William A. Bell - CSPM

William A. Bell

William Abraham Bell, friend and business partner of General William Jackson Palmer, was born in Ireland in 1841 and received his B.A. and  M.B. (Medicinae Baccalaureus) degrees from Cambridge University. William and wife Cara built Briarhurst Manor, a “country estate” in Manitou Springs. In 1886 William Bell was away on business when Briarhurst burned. With her children and servants safely outside, Cara rescued the family’s irreplaceable Thomas Moran painting, “Mount of the Holy Cross.” Eventually, the Bells returned to England, and the painting was acquired by the Autry Museum in Los Angeles.

– From the CSPM Curator of History

In 1867 William A. Bell travelled to the United States and soon signed on to a Union Pacific Railroad Eastern Division survey party, first as a photographer, and then later as a physician. The railroad was eventually renamed the Kansas Pacific Railway, and the survey party sought a southern route from Kansas to California. On the expedition Bell became good friends with General William Jackson Palmer, the survey party leader. Bell later described, “On that survey we shared the same tent for many months and over the campfire we discussed Palmer’s plans.”

After leaving the survey, Bell travelled back to England where in June of 1868 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and in 1869 published New Tracks in North America. Well received in England and in America, the book is a detailed account of the survey expedition including chapters on people and cultures of the Southwest, geography, climate, and flora and fauna

In 1870, Bell welcomed Palmer to England and they met with potential British investors and immigrants, while also consulting engineers about new narrow-gauge railroads. “We visited the Ffestiniog Railway in Wales and adopted a three-foot gauge for the planned new railroad.” By late October 1871, their Denver and Rio Grande Railway was completed from Denver to Colorado Springs. In 1872, the track was finished to Pueblo and the Canon City coal fields, opening up Southern Colorado for development.

Bell and Palmer forged a lasting partnership with a shared vision. In addition to the D&RG, Bell founded the town of Manitou Springs. After the D&RG built a spur into Manitou, the two conducted a campaign to promote the health benefits of the resort’s waters. This success earned Manitou Springs the nickname “Saratoga of the West” after Saratoga Springs, New York. Interestingly, good friend and business partner General Palmer – along with other residents in Colorado Springs – always referred to William A. Bell as Dr. Bell, although he never held an M.D.

In early 1872, Bell married Cara Scovell in England. Returning to Manitou Springs, they built their Victorian home, Briarhurst Manor, on the banks of Fountain Creek. With Bell’s continued promotion of Manitou Springs, easterners and investors from England came. Quickly a community grew with luxury hotels, parks, and shops. Wealthy visitors brought their families and household staff and stayed for months at a time. Due to the influx of British residents, their penchant for afternoon tea and English sports – Colorado Springs became known at least for marketing purposes, as “Little London” for a time in the late 19th century.

By 1890, William A. Bell liquidated many of his holdings in the United States and retired to England. He returned in 1909 when General Palmer died. William and Cara Bell last visited Briarhurst Manor in 1920, and Dr. Bell died on June 6, 1921.

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