Briarhurst Manor's History
The stately Victorian Manor House was built in 1876 by the founder of Manitou Springs, Dr. William Bell
of London, England.
The finely grained pink sandstone Tudor Manor displays the architecture and landscaping of an English Country House, complete with the bubbling Fountain Creek passing through the estate and offers an unrivaled view of Pikes Peak. The Briarhurst Manor is listed on the National History Registry in Washington D.C. Today you can visit a true glimpse of the old west at this beautifully preserved fairytale mansion.
Born in 1840 in Ireland into London Society, Dr. William Bell's upbringing and education was that befitting a "gentleman" of his time. His father, also a physician, had a practice that "doctored Royals". It was assumed that William would join him. The Briarhurst Manor and Dr. William Bell became part of western history and the Pikes Peak Region by a quirk of fate.
In 1867 at the age of 27, Bell left London for St. Louis, Missouri to attend a series of lectures on the medical principles of homeopathy (those theories later developed into modern immunization.) In 1867, shortly after the Civil War, St. Louis was a chaotic "Gateway to the West". His sense of adventure heightened, watching an endless stream of humanity and wagon trains depart on the arduous journey west.
By the end of the medical lectures, Bell decided to stay in America for awhile and applied with the Kansas and Pacific Railroad for a survey and mapping expedition. The position of doctor was filled, but a photographer was needed. Bell took a crash course in photography, purchased equipment and was hired by the railroad. Leading the survey was General William J. Palmer. The friendship that formed between the men became a life-long bond.
They shared a vision of building a corporate empire and formed a business partnership. Both were astute businessmen and complimented each other. They founded the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.
America's economic environment provided unheard opportunities for prosperity, attracting eager European investors to the riches of the "new world". The narrow gauge D&RG RR extended a spur into Manitou Springs. An aggressive marketing campaign with brochures and pamphlets promoted the health benefits and ease of travel. The resort became so successful, it was called the "Saratoga of the West".
With his business ventures firmly in place, Bell returned to England in 1872 to marry Cara Scovell, a childhood sweetheart. By July, the newlyweds arrived in Colorado and that fall, began construction of their new home on the banks of Fountain Creek. They called it Briarhurst Manor.
Under Cara's direction, Briarhurst Manor became the social center of the community hosting the internationally famous of the day. In cultural contrast, on occasion, a tribe of friendly Utes camped on the Briarhurst estate grounds while preparing to go into the Garden of the Gods, "a holy place of worship".
Easterners and investors from England arrived in a steady stream and an entire community sprang up around the fashionable health resort. The town was designed like a European Spa with luxury hotels, parks and shops. The hotels provided entertainment, hiring popular bands of the day for dances. Wealthy visitors often brought their families and household staff and stayed for months at a time.
In 1876, Colorado became a state. Bell and Palmer found life brisk with the demands of their 30 or so businesses. Briarhurst remained a refuge for Bell. Although his business interests carried him through the southwest, and on numerous trips back to England, he could count on returning to Cara, his four children and the tranquility of Manitou, but even that was not without excitement.
One winter night in 1886, while William was away on business, Cara awoke to a bedroom filled with smoke. Burning embers escaped from a fireplace in the Briarhurst. She woke the children and servants. Cara stayed in the burning house and with the help of the gardener, Ferdinand Schneider, they rescued William's prized oil painting by Thomas Moran, the "Mount of the Holy Cross". The family escaped safely., but lost all of their belonging and "went home" to England. They returned the following spring, to begin reconstruction of a second, more elaborate Briarhurst Manor, complete with schoolroom, conservatory, cloister and a library with a special alcove to display the "Mount of the Holy Cross".
By the close of the century, William Bell's thoughts were turning more to retirement and his homeland. By 1890, Bell liquidated many of his holdings in the United States, and entrusted the Briarhurst Estate to the capable hands of Ferdinand and Amalia Schneider, both long term employees. They lived on the estate grounds, in the gardener's cottage. The Bell family moved back to England.
In March 1909, Bell was called back to America on a sad mission. His partner, General Palmer, had died following and extended struggle with spinal paralysis resulting from a riding accident.
William and Cara paid a last visit to Briarhurst and their Manitou resort in March 1920. Dr. Bell announced to the newspaper reporters that this would be his last trip, saying that he was no longer able to take the long sea voyage back and forth to England. On June 6, 1921, William Bell died at the age of 81 of a heart condition. Cara, his "magnificent distraction" lived until 1938, to the age of 85.