Entrepreneurs

After the Santa Fe Railroad started bringing visitors to the canyon's South Rim in 1901, business was booming for creative entrepreneurs who came to make their fortune at the canyon. The developing village was a tough place to do business with the Santa Fe Railroad and its partner The Fred Harvey Company running the show. However, a few strong willed and stubborn folks persevered and their legacy lives on at the canyon.

John Hance

1883-1919

Arriving at Grand Canyon as its first permeant European-American settler in (Possibly) 1883, John Hance improved an old Havasupai trail into the canyon and tried to mine for gold, silver, and asbestos. Very quickly, however, Hance found a more lucrative calling: guiding and providing lodging to visitors coming to the canyon to see if the stories of western explorers like Major John Wesley Powell were true.

 
Teddy Roosevelt, mounted on a horse, speaking to John Hance
Teddy Roosevelt, mounted on a horse, speaking to John Hance

As time passed and tourism grew, Hance became a legendary human fixture of the canyon. Visitors making their way down the treacherous Old Hance Trail would be entertained by stories of how the old frontiersman had dug the canyon himself, or how his horse Darby could cross the canyon from rim to rim by galloping atop banks of fog. As Hance himself would once say, "I've got to tell stories to these people for their money; and if I don't tell it to them, who will? I can make these tenderfeet believe that a frog eats boiled eggs, and I'm going to do it; and I'm going to make 'em believe he carries it a mile to find a rock to crack it on."

As the twentieth century approached, the South Rim of Grand Canyon saw increasing commercial development, with stagecoaches and railroads being built to take visitors traveling from across America and the world directly to the rim. With his popularity increasing, Hance continued to lead visitors down into the canyon, and constructed a brand-new trail when rockslides and washouts finally made the Old Hance Trail impassable. His legend became such that some began to say that “To see the canyon only and not to see Captain John Hance, is to miss half the show,” and the prestige of the old guide was such that when President Theodore Roosevelt came to Grand Canyon in 1903, it was John Hance who led him down the trail.

Captain John Hance passed into history on January 8th, 1919, at the alleged age of 84. His death was mourned by many, but his legacy is alive and well in the canyon.


 

John Verkamp and the Verkamp Family

1898-2008

John Verkamp arrived at Grand Canyon in 1898 to sell souvenirs to visitors from a rented tent over the summer months. Unfortunately for Verkamp, there were not enough tourists at the time to make a profit, so he closed his store after only a few weeks. He didn't return until after the railroad arrived and the luxurious El Tovar Hotel opened for business.

 
Early entrepeneur in front of large white tent in the woods
John Verkamp


In 1906, he opened Verkamps Curios where he sold Native American jewelry, pottery, rugs, and baskets as well as souvenirs such as postcards and trinkets. The second story of the curio shop was the Verkamp residence, where four generations were raised, becoming an integral part of the growing Grand Canyon community. They helped create the Grand Canyon School for children of National Park Service employees, and supported the local Boy Scout Troop.
In 2006, the store celebrated its 100th anniversary making it the oldest family-owned concession in the entire National Park System.

The family operated the curio business on the rim of the canyon until September 2008. The National Park Service bought the building and opened Verkamp's Visitor Center in November 2008. Visitors today can learn about the Verkamps family and early pioneer history at the canyon through the displays in the visitor center. And staying true to the original curio shop, the Verkamp's Visitor Center still sells souvenirs to visitors.


 

The Kolb Brothers

1901-1976

Some of the most famous photographs of Grand Canyon and its visitors have been taken by Emery and Ellsworth Kolb. Arriving in 1901 and 1902, the Kolb Brothers made their permanent home at Grand Canyon in 1904 with the opening of their studio perched at the edge of the canyon.

 
Two brothers holding a tripod stand in front of the snowy canyon
Ellsworth and Emery Kolb

Starting with pictures of mule trains on their way down the Bright Angel Trail and candid shots of tourists on the rim, the Kolbs also explored remote areas of the canyon. Their photographs changed the way people saw and experienced the canyon, giving them visual access to places they never would have seen in their lifetime.

They took the completed movie and still pictures on a tour from coast to coast. Returning to Grand Canyon, they extended Kolb Studio to include a large auditorium where they showed the movie from 1914 until 1976. Once again, they changed the way visitors saw the canyon. The movie, as Ellsworth had hoped, brought out "a record of the Colorado as it is, a live thing, armed as it were with teeth, ready to crush and devour."

After a business dispute in 1913, the brothers flipped a coin for control of the business, with Emery winning the toss and Ellsworth moving to Los Angeles, California. Emery operated the studio and intermittently worked as a guide, consultant, and search and rescuer until his death in 1976. He was the last of the early pioneers, making his home at the canyon for 73 years. He left the legacy of thousands of photographs, hundreds of pieces of photographic equipment, and Kolb Studio.

 

Visitors today can visit Kolb Studio, seeing a handful of historic Kolb photos and one of Emery's original movie cameras in the Grand Canyon Association bookstore. In winter months, rangers offer tours into the Kolb residence for a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the daily life of the Kolb family.

Learn more about the Kolb Brothers through these books available at the Grand Canyon Conservancy Bookstore:


 

Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter

1902-1948

Mary Colter was the chief architect and decorator for the Fred Harvey Company from 1902 to 1948. Her creative free-form buildings at Grand Canyon took direct inspiration from the landscape and served as part of the basis of the developing artistic aesthetic for appropriate development in areas that became national parks.

 
Full shot of Mary Colter in an elaborate wicker chair
Architect Mary Colter at age 50

Mary Colter was born in Pittsburgh in 1869 and grew up in Texas, Colorado, and St. Paul, Minnesota. While attending the California School of Design in San Francisco she apprenticed in an architect's office and then went into teaching back in St. Paul.

Through informal contacts with the Fred Harvey Company, Colter eventually landed a job as interior designer of the Indian Building adjacent to the Santa Fe's new Alvarado Hotel in Albuquerque, along the main line. Although the Mission Revival style had been popular in California since the 1890s, the Alvarado Hotel and its adjacent Indian Building (both destroyed) were the first of their kind in New Mexico. Her reputation swiftly grew, and her use of natural materials in forms that mimicked nature served as the basis for later work by architect Herbert Maier and others who designed what we now term "rustic" architecture.

As a full-time architect in the Fred Harvey Company, Mary Colter would build six buildings on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. In 1948, at the age of 79, Colter officially retired from the Fred Harvey Company. On January 8, 1958, at the age of 88, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter died.

 

Find out more about historic figures at Grand Canyon with these books available at the Grand Canyon Association bookstore:

 
The side of the Grand Canyon in the snow.

The Historic Village

With the arrival of the First Steam-Powered Train in 1901, the quiet area of the South Rim rapidly expanded into the Grand Canyon Village.

A black and white photo of a women sitting in a chair.

Mary Colter's Buildings

Mary Colter was the chief architect and decorator for the Fred Harvey Company from 1902 to 1948.

A brown building covered by trees with the Grand Canyon in the background.

Kolb Studio History

The Kolb Brothers, best known for their death defying photographs, built a home and studio on the edge of the South Rim in 1904.

A man sitting in a chair.

John Hance

Captain John Hance, known for his storytelling, guided and provided lodging to visitors coming to Grand Canyon.

A cemetery gate.

People

Passing through or calling the canyon home, many people have influenced the development and protection of Grand Canyon.

Last updated: September 21, 2019

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