Pioneer Profiles: Henry McAllister (and son)
After attaining the rank of Major in the Civil War, Henry McAllister maintained the friendship of his cohort, General William Jackson Palmer, and at Palmer’s request, McAllister arrived in Colorado Springs in 1872, shortly after the city’s founding. He fell in love with the Rockies and loved looking up at Pikes Peak. He spent a year in the new city, becoming the executive director of the Colorado Springs Company, which was in charge of city development.
McAllister was dismayed by the weather in Colorado, his train upon his arrival in the state having been stuck in a blizzard on the plains for six days, but his optimism about the grandeur and possibilities that lay before Colorado Springs was contagious. Everyone felt his and Palmer’s desire to see a city bloom from among the prairie grass and mountain foothills.
While Palmer envisioned what amenities his city should have, Robert Cameron platted the streets, and McAllister began organizing the promotion and infrastructure of the tiny colony. One of McAllister’s legacies is something with which he tasked himself early in his tenure as the director, which was to plant trees all along the main streets of Colorado Springs. He had workers go down to the banks of the local creeks and transplant hundreds of cottonwoods, most of which are still visible up and down Cascade Avenue, Tejon Street, Nevada Avenue and Weber Street.
The wind across the prairie was sometimes fierce, so McAllister decided that, if he were to bring his family here, a clapboard shanty just wouldn’t do. He had seen too many of them go up in flames, their owners helpless as the wind rushed the flames to the next wooden structure. McAllister began construction on the first brick home in Colorado Springs, one which still stands as the McAllister House Museum, established in 1873 at 423 North Cascade Avenue.
Upon the advice of a local woodworker, Winfield Scott Stratton, McAllister almost doubled the normal thickness of the walls of the house to 20 inches, and reinforced them with iron bars. George Summers, the house’s designer, built the Downing Gothic style house to withstand any weather. McAllister brought his wife, Elizabeth, and one-year-old son, Harry, out to Colorado Springs while the house was being built. McAllister hired Stratton to do the woodwork on the front and rear porches, as well as the cupboards and baseboards inside the house. Stratton was known to pause in his work to entertain little Harry as he toddled around the work site. The McAllister house is one of the few places left in the city where Stratton’s work is still visible.
Known for her kindness to travelers, migrants, and even Native Americans, Elizabeth McAllister baked and gave away loaves of bread and water from her well to anyone who knocked on her door. She set a charitable precedent that underlined her Quaker heritage. She bore two more children, daughters Mary and Matilda, and upheld Palmer’s ideals of keeping his city clean and alcohol-free. Elizabeth not only organized charitable events, but she also managed several ladies’ groups and was involved in starting the first school.
Later, McAllister founded and was president of the Colorado College and helped found the First Congregational Church, both of which are not far from his house and are still in partnership today. Little Harry grew up to become a lawyer, receiving his degree in Denver and setting up a local practice. He remained in touch with many Colorado Springs city founders and contributors, becoming one of the most trusted estate lawyers in Colorado.
In 1902, Stratton, who had struck gold in Cripple Creek and become the area’s first millionaire, died at the age of 52. Stratton left a sizeable estate, so the city’s leadership felt somewhat entitled to a sizeable endowment. After all, Stratton had bought and donated several large blocks of land to the city, and had built a post office, county courthouse, city hall, and mining exchange building, as well as installed a railcar system that reached from the north end clear to Manitou Springs. So of course these city leaders were dismayed when they discovered that Stratton’s will left a few thousand dollars to loyal employees, and the rest of his millions were to be used to fund the Myron Stratton Home for homeless citizens and orphans.
In stepped Harry McAllister, who for the next 11 years argued Stratton’s case. The will was airtight, and the fact that the Myron Stratton Home still stands, and still houses low-income retired people, is a testament to McAllister’s argument of that will. Years later, the younger McAllister also managed the estate of Spencer Penrose, who died of throat cancer in 1939. Those who attended the short graveside service at the Will Rogers Shrine heard Harry McAllister detail the life and benevolence of Penrose, another of the city’s great benefactors.
Driving around modern Colorado Springs, you might see real estate signs bearing the names “Palmer/McAllister,” and yes, that’s the same two gentlemen who founded our city. Although the real estate is managed by others now, the McAllisters’ legacy lives on through their myriad contributions. The McAllisters left an impression on Colorado Springs as solid as their home on Cascade Avenue.