Mary Colter has been dubbed an ambitious architect with a genuine passion for creating elaborate structures throughout the Grand Canyon that have sparked intrigue, appreciation, and a desire to relive days passed among millions of visitors.

16940 Grand Canyon Historic_ Mary Colter Looking at Blueprints c. 1935

Mary colter (R) Showing blueprint to mrs ickes (Wife of secretary of interior) Circa 1935. Nps.

Who Is Mary Colter?

16952 Grand Canyon Historic_ Mary Colter Portrait Age 23 c. 1892

1892. Mary Colter at age 23.

Mary Colter was born on April 4th 1869 as “Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter” in the State of Pennsylvania; however, a family move established what she referred to as her “home”; that was in St. Paul, Minnesota.

She exhibited such a high level of intellect as a child that she was able to successfully complete her high school education at the age of only 14. While she was well on her way to success, a hurdle occurred in the year of 1886 – when she was only 17; her father passed away.

She immediately set off for college and was able to graduate by 1910. It was then that she pursued a career in architecture.

Not only was she a part of a very small group of female architects that existed throughout the world at the time, but she created her own style of architecture. This combined Rustic décor, motifs taken from the Native Americans, the Spanish-based Colonial Revival architecture style, and architecture design pulled from Mission Revival.

Her unique combination of these styles and the emergence of her style immediately drew interest from near, far, and beyond. It was especially popular within the Southwest region of the United States in the early 1900s.

I’ll do a bit in the program about Mary Colter. It was very difficult for her – as an architect – to be in a man’s world and be the boss. But, she was a strong woman and told them what to do and when to do it…”Betty Leavengood

A Chance Meet

Upon her travels, Mary Colter was able to personally meet the daughter of the founder of the highly-notable Fred Harvey Company. When the founder reviewed her work, he immediately hired her. She continued with his company for over four and a half decades. This opportunity also offered her the ability to work with the Santa Fe Railroad.

The two companies often worked in partnership for development. They were responsible for making the Southwest region of the United States the tourist destination of today.

Mary Colter was destined to create many buildings that reside in and around the stunning Grand Canyon.

Mary Colter’s Buildings

There are six different buildings located at the Grand Canyon that were created by Mary Colter. Below, you will find the name of each, as well as a brief description of each:

  1. The Hopi House – Mary Colter designed and constructed this stone masonry building in the year of 1905. It is in the shape of a traditional pueblo of the Hopi people. Constructed for the purpose of selling Indian Arts, the Hopi workers that serviced customers also lived on the upper level of the structure.
  2. Hermit’s Rest – Designed and constructed in the year of 1914, this originally served as a rest stop for the operational stage line of the time. Nestled within a hand-created earth mound, this amazing building fits right into its natural-based surroundings.
  3. Lookout Studio – Constructed in 1914, Mary Colter’s inspiration for this building was the landscape that is situated around the building. Built within the rim of the Grand Canyon, it is covered in a special type of rubble masonry.
  4. Phantom Ranch – This Mary Colter building was finished in 1922. Compiled entirely of wood and stone that is native to the area, it is at the bottom of the Grand Canyon right next to the popular Bright Angel Creek. Today, it serves as the only place of lodging just below the rim.
  5. Desert View Watchtower – Built in 1932, this amazing structure was officially modeled after the watchtowers created and used by the Pueblos. It is located at Four Corners and has murals by a popular Hopi artist named Frank Kabotie. Today, you can see the Grand Canyon from the top and purchase items from an internal bookstore and a gift shop.
  6. Bright Angel Lodge – Mary Colter created this building in 1935. It is highly rustic and is considered to be a historic landmark. Here, you may stay near the South Rim, embark on a mule ride through the Grand Canyon, and several other exciting activities.

Tours and Exploration

There are many Grand Canyon tours and exploration activities that now allow you direct access to all of the buildings designed by Mary Colter. Upon embarking on these adventures, you will learn about the history of the buildings, the Grand Canyon, and the natives to the region. Mary Colter had a direct and profound impact on the popularity of the Grand Canyon.