COBWEB CORNERS: Palmer’s friend, Dr. Bell

By Mel McFarland

       Dr. William Abraham Bell came to the United States from England just after the Civil War. The opening of the American West at that time was attracting many Europeans. In 1867, Bell was in St. Louis, looking for a medical position. General William Palmer was there at the same time, assembling a team to explore a railroad route to California. Palmer needed a photographer. Bell, with a basic knowledge of chemistry, took lessons, grasped the skills quickly and got the job.
       Along the way the two became close friends. Bell was from a fairly well-to-do English family, and Palmer had been in England before the war. Their California exploration did not result in a line being built, but when General Palmer started his own railroad, the Denver and Rio Grande, Bell was right there with him. He helped by finding English investors with financial backing. He also bought land along the way for the railroad and towns. Two of the towns he helped build were Palmer Lake and Manitou.
       Bell and Palmer traveled between England and Colorado several times in the late 1860s and '70s, and Bell was married in England in 1872.
       In addition to developing the plans for Manitou's streets, Bell built his home (the Briarhurst), a hotel and a church. Bell also started a resort called Manitou Park.
       Manitou Park was a scenic spot on the upper end of Ute Pass near a well-aged forest. Much of the old forest near Colorado Springs had burned in a fire in the 1850s. Only the high mountains and Black Forest had sizable lumber for building. The lumber from Manitou Park would help build Manitou and Colorado Springs, as well as help inspire the construction of a railroad up Ute Pass.
       By the turn of the century, both Bell and Palmer were moving out of the railroad business. Bell spent more and more time in England. He was there when Palmer died in Colorado Springs in 1909, but came back to pay his respects. Bell's last visit here was in 1920. He died in England in 1921.
       Many of the photographs Bell took in 1867 on the trip with Palmer have been lost, but he wrote a book about the trip and used some of those photographs.