Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins

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Discover Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins, which consists of the historic Buckey O’Neill Cabin and the Red Horse Cabin.

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Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2012, dates back to 1935.


Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins was constructed amid the great economic calamity that affected most of the world during the 1930s.

The Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins are an integral part of the Grand Canyon Village National Landmark Historic District. Specifically located along the Grand Canyon’s Southern Rim, this amazing holiday destination is actually a complex of historic structures that include several cabins and a central lodge. While most of the current buildings located on site date to the 1930s, the earliest structures harken back some 40 years prior to a stagecoach line once operated by James Thurber.

Thurber had initially operated a small wooden lodge to service the passengers of his business, who were interested in hiking along the nearby Bright Angel Trail. To help meet their demand for accommodations, Thurber purchased a small cabin that belonged to a man named Buckey O’Neill. A contemporary of Theodore Roosevelt, O’Neill had left the cabin without an owner when her perished while fighting in the Spanish-American War. Thurber would then erect a series of tents throughout the grounds, debuting the entire facility as the “Bright Angel Hotel and the Bright Angel Camps” shortly thereafter.

Thurber would not own the location for long though, as he sold his interests to an aspiring hotelier named Martin Buggeln. Around the same time, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway began expanding through the Grand Canyon’s Southern Rim. The railroad cooperated with Buggelin for a while, as it endeavored to construct the El Tovar Hotel a few miles to the east. But when the El Tovar finally opened in 1905, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway bought-out Buggeln in a bid to control the local tourism industry.

Through its subsidiary—the Grand Canyon Railroad—The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway would operate the Bright Angel Lodge and Bright Angels Camps for the next several decades. It would renovate the complex considerably, building new cabins and tents. The greatest renovation came in 1935, when the railroad decided to completely refurbish the complex. It hired renowned architect Mary Colter to head the design team. Colter completely renovated the interior of the wooden lodge, while also removing most of the other original structures. She built new rustic cabins in their stead that featured beautiful National Park Service Rustic-style architecture. The only building that Colter preserved besides the lodge was the O’Neill Cabin. Colter also added another historic structure to the complex known as the Red Horse Cabin, which had served as the Post Office for the Grand Canyon Village. These fantastic recreational structures have been known as the Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins ever since.

  • About The Architecture +

    Bright Angel Lodge & Cabins, a member of Historic Hotels of America, consists of an iconic lodge and its surrounding cabins are rich with cultural history. Over the years it has gone through many transformations – originally a hotel, then a camp, and finally a lodge. All of its changes were to accommodate increased visitation after the arrival of the train in 1901. Under the direction of the Santa Fe Railroad, Colter was tasked to design a fresh look for Bright Angel Lodge. She drew inspirations from many local sources in her architecture. For example the ”geologic” fireplace in the History Room featuring all of the rock layers of Grand Canyon, from the river cobbles to the youngest stone strata on the rim. Included in this lodge design were a couple of historically significant structures that might well have been demolished without her intervention – the Buckey O’Neill Cabin, originally home to one of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and the Red Horse Station, which served as the post office for 20 years.

Image of Historian Stanley Turkel, Historic Hotels of America Image of Stanley Turkel's Book Built To Last Historic Hotels of America.

Guest Historian Series

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Nobody Asked Me, But… No.206;

Hotel History: Mary Elizabeth Jane Coulter (1869 – 1958)

By Stanley Turkel, CMHS

A pioneering American woman architect and interior designer whose distinct architectural knowledge was steeped in the culture and landscape of the Southwest. As the architectural historian for the Fred Harvey Company, she designed hotels, restaurants, gift shops and rest areas along the major routes of the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe Railway from 1902 until her retirement in 1948. Yet few of the nearly five million people who visit the Grand Canyon National Park every year are aware of Mary Colter and her accomplishments. No wonder she’s been called “the best-known unknown architect in the national parks.”

Born on April 4, 1869 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she was the daughter of Irish immigrants William Colter, a merchant, and Rebecca Crozier, a milliner. She experienced a transient childhood moving with her family from Pennsylvania to Texas and Colorado before finally settling down in Saint Paul, Minnesota at the age of eleven. In 1880, Saint Paul had a population of 40,000 people and a large minority of Sioux Indians, survivors of the Dakota War of 1862 which forced many to leave the newly-formed state.

Mary Colter graduated from high school at the age of 14 and after her father died she attended the California School of Design (now the San Francisco Art Institute) until 1891 where she studied art and design. Established by the San Francisco Art Association in 1874, the California School of Design, one of the first art schools in the West, provided its students with a comprehensive art education. For fifteen years Colter taught drawing at Mechanic Arts High School and lectured at the University of Minnesota Extension School. Her first design commission came when she met Minnie Harvey Huckel, daughter of the founder of the Fred Harvey Company.

In 1902, Colter started working for the Fred Harvey Company as an interior designer and practical architect. Her first assignment was to create an interior design for the Harvey Company’s newest project: the Indian Building adjacent to Harvey’s Hotel Alvarado in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Alvarado was designed by architect Charles Frederick Whittlesey (1867-1941) who trained in the Chicago office of Louis Sullivan. In 1900, at the age of thirty-three, Whittlesey was appointed Chief Architect for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. He designed the El Tovar Hotel at the south rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque with eighty-eight guestrooms, parlors, a barbershop, reading room and restaurant.

Mary Colter’s design for the adjacent Indian Building helped to launch the Harvey Company’s long-time sponsorship of Indian arts and crafts. The Albuquerque Journal Democrat reported on May 11, 1902 that the Alvarado Hotel “opened in a burst of rhetoric, a flow of red carpet and the glow of myriad brilliant electric lights with hopes that it would attract the wealthier classes to stop in Albuquerque on their travels to the West.”

Fred Harvey brought civilization, community and industry to the Wild West. His business eventually included restaurants, hotels, newsstands and dining cars on the Sante Fe Railroad. The partnership with the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe introduced many new tourists to the American Southwest by making rail travel comfortable and adventurous. Employing many Native-American artists, the Fred Harvey Company also collected indigenous examples of basketry, beadwork, Kachina dolls and a lively collection of exotic artifacts, handicrafts and Mission-style furniture.

Mary Colter’s Indian Building contained work and exhibit rooms with Indian basketmakers, silversmiths, potters and weavers at work. It launched the Harvey Company’s long-standing sponsorship of Indian arts and crafts. Mary Colter designed a new cocktail lounge in 1940 in the Alvarado and named it La Cocina Cantina to capture the design of an early Spanish kitchen.

From 1902 through 1948, Mary Colter served as the primary designer for the Fred Harvey Company, completing designs for twenty-one hotels, restaurants, lounges, curio shops, lobbies and rest areas along the major routes of the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe Railway. She captured the romance and mystery of the American Southwest and Native American artistic culture. Some characteristic features of her designs were tiny windows allowing shafts of light to accent red sandstone walls; a low ceiling of saplings and twigs resting on peeled log beams; a hacienda enclosing an intimate courtyard; a rough boulder structure, built into the earth as if part of a natural rock formation. These details shaped American visions of the Southwest for generations to come.

All twenty-one of Colter’s projects reveal her acute understanding of and commitment to both the natural and cultural landscape in which she worked. Through her interior designs, Colter demonstrated a spirited irreverence in her compositions, offering a clever demonstration of her own inventive Arts and Crafts sensibility.

Meanwhile, in the projects she termed “re-creations,” such as the Hopi House (1905) and Desert View Watchtower (1933) in Grand Canyon National Park, she almost always followed the architectural features of the original prototypes.

Employing indigenous Native American builders, demanding the use of local materials when possible, and attending to minute historical details obtained through research expeditions to various Indian historical ruins, Colter strove for stylistic verisimilitude without attempting to make, as she put it, a “copy,” or a “replica.”

In her smaller-scaled tourist architecture at the Grand Canyon, Colter introduced more innovative designs, including those for Hermit’s Rest and Lookout Studio (both 1914), places for Canyon visitors to stop that were intended to be “hidden under the rim,” according to Colter.

In Lookout Studio, she created a single-level, horizontal structure of rusticated Kaibab limestone that mimicked the stratification of the eroded rock below, ensuring unobstructed views from other promontories by means of architectural camouflage which allowed the innate drama of the Grand Canyon to enrich tourists’ experiences.

Other Harvey projects drew Colter away from the Grand Canyon, giving her the opportunity to design station-hotels along the Sante Fe Railway line, through which her architectural vision could manifest at a great scale. Of the El Navajo Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico (1923), she wrote, “I have always longed to carry out the true Indian idea, to plan a hotel strictly Indian with none of the conventional modern motifs,” probably referring to the ersatz Native Americana common to so many of the inferior hotels arising in the Southwest after World War I. Both the El Navajo in Gallup, New Mexico and La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, demonstrated Colter’s engagement with regional design issues and evoked the originality and wit of her earlier projects.

Colter retired to Santa Fe in 1948 and died there in 1958. Frank Waters, the great historian and expert on Native Americans of the Southwest, in his book Masked Gods: Navaho and Pueblo Ceremonialism (1950), recalled Mary Jane Colter:

“For years, an incomprehensible woman in pants, she rode horseback through the Four Corners making sketches of prehistoric ruins, studying details of construction, the composition of globes and washes. She could teach masons how to lay adobe bricks and plasters how to mix washes.”

Although her contemporaries often called her a “decorator,” her projects, of which four– Hopi House, Hermit’s Rest, Lookout Studio, and Desert View Watchtower – have been designated National Historic Landmarks, suggest that “architect” would be a more accurate and enduring description.

In early 2018, a book entitled False Architect: The Mary Colter Hoax by Fred Shaw stated that Colter was never trained or certified as an architect. It claimed that she falsely took credit for designs produced by others.

In response to this provocative thesis, Allan Affeldt, co-owner and operator of the La Posado Hotel, Winslow, Arizona wrote in September 2018: “All of us in the Harvey world are quite upset about the book. Shaw is clearly a misogynist.” Affeldt added:

“The attributions of Colter’s works to Curtis and others is preposterous, and obviously discounted by the many including Harvey family with direct knowledge of Colter and the buildings. We have collectively decided it best to ignore these self-published rantings and not give Shaw a podium for his hatred.”


About Stanley Turkel, CMHS

Stanley Turkel was designated as the 2014 and 2015 Historian of the Year by Historic Hotels of America, the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This award is presented to an individual for making a unique contribution in the research and presentation of history and whose work has encouraged a wide discussion, greater understanding and enthusiasm for American History. Turkel is also the most widely-published hotel consultant in the United States. He operates his hotel consulting practice serving as an expert witness in hotel-related cases, provides asset management and hotel franchising consultation. He is certified as a Master Hotel Supplier Emeritus by the Educational Institute of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Stanley Turkel’s new book, Great American Hotel Architects is available. It is his eighth hotel history book, which features twelve architects who designed 94 hotels from 1878 to 1948: Warren & Wetmore, Henry J. Hardenbergh, Schultze & Weaver, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, Bruce Price, Mulliken & Moeller, McKim, Mead & White, Carrere & Hastings, Julia Morgan, Emery Roth, Trowbridge & Livingston, George B. Post and Sons.

Interested persons can order copies from the publisher AuthorHouse by posting “Great American Hotel Architects” by Stanley Turkel.

Other Published Hotel Books include:

All of these books can be ordered from AuthorHouse by visiting and clicking on the book’s title.

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