The Palmer Lake Star at 500 Highland Road lies on a steep 58 percent slope of Sundance Mountain west of the Town of Palmer Lake. Built in 1935 to spur civic pride during the depths of the Great Depression, the 457-foot-wide star represents the star of Bethlehem and is lit throughout each December. Mountain Utilities, the Palmer Lake Volunteer Fire Department, the Palmer Lake Historical Society, and countless local volunteers have been responsible for the construction and maintenance of the star for more than eighty years. When lit, the star is visible from Interstate 25 and Colorado Highway 105, and can even be seen by aircraft flying to and from Colorado Springs.
Early History of Palmer Lake
The Palmer Divide is a ridge between Denver and Colorado Springs that runs east from Palmer Lake, separating the Arkansas River and South Platte River drainage systems. In the 1860s, homesteaders and ranchers began to settle the area and founded the town of Monument in 1865. In 1871 William Jackson Palmer purchased the lands known as Monument Farms and Lake Property to expand his Denver & Rio Grande narrow gauge line through the region, using water from Palmer Lake to replenish the railroad's steam engines.
In 1882 Dr. William Finley Thompson envisioned the Town of Palmer Lake as a vacation spot and health resort for people suffering from tuberculosis. In 1887 Thompson built the Estemere Mansion as his family home, but he soon faced bankruptcy and had to leave Palmer Lake to raise capital. Despite Thompson's financial hurdles, the community of Palmer Lake continued to grow and was incorporated in 1889. The Rocky Mountain Chautauqua—a vacation university that offered classes in religion, nature, and the arts from 1887 until 1910—as well as the mild summer temperatures attracted seasonal visitors to Palmer Lake. The Rockland Hotel accommodated tourists for several decades until it was destroyed in a fire in 1920. This tragedy, coupled with the rise of the automobile and decline of railroad traffic, contributed to a drop in Palmer Lake tourism in the early twentieth century.
Erecting the Star
In 1935 Mountain Utilities regional manager B. E. Jack proposed the construction of a large, glowing monument in the form of a star to demonstrate the resolve, determination, and pride of the citizens of Palmer Lake. He met with local restaurant owner Bert Sloan to plan this, hoping the star would inspire the citizens of Palmer Lake during the Great Depression. At the time, the phenomenon of hillside monograms in the United States was about thirty years old; it began in 1905, when the University of California erected a seventy-foot letter “C” on a hill overlooking the Berkeley campus. After that, hillside monograms became popular throughout the American West, with more than 500 letters and symbols adorning hills across the country.
The Palmer Lake Star was part of this tradition, as its construction showcased civic pride and community involvement through local cooperation. Arthur and Reba Bradley consented to the use of their land on Sundance Mountain. With its steep grade overlooking the town and Highway 105, it was a perfect site for the star. The star was designed by Byron Medlock, while electrical plans were drawn up by Mountain Utilities linemen Richard Wolf and C. E. Rader. Mountain Utilities donated most of the building supplies, with the Town of Palmer Lake chipping in $140 to help fund the project.
Local volunteers, including Gilbert Wolf, Floyd Bellinger, George Sill, Jess Krueger, and even Sloan’s German Shepherd Dizzy, hauled supplies up the side of Sundance Mountain and dug post holes to stabilize the elevated light posts. After three months of hard work, the volunteers completed the star, which consisted of thirty wooden posts and ninety-one light bulbs arranged in the outline of a five-pointed star. At first, the points of the star were out of proportion when viewed from a distance, so adjustments were made to improve the star’s appearance and symmetry.
Since 1935 the Palmer Lake Star has been lit up every December. The star is illuminated from the Saturday after Thanksgiving until New Year's Day, as well as on holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day. In addition, the star is occasionally lit for special occasions such as the return of the Iranian hostages in 1981.
Updates and Maintenance
The Palmer Lake community has continued to demonstrate civic pride with its efforts to maintain and update the Palmer Lake Star. Since 1937 the Palmer Lake Volunteer Fire Department has taken care of the star. Although many Palmer Lake citizens have helped maintain the star, one family has embraced the responsibility more than most: Jesse Krueger and his sons Harry, Orville, and Kenny cared for the star during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
In January 1966, the Bradleys deeded the site of the star to the Town of Palmer Lake, and in 1973 Harry Krueger bought a house at the foot of Sundance Mountain, becoming the star's on-site caretaker. In 1976 Krueger and Carl Frederick Duffner led a campaign to update the star's wiring and light fixtures and replace its wooden posts with steel posts. This time a helicopter simplified construction, flying the new steel posts, wiring, and concrete to the star site.
Further improvements to the star came in the early twenty-first century. In 2002 the volunteer fire department led a fundraising campaign to restore the star. The electrical wiring was updated to meet new standards, and an automated remote control was installed to improve accessibility. In 2014 Palmer Lake Elementary School students raised $1,000 to replace the ninety-one incandescent bulbs with more efficient LED bulbs.
In 2013 the Palmer Lake Star was listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. The star stands as a definitive local landmark and a monument to community identity and civic pride. Each November, the volunteer fire department hosts a chili dinner fundraiser and raffle; the winner gets to light the star that year.