretia Vaile Museum take us back in time, to find out how things have changed over the years, and how some things remain familiar.

Before homesteaders took over, many Native American tribes inhabited the Tri-Lakes area.
But it was General William J. Palmer who officially put it on the map.

“He wanted to build a railroad. His first leg went from Colorado Springs to Denver, and steam locomotives need water as well as fuel,” said Rogers Davis, the Director of Lucretia Vaile Museum.

Palmer Lake was the only natural water supply between Denver and the Springs, and so a stop was added to the Denver & Rio Grande Railway route.

“So both towns prospered quite a bit from just the advent of the railroads,” said Davis.

On arrival of the railroad, Monument prospered as the commercial hub for the area. A couple of thriving industries at the time were ice harvesting and potato farming.

“The stockyards and shipping point for produce and things like that would have come through Monument,” said Davis.

Meanwhile, Palmer Lake enjoyed the tourists. The steam train would stop there to take on water, where passengers could get a quick bite to eat.

Judd’s Eating House, 1894. Courtesy: Palmer Lake Historical Society

“The Judd Eating House was the forerunner of the fast food joint because the train only stopped for 10 minutes… So nothing’s really new under the sun, I’ve spent more time than that in the McDonald’s drive-thru lane,” said Davis, half joking.

Some Denverites, however, would get off for a day trip, to enjoy the beauty of Palmer Lake. They would spend the day picnicking, fishing, boating, and hiking, which eventually led to its becomings as a resort destination in the 1890s.

Lucretia Vaile and her family were one of the first families to have a summer home at Palmer Lake. A home that still stands not far from the museum. Lucretia became an instrumental part of the community, hence the museum’s namesake.

“She was an avid outdoorswoman. She is reputed to have climbed 35 of the 14,000-foot peaks in colorado with smooth-soled shoes,” said Davis. “Anyone can do that deserves everyone’s utmost respect!”

Smooth-soled shoes, victorian bibs, top hats, and frock coats were the athleisure of the late 1800s.

Vaile family on a hike, late 1800s. Courtesy: Palmer Lake Historical Society

“That was hiking gear. The interesting thing about this photograph [describing the photograph above] is this is probably in July or August,” remarked Davis.

Another growth spurt came to the area in 1958 when the Air Force Academy officially opened. Woodmoor became the spot for staff of the Air Force Academy and military retirees to live.

Now almost 22,000 people call the Tri-Lakes area their home.

The Palmer Lake Historical Society and the Vaile Museum now serve as the main repository for Tri-Lakes history.

“We believe that’s our mission, as a 501(c)(3) [a non-profit], to preserve, restore, and educate about the true history of our neighborhoods and our part of the county,” said Davis.

The museum is open to everyone to learn more about the stories of how the Tri-Lakes came to be, every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and from June through August, they are also open on Wednesdays from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.