‘They Moved Where?’ – Why Florence, Colorado Is More Than Meets The Eye

May 20, 2021
Incorporated in 1887, Florence is a statutory city of 3,800 people located in Fremont County, Colorado. Incorporated in 1887, Florence is a statutory city of 3,800 people located in Fremont County, Colorado. Matt Cavanaugh
Incorporated in 1887, Florence is a statutory city of 3,800 people located in Fremont County, Colorado.

The following is part of KRCC's 'Peak Past' essay series.

They moved where?” I said to my wife.

My in-laws built a house in Florence this past fall, about 40 miles south of Colorado Springs.

In my head, I thought …"the prison-place? Really?

I didn’t know how wrong I was.

On a recent visit to those in-laws, I found Florence is a blast from the past in all the right ways. 

Highway 115 runs right through town, and you can’t help but notice oil is everywhere—a huge sign says “Historic Oil Town” and you can actually turn on “Petroleum Avenue.” 

That’s because the town is part of the Florence Oil Field, where oil was first discovered in 1862 and is recognized as the oldest oil field west of the Mississippi River. 

That oil comes from the Pierre Shale rock formation, of the Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago.

The Pierre Shale is the host formation for commercial oil deposits in the Florence and Canon City fields.

We took the kids to Pathfinder Park, on the banks of the Arkansas, and were greeted by a 20-foot high sculpture of the early American explorer and politician John C. Frémont.

Yes, “United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility Florence”—AKA “supermax”—is nearby. It still holds the perpetrators behind some of America’s worst memories, like the Boston Marathon Bombing and 9/11.

But, like life, those bad memories sit alongside the good ones.

Florence is the Antique Capital of Colorado. When they looked for a town name, an early surveyor suggested the name “Florence” after the three-year-old daughter of one of the town’s pioneers. And so it was that a little girl gave a town its name.

Now I’ve got two reasons to go back again—first, for my in-laws (of course), but Florence’s cool backstory makes for a close second. 

Until our next mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

Peak Past with 2 logos Pueblo Recycleworks and Gold Hill Mesa

Peak Past (formerly Peak Perspectives) is a weekly segment written and voiced by Matt Cavanaugh, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and a resident of Manitou Springs where he lives with his wife and two young children. Through his writing, Cavanuagh explores life in the Pikes Peak region, including the gradients and subtleties of our lives in the shadow of America's Mountain. 

You can find more work by Cavanaugh here.

KRCC's Abigail Beckman manages the "Peak Past" series. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of KRCC or Colorado Public Radio.

Peak Past is sponsored by Pueblo Recycle Works and Gold Hill Mesa.

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