Mary Colter’s Watchtower

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All the sudden I am fascinated with Mary Colter.  While she is a figure from our past (born 1869), I find her a fascinating character.  When her father died at only 53 (who refused her pleas to go to Art School), she struck a deal with her mother that she would use what little money he left to pay for her to go to school.  She would then get her education and become a teacher to provide monies for her mother and young sister.  Her mother agreed, and Mary moved her mother and sister from St Paul, MN to California to go to the California School of Art and Design.  There she got her architecture degree in 1890, and as promised got a job teaching to support the family.

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By 1902 she was hired by Fred Harvey to design a style of architecture that would become known as Rustic National Park, used by most National Parks to follow.  Her association with Fred Harvey lasted for 48 years.  Many of the Fred Harvey buildings she was associated with have been since demolished by the railroads.

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But the Grand Canyon remains the single largest treasure trove of Mary Colter works , including the Lookout Studio, Hopi House, Hermit’s Rest, and the Watchtower, all of which continue to thrive and entertain… albeit, unfortunately as gift shops today.

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One of her last ‘masterpieces’ was the Watchtower at the Grand Canyon-South Rim.  It was built in 1932.  It was modeled after several Indian towers, mostly all already in ruins.  She wanted a tower that could serve as a spectacular vantage point to take in the awesome Grand Canyon vistas.

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But she wanted it to last… so she had it built with a concrete and re-bar support structure on top of which the ‘boys’ had to cull the landscape to find the individual stones from the natural environment to plaster on the exterior.  Individual stones would pop out to cast eclectic shadows, and different styles and designs from different tribes made up the exterior.

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The inside was painted by the then well known Indian painter, Fred Kabotie, based on ancient drawings provided by Colter to assist in the decorations.

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It is a fascinating building, and largely intact from the original tower devised by Mary Colter… though one can no longer go onto the roof, and glass window panes have been added for safety reasons.

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If you find yourself at the Grand Canyon – South Rim, don’t miss the Watchtower, as it is a fascinating piece of living history outside a stunning landscape.

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See more Grand Canyon – South Rim photos … here.




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