One cannot talk about the history of this site without acknowledging the wonderful legacy left by the work of former professor Douglas McKay. Professor McKay saw all the records and paraphernalia from the old sanatorium being tossed in the trash, and single-handedly, rescued this material. From these resources combined with extension research in local archives, libraries, oral histories, Dr. McKay completed two invaluable resources for the stories and history which shaped first the sanatorium, Asylum of the Guilded Pill, and later the University, UCCS, the First Twenty-Five Years. Appreciation is also due to Missye Bonds, former staff member of the University who authored the grant proposal which led to the archaeological survey and a condition assessment of the former sanatorium.
On early maps of the City, one finds the bluffs behind the present university as well as those now known as part of Palmer Park, designated commonly as Austin or Austin’s Bluffs. A narrow opening between these two areas was known from the earliest years of the City as Templeton Gap.
A view of Pikes Peak from Templeton Gap by Charles Craig (1846-1931) Pioneers Museum
Austin Bluffs were named for Henry Warren Austin, a wealthy Chicago hardware merchant, who came to Colorado Springs following the Chicago fire of 1871. Mr. Austin was looking to expand his hardware empire and was attracted by the temperance stand of General Palmer. Reference works from the turn of the century identify Mr. Austin as a major figure in the temperance movement. As a legislator in Illinois, he is credited with created the first dram laws which held the proprietor of an establishment responsible if a customer over imbibed and then caused a problem or a crime. Indeed, in his own home town of Oak Park frustrated with the local Council’s refusal to ban liquor sales, he would purchase establishments which sold liquor and then lease them for other uses. Until his death in 1889, he ran sheep and mined coal on his property. An early article in Harper’s Weekly extols the area as uniquely suited to the raising of sheep and mentions Austin’s herds. Mr. Austin brought with him from Chicago, his landscape gardener who also had done design work and been an administrator for the Chicago city park system.
John Blair, a Scotsman, had first emigrated to Canada and later been invited by a wealthy industrialist in Rockton, to design the landscape for his estate. From this work, recognition was such that he was invited to be involved with the 186? National Sanitary Exposition in Chicago. Mr. Blair had purchased a small home in Oak Park which he landscaped and also did work for other residents, such as Henry Warren Austin.
In Colorado Springs, Mr. Austin introduced John Blair to General William Jackson Palmer who engaged Blair to lay out the roads, trails and grounds at Glen Eyrie. Blair also was engaged to layout lots in Manitou. Blair himself took a homestead due north of Glen Eyrie which he named Blair Athol after a favorite site in Scotland. Today, Blair is best remembered from the stone bridge which was part of the trail General Palmer took from Glen Eyrie to the City. One finds this bridge opposite the entrance to Glen Eyrie off 30th Street.
The first known building on the site was the cabin Dr. Edwin Solly built for himself as a retreat from the City. Dr. Solly’s home and office were located on Cascade Avenue in downtown Colorado Springs, and his home with the screened porch offered an opportunity to leave the City behind and return to the ‘country.’ It is Dr. Solly who gave the name Cragmoor later shortened to Cragmor, reminiscent of the crags and moors he had left behind in Great Britain, to the site. After years of planning for a sanatorium at the side of his cabin, Dr. Solly was spurred into action when a colleague built the first sanatorium on the bluffs called Nordrach Sanatorium at a location which today is behind Benet Hill on Chelton Avenue. Dr. Solly’s colleague, Dr. White, chose the name Nordrach as it was well known at the time from the first Nordrach Sanatorium, constructed and funded by Adelhild Rothschild in the Black Forest. This sanatorium is generally credited with being the first to promote the idea of open air cures for tuberculars. In 190?, a Nordrach Sanatorium opened in Scotland. Dr. White undoubtedly selected the site because he was able to rent the Otis Mansion which provided space both for administrative offices as well as for some patient rooms. The majority of the patients were housed in Gardiner tents. One can still see the stone foundations for the tent area behind the present day Benet Hill.
In 1902 General Palmer gave Dr. Solly one hundred acres of land on Austin Bluffs and $50,000 towards the start of his sanatorium. Dr. Solly worked with Thomas MacLaren, another Scotsman who had come to Colorado seeking a healthier climate for his tuberculosis. Mr. MacLaren quickly established himself as Colorado Springs’s leading architect. His early designs for the sanatorium were as grandiose as Dr. Solly’s plans for his Sunpalace warranted. Unfortunately, raising the necessary funds proved more difficult than Solly had thought. The first sanatorium, composed of a building for male patients, another for female patients, and an administration building between the two, opened on June 5 th, 1905. The sanatorium was successful but Dr. Solly, who himself had come to Colorado for his health, succumbed to ill health and overwork in 1906. A leading member of the community, president of the El Paso Club and member of St. Stephen’s (today Grace) Episcopal Church, he is memorialized in the oldest stain glass window in the church which depicts Christ healing the lame man.
The two buildings for patients were not sufficient for the demand so Thomas MacLaren was once again approached to design something between the earlier grandiose plans for a sunpalace and the more modest men’s and women’s buildings with which the Cragmor Sanatorium had opened. MacLaren’s new design provided for a three story building with porches for the open air access believed so important for the cure of tuberculosis.