The Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind (CSDB) was established in Colorado Springs in 1874 and is the only school of its kind in the state. The school’s buildings, constructed largely in the early twentieth century, were designed by major local architects such as Thomas Barber and are united by a common Collegiate Gothic style. The school continues to serve deaf and blind students in Colorado through traditional on-campus education, outreach programs, and an instructional materials center.
In the United States, schools for the deaf started in the early nineteenth century—the first opened in Connecticut in 1817—and spread rapidly in the later nineteenth century. When CSDB opened in 1874 as the Colorado Institute for the Education of Mutes, it was the thirty-sixth school for the deaf in the country.
CSDB was founded by Jonathan R. Kennedy, who had deaf children and had worked at a school for the deaf in Olathe, Kansas, before coming to Colorado in 1873. In Denver he quickly gained the backing of Colorado’s territorial governor and convinced legislators to appropriate $5,000 to establish a state school for the deaf. Colorado Springs was chosen as the site of the school, and city founder William Jackson Palmer donated ten acres of land east of downtown for the school’s campus.
While waiting for the campus to be developed, the school opened its doors on April 8, 1874, in a rented house at the corner of Cucharras and Tejon Streets. Seven students occupied a two-story building with four rooms on each floor. The building was clearly inadequate, so in 1875 the school board commissioned the first building on the land Palmer had donated at the corner of East Pikes Peak Avenue and Institute Street. By 1876 the main part of the first Administration Building was completed, and the school moved to its new home.
The first two decades of CSDB were a period of growth and change. The campus added four and a half acres of donated land as well as several additions, including an expanded Administration Building, a school building, a girls’ hall, and a vocational building. (None of these early buildings survived.) In addition, the school was opened to blind students in 1877, and changed its name to the Colorado Institute for the Deaf and the Blind. In the 1890s CSDB adopted its current name. The school taught a variety of subjects and vocational skills to a mix of residential and day students.
Local architects Thomas Barber, Elmer Nieman, and Edward Bunts helped define the look of the CSDB campus over the first half of the twentieth century. Early buildings were in an eclectic Late Victorian style that combined elements of classical, Gothic, and Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. Later additions settled into a standard Collegiate Gothic style similar to that of many American college campuses developed around the same time, with steeply pitched roofs, arched doorways, and plentiful windows. In the 1950s and 1960s the school moved away from stone construction and Collegiate Gothic design to more modern structures, but the campus retains an essential unity thanks to the similar style of its early twentieth-century buildings.
Enrollment at CSDB peaked at about 350 students in the 1970s but started to decline after 1975, when the state started to fund programs for handicapped students at local public schools. Today CSDB serves nearly 250 residential and day students plus more than 300 children in its infant and toddler program.