A finalist in the Ghost Hunters “Great American Ghost Hunt” contest, will Briarhurst Manor live up to its reputation as one of America’s most haunted locations? Dr. William Bell was born in to a life luxury in 1840. His father was a physician to the Royals and thus provided the education for his son to follow in his footsteps. In 1867, Bell left London for St. Louis to attend lectures on the medical principles of homeopathy. This trip would change his life forever.
He fell in love with chaotic “Gateway to the West” and decided to stay in America for awhile. He applied with the Kansas and Pacific Railroad for a survey and mapping expedition only to learn the position of doctor was filled but not photographer. With the purchase of equipment and a crash course in photography, he was hired by the railroad. The expedition led him to form a life-long bond with the leader of the survey General William Palmer. Together they shared a vision of building a corporate empire and business partnership, founding the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad. The narrow gauge D&RG RR extended a spur into Manitou Springs, Colorado. With an aggressive marketing strategy, the resort prospered. Bell returned to England in 1872 to marry his childhood sweetheart Cara Scovell. The newlyweds returned to Colorado in July and began construction on their new home, Briarhurst Manor, that fall.
Easterners and English investors flocked to the resort building a community around it for the elite. Hotels provided entertainment with the popular bands of the day. Plenty of parks and shops were also built. Wealthy visitors brought their families and household staff and stayed for months at a time. Bell and Palmer’s 30 or so businesses kept him away from Cara and their four children much of the time. One winter night in 1886, Cara woke to her bedroom filled with smoke. William was away on business and it was up to her to ensure the safety of her children and servants. She managed to wake everyone and get them out of the house but she remained inside. With the help of the gardener Ferdinand Schneider, they rescued Bell’s prize oil painting "Mount of the Holy Cross” by Thomas Moran. They raced outside to a safe distance and watched as all their belongings turned to ash. The Bell family retreated back to England just to return the following spring to begin reconstruction.
The second more elaborate Briarhurst Manor contained a schoolroom, conservatory, cloister and library. However, a few years later, Bell decided to retire, liquidating most of his holdings in the United States. He entrusted the Briarhurst estate to long term employees Ferdinand and Amalia Schneider and moved back to England. William and Cara made their last visit to Briarhurst in March 1920. William died about a year later of a heart condition at the age of 81. Cara lived to see the age of 85 before dying in 1938. Vida Ellison known for her work with Mesa Verde National Park lived and stored artifacts, including Anasazi mummies, in the home for many years from 1940 to 1966. Now, the 130-year-old Victorian mansion operates as a restaurant.
Some eyewitness accounts include hearing chimes in the upper floors or in the basement, visitors being bumped, touched or tugged at, strange noises and voices, music playing, drops in temperature, mysterious footprints, children playing, shadows, objects moving and apparitions of a young girl with curly red hair (supposedly one of the Bell children), Mrs. Bell and an unknown skeleton woman in white roaming throughout the estate.