It’s bisected by railroad tracks and sits in the shadow of the Drake Power Plant with its piles of coal and constant train traffic.
Mill Street is an authentic blue-collar neighborhood with plenty of character: gravel streets, missing sidewalks and colorful residents.
That’s right. This neighborhood less than a mile from the trendy restaurants, towering bank buildings and nightclubs of downtown still has gravel streets.
“It’s a neighborhood that was kind of left behind,” said John Himmelreich, neighborhood activist.
Some of its rough edges, however, are being smoothed away thanks to the work of folks like Himmelreich and others. Today, gravel is disappearing under pavement paid for by Community Development Block Grants. Curbs, gutters and sidewalks are being installed along with improved drainage systems and streetlights.
And, in a couple weeks, Mill Street will get a community garden.
“We’re getting in our time machine and heading 115 years into the future,” Himmelriech joked.
Volunteers led by Larry Stebbins and his Pikes Peak Urban Gardens are building the garden, backed by a $27,000 grant. The largest chunk will pay Colorado Springs Utilities a $9,200 fee to tap into the city water system and for a plumber.
Fencing also is a major expense, along with the lumber, the “grade A” topsoil and manure for planting.
When it’s done, folks will pay $15 a year for water and insurance and just grow.
All these improvement might never have happened if not for events in 1999 when civic leaders tried to build a $6 million facility to centralize city services for the homeless.
Then Utilities announced it would build a 500-foot-long railroad spur and store coal cars along Mill Street.
Residents organized, fought the shelter and won. The rail spur was built but even it provided benefits when 1.5 acres of cleared land was returned to the neighborhood and used to build affordable housing.
The neighborhood unity had a lasting impact. And Stebbins believes the garden will only help.
“The garden is in walking distance for most of the neighborhood,” Stebbins said. “It will bring the neighborhood closer together as they work and share and grow food.
“It’s going to be a beautiful garden.”
It will be just like the neighborhood. Some of it will be nice and new.
With a little dirt under the nails.