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Sunday, September 2, 2018

"His Magnificent Distraction " -First Ladies of the Pikes Peak Region


Welcome to the second in my ongoing series about the 'First Ladies' of the Pikes Peak Region.
Part One - Elizabeth McAllister



You may wonder about the title of this post. As you will soon learn, this lady had reason to be so adored.

Cara Georgina Whitmore Scovell Bell was born in March of 1853 in Dublin, Ireland to Whitman and Caroline Mary F. Scovell. She married Dr. William Abraham Bell on May 8, 1872 at Saint James, Westminster, London, England.

So who was Dr. William A. Bell? William was born in April 1841 in Ireland to an English physician also named William Bell. He studied medicine at Cambridge University and practiced at St. George's Hospital after receiving his degree. He came to the US in 1867 where he met General Wm. Jackson Palmer. The two became fast friends. Between the them, the had a hand in creating the Denver & Rio Grande Railway (and it's various iterations). Started Colorado Fuel and Iron. Invested in real estate and helped create the towns of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs, Colorado.

After establishing his various businesses, and medicine was not high on his list, Bell returned to England to marry Cara. Upon her arrival in  Manitou Springs, Bell set about showing what he had accomplished, and to have her meet his friend Palmer. Traveling by wagon, they visited Palmer's home in Glen Eyrie, the Garden of the Gods, the mineral springs, and Bell's sheep farm in Monument some twenty miles away. According to sources Cara seemed to thrive on these 'arduous' jaunts. Her only insistence was that her chef, Antonio Manasterlotti, accompany them. (Much to his discomfort according to history)

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Dr. William A. Bell and Cara Bell
from Pinterest - date unknown
Bell also set up a dairy farm and cheese factory in the Wet Mountain Valley, some seventy-five miles away. Other than some complaints from her chef, she appeared to love the trip to the area. It's fun to read her writing where she calls her husband, Willie and talk about her journeys. It seemed whatever or wherever 'Willie' wanted to go, Cara was up for the trip.

Cara was also a devout Episcopalian and set about searching for donors to build a church in Manitou Springs. The plans she had drawn up of an English church actually became the Manitou Railway station.

One of the promises Cara had William make was that their children would be born in England. Of course this meant some arduous travel in the 1870s-80s, but William was good to his word.  Their first child, Rowena was born January 26, 1874. Rowena at the age of three months was left with a wet nurse at Eastbourne, William's parents home and the two returned to America.

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The Briarhurst Manor today- a fine dining restaurant
photo from Wikipedia
At twenty-one, Cara set up housekeeping and was thrilled when her daughter Rowena could join them. When the temporary church was built, Cara would conduct the choir rehearsals and play the organ. It was said she pumped the organ with such vigor her feathered had would fly off.

Although five children were born to the couple, only four made it to adulthood. The Bells, Cara, William and the children traveled constantly. When home, the doors were open to guests from all over the world. Cara would tell visitors "The roof is your introduction", and despite her absent-mindedness, everyone loved William's vivacious wife.

I will end with the story of the Thomas Moran painting, 'Mount of the Holy Cross' that Cara convinced the painter to sell to them when they visited the gallery while on a trip to England. When they returned, the painting was mounted in the library. It was viewed and admired by the many guests who visited The Briarhurst Manor, as their home was named, including President Grant and wife. When William was away in 1886, a fire broke out. Cara, upon smelling smoke, got the children from the house, then stayed and with the help of a servant, cut the painting from its frame and escaped the house. The house was destroyed, but the Bells build a new brick home that remains standing today. As for the original painting, it now resides in the Autry Museum of the Old West. View the Painting Here

There is more to Cara's story, but time and space limit the telling. The Bells returned to England around 1900 to retire. William passed away on June 6, 1921 at the age of eighty-one. Cara followed in December of 1937 at the age of eighty-four. She was living in Chelsea, London, England at the time.

Cara was a helpmate, adventurer, mother, hostess and one of the 'First Ladies' of Manitou Springs. She was William's "Magnificent Distraction".


Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Member of National League of American Pen Women,
Women Writing the West,
Pikes Peak Posse of the Westerners

Angela Raines - author: Where Love & History Meet
For a list of Angela Raines Books: Here 
Photo and Poem: Click Here 
Angela Raines FaceBook: Click Here




14 comments:

  1. Another wonderful piece. Such an interesting life. I can't believe she travelled all the way to England to have a baby back then!

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    1. Of all the things Cara did, and there were quite a few, it was her going back to England to have her children that amazed me also. I confess, as I research and add to the knowledge I have on these women, the more I respect them.

      I'm glad you enjoyed Cara's story.
      Doris

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    1. You are welcome. I found their story so fascinating. Doris

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  3. I love the title of this post. So romantic!I wonder why they returned to England with all they'd established in Colorado. I'm amazed she traveled back to England to have her baby. When I read about the people out west back then I'm surprised by how much traveling and territory some of them covered without our modern ways and means. Great post, Doris!

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    1. Patti, There story is really a romance set to the backdrop of the opening of Colorado to the world. And they had a hand in that opening. I just can't imagine sailing to England five times to have a child either.

      Like you, I can't imagine traveling like these folks did. So many stories, and I'm having fun researching them. Glad you are enjoying.

      I think they returned to England, for that was where most of their families had remained when they moved over to the states. Doris

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  4. I never tire of hearing of these lives; excellent choice of words! Thank you!

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    1. You are welcome. Glad to here that the stories of these women still mean something to others. I want to keep them alive for future generations. Doris

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  5. I'm such a big fan of your blogs, Doris, and this one particularly appealed to me, prompted, I'm sure, by your wonderful title and me being an incurable romantic. Wealth does have its perks, thus enabling Cara to return to England to give birth to her babies. It's obvious she was fiercely English abd proud of her heritage. I just can't imagine leaving my newborn with a wet nurse and traveling thousands of miles away--why not bring the wet nurse along? So relieved the daughter did eventually join her parents in Colorado. I look forward to reading more stories of the ladies who came out west.

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    1. Thank you Elizabeth. You just made my day. There is so much to their story, and some major digging may be required to find all of it. Maybe someday, but what a plot for a book. LOL. One thing that consistently happened, the servants wanted to stay here instead of returning to England. I have the feeling she did with with all her children, wet nurse, then the trip over. It may be the trip that made her leave the children until they were older.
      Doris

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  6. Every time I read about the miles and miles people traveled back then to get...well...anywhere, I am reminded that I shouldn't whine about traveling in the comfort of my car and on well-maintained highways. Cara was certainly a determined woman to go back to England to birth her children. Wow.

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    1. The more I researched her, the more I wanted to know. I agree, I have no reason to complain either, but I still do. *grin*. Someday, I may find the time to really dig into her life. Thanks for your insights. Doris

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  7. An interesting post. I have to say I would never be as brave as Cara. I know it must have been so hard for her to have 5 children and only one surviving to adulthood. Wonderful post.

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  8. Actually four made it to adulthood. Still, I don't know that I could have done the things she did. At the same time, that was what she and others like her knew. Maybe if I'd grown up that way, I might not have though anything about it. Food for thought.

    I am glad you enjoyed Cara's story. The more I read about her, the more I'm enamoured of her and her life. *Smile* Doris

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