Glen Eyrie began as the estate of William Jackson Palmer, founder of several railroads and the city of Colorado Springs. He was born in Delaware, then raised in Pennsylvania in a Quaker home. As a young boy, his fascination with steam locomotives spurred him on to learn all he could about rail travel. At age 17, Palmer went to work for the engineering corps of the Hempfield Railroad. At 19, endorsed by a letter from J. Edgar Thomson, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and other influential friends, he traveled to England and France to study railroading and coal mining. In July 1856, upon his return, he became Thomson's private secretary. With the onset of the Civil War, his railroad career was interrupted.
Because of his Quaker upbringing, Palmer abhored violence, but his passion to see the slaves free compelled him to enter the war. In 1862, Palmer raised up an elite troop of cavalry, called the Anderson Troop, to join the Union forces. Because of his leadership, his troop was expanded to the size of a regiment, the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Leading reconnaissance early in the war, Palmer was captured and imprisoned as a suspected spy, then later released in a prisoner exchange.
Upon returning to his troop, he led one successful campaign after another, eventually being given the responsibility of a cavalry brigade. At age 29 he became the second youngest brigadier general commissioned in the Civil War, second only to General Custer. Although highly decorated, at the end of the war Palmer chose military discharge to pursue his first love, the railroad.
General Palmer began his journey west in 1867 with a survey party of the Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division. Their mission was to find the best route to California from Kansas City. Although Union Pacific did not complete this plan, General Palmer would remember the idea. Two years later the Eastern Division of the Union Pacific became the Kansas Pacific Railroad.
General Palmer was elected as one of its directors in charge of railroad construction to extend the line to Denver. As he scouted the eastern face of the Rockies for the best route, he was most in awe of the magnificent vistas around Pike's Peak. On one of his survey journeys in this area, he discovered a beautiful valley approximately four miles north of Colorado City and just north of Garden of the Gods. It was here General Palmer would build his estate and begin his family with the woman who had become queen of his heart, the beautiful Mary Lincoln Mellen.
Palmer's bride was the daughter of William Proctor Mellen, one of General Palmer's business associates. She had been given the nickname "Queen" by her maternal grandmother, an endearment that Palmer continued to use throughout their life together. She and General Palmer married in 1870 and went to England on a four-month honeymoon. The General told her of the beauty of Colorado and promised his bride the grandest of homes.
First, he purchased 10,000 acres at $1.25 per acre to establish the Fountain Colony, the town that later became known as Colorado Springs. An additional 2,225 acres were purchased in the beautiful valley he had found near Garden of the Gods, where he began the construction of their estate.
After building a large carriage house, where the family lived for a time, Palmer and Queen built a 22-room frame house. This house was remodeled in 1881 to include a tower and additional rooms. They later planned to turn the home into a castle. The estate was often referred to as "Little Garden of the Gods" by local residents for its amazing outcroppings of red sandstone similar to its neighbor.
To improve the grounds, General Palmer secured the services of a noted Scottish landscape architect, John Blair, from Chicago. As they were surveying the grounds, Blair looked up to see an eagle's nest high in the cleft of a rock and in his best Scottish brogue said, "Ah, Glen Eyrie. Valley of the eagle's nest." The General and Queen liked the name and officially named the estate Glen Eyrie.
In 1871, the same year he began the Fountain Colony, General Palmer and William Bell founded the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad to run along the Front Range of the Rockies as a north-south route. In the 1880s Palmer added the Rio Grande Western Railroad, using a narrow gauge track to wind through the mountains in an east-west route.
Things flourished for the Palmers for a time, in business and at home. The Fountain Colony grew to 1500 residents in two years, the railroad prospered, and the General and Mrs. Palmer had three daughters, Elsie, Dorothy, and Marjory. The first ripples of challenge began in the later 1870s in a rail war with the Santa Fe Railroad over the mountain routes.
Also in 1880, Mrs. Palmer suffered a mild heart attack and was advised to move to a lower altitude. She and the girls moved to the East Coast and then to England where General Palmer visited them as often as he could. Queen died on December 28, 1894, at the age of 44. In sorrow, General Palmer went to England to return Mrs. Palmer's remains and the girls to Colorado Springs.
Sources include Stephanie Carter, Betty Froisland, Len Froisland, Forrest Graham, Donald McGilchrist, and Betty Skinner.