Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Mary Jane Colter, Architect of the Southwest

One can only imagine how difficult it must have been to be a woman in the nineteenth century trying to have a career.  Mary Jane Colter, born in Pennsylvania and brought up in Minnesota, certainly succeeded by both strokes of luck and strokes of genius.
When Colter’s father passed away in 1886, she apparently took it upon herself to learn a trade in order to help with family finances.  She attended California School of Design—apparently in an all women’s class. Graduating in 1890, she apprenticed with a Californian firm and learned the then-popular, revived California Mission style. Sadly, her talents were put to other use for several more years, teaching at the Mechanic Arts High School and University Extension School in St. Paul. Then, by a stroke of good fortune, she came to the attention of Minnie Harvey Huckel, daughter of Fred Harvey who was building hotels and restaurants along the line of the Santa Fe Railroad.  While my colleague, Julie Lence, will be telling you all about Fred Harvey and the ‘Harvey Girls’ in a blog in a couple of weeks, I will concentrate on Colter’s works for the firm.
Mary Jane colter reading blueprints, 1921

Colter was originally hired for a summer job in 1902 decorating the Indian Building at the  Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque. The building was the hotel’s gift shop basically, and Colter created a series of rooms of both Hispanic and Native American design. She would go on to work for the Fred Harvey Company for thirty-eight years, doing both architecture and decor. It was Harvey’s exclusive contract with the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad to provide hotels and restaurants between Chicago and Los Angeles that would afford Colter those years of work.
Colter spent time working as a display manager for a department store in Seattle before being hired permanently by Harvey in 1910. It was then she branched out into being both architect and decorator.  Her first works continued at Grand Canyon.  The area had been declared a National Monument in 1908 by President Teddy Roosevelt and while it was not until 1919 that it was established as a national park, tourism was definitely on the rise. When the ATSF Railroad brought in trains from Williams to Grand Canyon in 1901, making what had been a bone-jarring trip over rutted roads obsolete, the Grand Canyon’s fate as a tourist destination was sealed.
Colter’s style mixed Spanish Mission with Spanish Pueblo and Native American—Hopi Kivas, prehistoric ruins, sky villages, early pioneer buildings, surrounding geology, even woven baskets were subsumed into Colter’s designs. She had an eye for taking the surrounding geography into consideration and blending her construction with it. During the years she worked for Harvey she was decorator and  interior designer as well as architect. Her 1904 second project for Harvey was Hopi House, at Grand
Hopi House
Canyon’s South Rim. Another artisan sales building, it stands in contrast to El Tovar next door, which was done by another architect in the western chalet style. Hopi House is stone and was based on pueblos. It has the look of having been there before the idea of a national park ever took hold.
At Grand Canyon, Colter also created Hermit’s Rest and Lookout Studio and, after World War I, Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon. Colter’s imagination often took form from stories surrounding the buildings.  For instance, Hermit’s Rest was named for Louis Boucher who used to guide tourists into the canyon in the 1890s and for whom Hermit Canyon was named.  Phantom Ranch was not only named for Phantom Creek but, in her mind, for the many ‘ghosts’ that roamed the area.
Lookout Studio
Other famous commissions of Colter’s included Desert View Watch Tower (1932) on the south rim of Grand Canyon, made to look as if it had been there for ages but with a steel inner frame constructed by railway bridge builders; Bright Angel Lodge (1935) in stone and timber, looking like an early pioneer homestead; El Navajo Hotel in Gallup, NM (1918 & 1923, demolished 1957) had a nod toward modern architecture; and dining rooms for Union Stations, the most famous being L.A. with its vaulted ceilings and Navajo design tiled floor (1939). But perhaps the most famous of  Colter’s works were the interior design of La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, and the complete design of
La Posada
La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona (1929).  Her vision for that was of  the hacienda of a wealthy Spanish Colonial landowner, and she designed everything from the china to the gardens.  While much of Colter’s interior design is gone—furniture, uniforms, lighting and so on—it has been restored and is now on the National Register of Historic Places along with ten other of her buildings, five of which are designated National Historic Landmarks. Her last work before her retirement to Santa Fe in 1948 was the 1947 renovation of Painted Desert Inn in the Petrified Forest National Park, AZ.
A chain-smoking, tough-minded woman, Mary Colter knew how to behave in a man’s world, insisting on the details  she wanted, overseeing minutiae that were of importance to her.  She lived to the age of eighty-eight, seeing some of her works demolished, others remodeled beyond recognition, yet today her legacy lives in buildings that capture the essence of the Southwest, functional yet timeless.  Her work will live on in the Mary Jane Colter National Historic Landmark District of Grand Canyon National Park.


Mary Jane Colter reading blueprints, 1931, National Park Service

Hopi House, Wikipedia

Lookout Studio, NPS, Public Domain

La Posada, public domain

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

But Now for the REST of the Story--The Facts Behind One of the BIGGEST Gold Nuggets Ever found in California

by Heather Blanton

She has a list of qualifications for her groom.
He doesn't measure up.
But sometimes, a good man comes around.
In my new book, A Good Man Comes Around, the hero Oliver Martin is a shiftless, mischievous no-account. But he wasn’t always. Jilted at the altar, he takes nothing seriously anymore and now spends his days looking for a drink or trouble, whichever comes first. John Fowler, Oliver’s friend, and business partner spends his time trying to keep Oliver out of trouble. Tired of rescuing the young man, Fowler decides a wife might bring back the old, steady Oliver. He applies for a mail order bride for the lad—but secretly.  

The aforementioned story is fiction, but it is based heavily on fact. I stumbled across the true story of Oliver Martin and was really impacted how a single, amazingly fortuitous and, yet, tragic event changed his life forever.

Oliver Martin and John Fowler were indeed best friends who hit the gold fields in California in the 1850’s. Oliver was a good-for-nothing slacker, though, who didn’t even own a pan. History says his friend John wasn’t much better. The two knocked around gold rush towns such as El Dorado and Yuba, panning, drinking, doing odd jobs, but mostly, drinking.

On the night of November 7, 1854, the two were meandering drunkenly from one mining camp to the next when a storm hit. They managed to hole up in an abandoned miners shack on Grizzly Mountain.

They couldn’t have picked a worse spot.

The peculiarly heavy rain triggered a flash flood and a sudden, roaring wall of water hit, washing both men down river. Oliver managed to lodge himself in a stand of oak trees till morning. John was not so fortunate.

The next day, Oliver was obliged to bury his friend. He had not dug down two feet when he found a nugget of gold that weighed in at over eighty-five pounds. One of the largest ever found in California. Oliver sold it for nearly $650,000 (in twenty-first-century dollars).
Not Oliver's nugget, but it gives you an idea of the size of what he DID find.

The nugget made him more than rich. It made him responsible. Convinced the Almighty expected him to do something with his life, Oliver sobered up, invested in various mining businesses, became a philanthropic citizen, and died in New Orleans, a millionaire several times over.

He was always quick to tell people his good fortune had come from God... and his best friend.

If you're curious about I fictionalized this account, please pick up a copy of A Good Man Comes Around, book 8 in the Sweethearts of Jubilee Springs collection here: 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Taming the West, One Hero at a Time

How are you able to write so many different stories?
Where does your inspiration come from? Why Do I write romance?

I get these questions all the time and each time I reply with a different answer. The stories are in my head.  They appear without notice and definitely without prompting.  Sometimes the last thing I need is a new story idea when I'm already writing one and have another one waiting in the wings.

The muse however will not be silenced.  The heroes are impatient men who want to talk and tell me what to write.  Good thing they are so hunky, or I'd tell them where to go!  It's a crazy life.

How about my inspiration.  It comes from many different places.  Usually my surroundings.

I remember the day I drove from Billings, Montana to Casper, Wyoming.  There were long stretches of road with the most breathtaking views I'd seen in a long time.  The landscape that up until that day had only existed in my mind came to life and I had to pull over so many times to take it all in.

There was a specific spot where two hills formed a valley.  There just at the crest of the hill on the left was a perfect spot.  Beside a small pond was a cusp of trees and several cows meandered nearby.  (And yes I can't find that picture! Ugh!!)

A story unfolded of a woman who moved west to find love and finds herself living there, in that beautiful valley.  With water readily available and the land so lush, it was the perfect place for a home and small ranch or farm.

Why Do I write Romance?

I write romance because I am in love with love.  I write the stories of the west because I am married to man from Montana and I grew up in California.  So you see I am a western girl, who cannot help but want every woman to have the opportunity to met a handsome cowboy and find her happily ever after.

My latest release!

In my book, Jaded: Luke.  Luke Hamilton returns to Montana in an effort to start over.  He is a man jaded by life.  Not only having gone to war as an Army soldier, but the aftermath that came back with him.  Suffering PTSD and the loss of his marriage, Luke is not handing things well at all.  I hope you have a chance to read this story and fall in love with this broken hero.  I certainly did.

Leave a comment, one person will get a free copy of Jaded!

Blurb for Jaded

Jaded: Luke, Laurel Creek Series

He’s Jaded...

Haunted by PTSD and a failed marriage, Luke Hamilton returns home to Laurel, Montana. Going home isn’t an easy fix, but it beats ending up in prison or dead. At first the familiar surroundings and open land seem to set things right, but soon his old demons rear their ugly heads and he realizes it's the wrong time to enter any relationship.

Leah Morgan’s experience in the corporate world has prepared her to prosper her father’s ranch in Montana. She knows everyone expects her to fail, but nothing will stop her from turning the ranch around and selling it to the highest bidder – especially not a rancher. The quicker she closes the deal, the sooner she can get out of Laurel and move on with her career.

But when Luke and Leah cross paths, they both discover that starting over can be a complicated business.

Nothing much scares Luke Hamilton these days, except maybe hope...

About the Author:

USA Today Bestselling author Hildie McQueen loves unusual situations and getting into interesting adventures, which is what her characters do as well. She writes romance because she is in love with love! Author of Romance in Highland historical, Western Historical and contemporary, she writes something every reader can enjoy.

Most days she can be found in her pajamas hiding from deliverymen while drinking tea from her David Gandy coffee mug. In the afternoons she browses the Internet for semi-nude men to post on Facebook.

Hildie's favorite past-times are romance conventions, traveling, shopping and reading.

She resides in beautiful small town Georgia with her super-hero husband Kurt and three doggies.

Visit her website at