Pioneer Profiles: Thomas MacLaren

One of the most secretly influential pioneers of Colorado Springs was quite literally a “pillar of the community,” Thomas MacLaren. Born the last of eleven children to a Scottish farmer in 1863, MacLaren was encouraged, along with his brother James, to attend college. Both MacLarens became architects after attending the Royal College of Art. James set up shop in England right away, but Thomas spent some time touring and drawing Scottish castles. He became a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1885 and soon afterward won some scholarships which allowed him to travel to Italy and other European countries to study classic architecture. After his travels, he joined James in London where they ran their business together until James died of tuberculosis in 1890.

Feeling the onset of the same disease, Thomas travelled first to Switzerland and then to Denver to recuperate. It wasn’t long before he found himself a permanent resident of Colorado Springs which had become renowned as the “City of Sunshine,” which offered many tuberculosis sufferers some relief from their symptoms.

Colorado Springs in 1894 was a young city, barely twenty years old. Although several buildings had been erected, it wasn’t until MacLaren arrived that builders considered the more artistic aspects of construction. At the time, Winfield Scott Stratton had just struck gold in his Independence mine, becoming Colorado Springs’s first millionaire. Soon afterward, Jimmie Burns, a consort of Stratton also struck gold on his nearby Portland mine. In the ensuing years, both men contributed land and funds to the city, which hired MacLaren for many of its major projects. Soon MacLaren became known as the premier architect of Colorado Springs.

Here are just a few of the buildings he designed:

MacLaren also designed the Broadmoor casino and original hotel (now the Broadmoor Golf Club), the carriage house at Glen Eyrie (city founder William J. Palmer’s home), the Cragmoor Sanatorium (now part of the UCCS campus), the clubhouse for the Patty Jewett Golf Club, the Boulder Carnegie Library, and several buildings on the El Pomar estate (home of Broadmoor founder Spencer Penrose).

The esteemed architect never married, and had no desire to start a family. He lived as a bachelor in the El Paso Club, a gentlemen’s club started by some of the city founders. He didn’t spend a lot of money and generally kept a low profile. Unlike some other early settlers, he didn’t own a railroad, he didn’t find a mountain of gold, and he never ran for office—yet he left an indelible mark on Colorado Springs which can still be seen and appreciated today.

MacLaren died from complications of tuberculosis in 1928.

Photo By: Penrose Library Digital Collection