Saturday, June 22, 2024

His Magnificient Distraction

Post by Doris McCraw

aka Angela Raines

"His Magnificent Distraction " - A First Lady of the Pikes Peak Region

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 them, they had a hand in creating the Denver & Rio Grande Railway (and its various iterations). Started Colorado Fuel and Iron. Invested in real estate and helped make 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 talks 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 parent's 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 hat 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 his 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 built 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".

Until Next Time: Stay safe, Stay happy, and Stay healthy. 


Thursday, June 6, 2024

Trunks and Steamers by Zina Abbott

 This is a continuation of the series on early luggage. You may find my first post titled “Carpetbags and Portmanteaus” written in March, 2024, by clicking HERE

Luggage in the mid-to-late nineteenth century meant some form of travel trunk. They were most commonly used for extended periods away from home or long trips abroad. Trunks, with their more rugged construction designed to hold up during travel, are different from lighter-weight chests, which were intended for storage.

Travel trunks were large and cumbersome boxes which, even when they were empty, could weigh more than a hundred pounds. Anyone wealthy enough to travel hired servants to move and load these trunks. Porters and bellhops bore the burden of moving them while travelers were in route. 

1890s trunk converts to a dresser

In the nineteenth century, trunks were often crafted with the best materials and designed to withstand the harsh conditions of early modes of travel. Steamships and stagecoaches were the main method of transport at the earlier time, followed by railroad. Trunks had to be exceptionally sturdy and heavy to withstand their journeys. They were decorated with leather and fine upholstery, cross sections and slates of painted wood, and heavy duty metal, such as brass, hinges and clasps, and leather coverings to resemble the style of furniture at the time. They often included personal inscriptions and manufacturer’s details.

Hat Box Trunk

However, all these materials that made trunks durable also made them heavy. Many trunks were so heavy and bulky that, in many cases, those traveling by stagecoach were usually not allowed to load their trunks onto the stagecoach. Stagecoach passengers with trunks were often were required to make arrangements with a freighting company to transport the trunks and steamers separately. That was why many such travelers also carried necessary items in a carpetbag or portmanteau, which could be loaded onto a stagecoach.

Long-distance travel, especially before the days of the railroads, was usually an involved process. In instances where an individual or family emigrated across the ocean to a new country, they brought everything of value packed in their trunks.

Saratoga Trunk

Most early trunks were designed with a rounded or dome-shaped top—probably for stability and durability to withstand other heavy items being piled on top. Trunk styles including barrel-tops and Saratoga steamer trunks, often included elaborate tray systems for transporting and storing a full range of items.

There were many styles of trunks such as, Jenny Lind, Saratoga, monitor, steamer or cabin, barrel-staves, octagon or bevel-top, wardrobe, dome-top, barrel-top, wall trunks, and full dresser trunks. These differing styles often only lasted for a decade or two.

Steamers differed from other trunks in order to comply with steamship regulations. Typically, they were fourteen inches tall with flat to slightly rounded tops so they could be tightly stacked within the ship’s berth during transport.

Top quality steamer trunks designed for travel on steamships were made of wood and leather. They often had a heavy iron base to prevent the trunk from being crushed while sliding around among other heavy trunks. They were also covered in canvas, leather, patterned paper, and often tree sap to make them as waterproof as possible as a protection against leaky ships.

Cabin Trunk

Cabin trunks were smaller versions of steamer trunks. Designed with low profile tops to fit under seats, they were considered the carry-on luggage of the time. 

Cabin trunks often included several compartments to store valuables that would otherwise be kept in the main luggage hold and subject to theft or damage.

One producer of high-end luggage was Louis Vuitton of Paris, France. He made a name for himself in the mid-1850s by introducing his slat trunk, considered a pioneering design. Although he died in 1892, his trunks are considered valuable collectors’ items.

Louis Vuitton steamer trunk

His trunks were covered in canvas sheathing, held well-designed drawers and had a flat top that made stacking much easier. This was a departure from the typical travel trunks of the day, which had rounded tops.

Seward Trunk Company factory in Petersburg, Virginia

Seward Trunk Company was founded in 1878 in Petersburg, Virginia. It was once the largest manufacturer of steamers, trunks, footlockers, and other luggage in the United States. The original company has gone through a few buyouts and consolidations. The original factory was put on the National Register of Historic Places, but it burned to the ground in 2018.

The use of classic trunks for luggage was widespread through the first two decades of the twentieth century but began to fade in popularity thereafter in favor of the modern suitcase.

Footlockers were a form of trunk used by the military. I still have my father’s old footlocker from his years in the Army Air Corps/U.S. Air Force. Although lighter weight than the old heavy wooden trunks of the nineteenth century, I would not want to carry it far. It is quite a departure from the old knapsacks and haversacks carried by soldiers in the nineteenth century, which I featured last month. You may find that post by clicking HERE


I first wrote about travel trunks in Jocelyn's Wedding Dilemma, my book in The Matchmaker and the Mother-in-Law series. To find the book description and purchase options for both ebook and paperback, please CLICK HERE




My heroine in Florence's Good Deed also traveled. Although she only carried a carpetbag, her beautiful cover shows several examples of early luggage. To find the book description and purchase options for both ebook and paperback, please CLICK HERE