Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
William Jackson Palmer
William Jackson Palmer (September 17, 1836 - March 13, 1909) was a civil engineer, soldier, and industrialist. He was a Union General during the American Civil War. He also was founder and president of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Palmer founded the City of Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1871, as well as several other communities.
Childhood, education in railroad engineering
William Jackson Palmer was born to a Quaker family in Leipsic, a small coastal town in Kent County, Delaware on September 17, 1836. When he was five years old, his family moved to the Germantown section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a young boy, his fascination with steam locomotives spurred him on to learn all he could about railroads.
In 1853, at age 17, Palmer went to work for a railroad building company working near Washington, Pennsylvania on a line to Pittsburgh. He was sent to England and France to study railroad engineering and mining.
Upon his return, in 1856, Palmer went to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) where he rose to the position of Private Secretary to PRR President John Edgar Thomson. With the PRR, Palmer was exposed to the inner workings of the railroad empire and learned the state of the art of railroading in general.
Young Palmer explained to Thomson that, from his observations in England, coal could replace wood as the railroad's fuel source. The PRR was then in an "ecological" crisis, burning 60,000 cords of wood per year and rapidly stripping the right-of-way of all trees. The Pennsylvania Railroad became the first American railroad to convert to coal. Over the next four years, Palmer was most concerned with the problems of efficiency and power in combustion. Among his collaborators in experimental industrialism were the PRR vice president Thomas A. Scott , and Scott's assistant, Andrew Carnegie, an immigrant from Scotland one year older than Palmer.
American Civil War
As the American Civil War began in 1861, although his Quaker upbringing made Palmer abhor violence, his passion to see the slaves free compelled him to enter the war. Palmer took a commission as a Colonel in the Union Army. Palmer was an expert scout and effective military recruiter for the Union cause, helping with the formation of the 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry .
In 1862, he was captured by the Confederates while scouting before the Battle of Antietam within Confederate lines in civilian clothes while gathering information for General George McClellan. When questioned he gave his name as W.J. Peters, and claimed to be a mine owner on an inspection trip. While the Confederates did not know he was a spy, his circumstances were suspicious. He was detained and sent to Richmond, Virginia and incarcerated at the notorious Castle Thunder prison on Tobacco Row. He set free in a prisoner exchange and rejoined his Regiment in February, 1863. Palmer was very vigorous in pursuing Confederate General John B. Hood after the Battle of Nashville in 1864. At the end of the war he was released and he was given the Congressional Medal of Honor. He retired at the rank of Brevet Brigadier General.
Post-war: building the western railroads, Colorado
After the War, Palmer resumed the railroad career he had started previous to the conflict. In 1867, a very optimistic, eager 30-year-old Palmer, and his 21-year-old chief assistant Edward H. Johnson, headed west from their homtown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Palmer was the construction manager for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, mapping routes through New Mexico and Arizona to the Pacific coast.
The Kansas Pacific Railroad was an enterprise of the Pennsylvania Railroad, whose president John Edgar Thomson had employed Palmer as his personal secretary before the War. Under General Palmer's direction the Kansas Pacific was extended from Kansas City, Missouri, reaching Denver, Colorado, in August, 1870. Upon completion of that line, Palmer founded his own railroad, the north-south Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, whose first section was a Denver to Pikes Peak area line.
Palmer met Mary Lincoln (Queen) Mellen while she and her father, William Proctor Mellen , were on a train going to see the West. They were married November 8, 1870 in Flushing, New York where the Mellen family lived at the time. On their honeymoon in the British Isles, Palmer saw narrow gauge railroading in operation and realized the advantages for use on his own line, with substantial initial savings in manpower and materials. Furthermore, the narrow 3-foot gauge lent itself to mountain construction with the ability to take sharper curves and steeper grades. Thus, Palmer's Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad was built in narrow gauge.
He was delighted with the new area. In 1871, he acquired 10,000 acres (40 km²) of land east of Colorado City. He called his new community Colorado Springs. Saloons and gambling houses were not welcome in Colorado Springs, and if one wanted alcohol, they had to travel to the more unruly Colorado City, or nearby Manitou Springs, to get it. Production or sale of alcohol was illegal in Colorado Springs until 1933, when Prohibition was lifted nationally.
Palmer built his dream home, which he called "Glen Eyrie" near Colorado Springs in the northwest foothills north of the Garden of the Gods rock formations (now a park). After building a large carriage house, where the family lived for a time, Palmer and Queen built a 22-room frame house. This house was remodeled in 1881 to include a tower and additional rooms.
Queen Palmer, at age twenty-one, opened the first public school in Colorado Springs in November, 1871. The Palmers had three daughters, Elsie, Dorothy, and Marjory.
In 1880, Mrs. Palmer suffered a mild heart attack and was advised to move to a lower altitude. She and the girls moved to the East Coast and then to England where General Palmer visited them as often as he could. Queen died on December 28, 1894, at the age of 44. In sorrow, General Palmer went to England to return Mrs. Palmer's remains and the girls to Colorado Springs.
Palmer set upon making his railroad extend from Denver to the Country of Mexico, but failed in his bid. His north-south narrow gauge railroad was subjected to conflicting right of way issues from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, and the U. S. Supreme Court ruled against his interests in 1880. In 1901, Palmer sold the Rio Grande Western Railroad and retired.
In his later years, he enjoyed being the benefactor to the Colorado Springs community, and was well liked by the people. In 1906, Palmer, who preferred the horse to the newly invented automobile, suffered a fall from a horse while on a ride with his daughters and a friend and was paralyzed.
His last hurrah before his death was the invitation and hosting of the Union veterans of his beloved 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment troopers for their annual reunion in 1907 at his cherished home in Glen Eyrie. It was held there because General Palmer was unable to travel as usual after his accident, and was confined to a wheelchair. Most of the surviving troopers, over 200, attended that memorable reunion.
Typical of traditionally black colleges and universities, the school which is now Hampton University near Fort Monroe at Hampton, Virginia received much of its financial support in the years following the Civil War from former officers and soldiers in the Union Army. One of those Civil War veterans who gave substantial sums to Hampton University was William Jackson Palmer. "Palmer Hall" on the Hampton University campus was named in honor of the good general's financial support.
Queen Palmer Elementary School in Colorado Springs in named in honor of William Palmer's wife, Mary (Queen) Mellen Palmer.
William Palmer was the land grantor of several institutions in Colorado Springs, including Colorado College, the (International Typographical Union's) Union Printer's Home, the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind , and Cragmor Sanitarium, a tuberculosis sanitarium which later was re-founded in 1965 as the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS). He also gave funds for the founding of Colorado College and was one of its founding trustees. Palmer also gave land for several churches in central Colorado Springs. "Palmer Divide", a geographic feature north of Colorado Springs, and the community of Palmer Lake, Colorado are named after him, as is Palmer Park in Colorado Springs.
A statue of William Jackson Palmer (upon his horse) is found at the intersection of Platte and Nevada Avenues in downtown Colorado Springs.
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