C 2014 by Jan MacKell Collins
It was Albert Gould’s worst nightmare, that September night in 1886.
The expressman was working late in Manitou one Friday evening, when at about ten minutes past 11 p.m. he looked up to see flames close to his home next to Hermann’s Hotel on Manitou Avenue. A combination dancing hall, dining room, bar and hotel, Hermann’s had taken on some undesirable residents of late. Now the place was going up in smoke. Gould sounded the fire alarm and hurried to the hotel, whereupon several half-dressed men fled from the building.
Inside the building, a number of men continued to run in the wake of the fire. Among them was Mr. G. Hattox, driver of Hermann’s ice wagon. Hattox later said he thought the first cries of “Fire!” were a joke, and only realized the situation was serious when he smelled smoke. Moments after escaping out of his first floor room into the street, Mr. Hattox watched as the second story of the building collapsed. Within a short time the whole place was reduced to a pile of smouldering rubble, and Hermann’s Hotel was no more.
For Frederick Hermann, the fire was the end to a growing travesty. A man of many occupations, Hermann had resided in Manitou as early as 1878 when the Colorado Springs Gazette announced the July 4th opening of his new hall on the road between Colorado City and Manitou. “A good musical entertainment will be held in the afternoon and a ball in the evening,” the paper reported.
Upon overseeing the hall’s opening, Hermann next traveled around Colorado scouting for more investments. The 1880 census lists him in Trinidad with several family members. By 1884 he may have migrated to Leadville and briefly worked as a miner while rooming at the Grand Pacific Hotel. A short time later the 42-year old German arrived back in Manitou and settled permanently into the hospitality business. Early maps show his café as being located just west of the intersection of Sutherland Creek and the old Manitou Road.
A month before the fire, Hermann had rented the bottom floor of his hotel to contractors McMurtie and Streeter, who worked for the Colorado Midland Railroad. The Colorado Midland had just recently began construction up Ute Pass, and several workers needed temporary shelter as the tracks were laid. The deal seemed pleasing enough, until Frederick Hermann made an unpleasant discovery. McMurtrie and Streeter had merely acted as agents for the firm of Murray & Reid, who misunderstood the lease to include the hotel in its entirety.
Soon Frederick Hermann found his hotel overrun with itinerant Italians, many whom were working for Murray & Reid or the railroad. The upstairs rooms had accordingly been amply supplied with straw upon which several men slept each night. When Hermann appealed to Streeter, the contractor claimed to be powerless over the proceedings. An infuriated Hermann threatened to double Murray & Reid’s rent, and the building was vacated once more.
Things might have returned to normal, but for a tricky door leading to the second floor that was nearly impossible to latch properly. During the night as Hermann’s hired man slept, a handful of Italians snuck back into the building and once more took over the top floor of the hotel. Upon discovering the trespassers, Hermann chased the unwelcome boarders off. He did, however, rent rooms to three of them with the promise that the straw would be disposed of.
Before long, the unruly Italians once more took advantage of the hapless German and the place filled up yet again. What to do? Hermann mulled over his dilemma as he took a necessary business trip to Pueblo. And that was when the fire started. Several men, it appeared, were smoking pipes on the second floor. Their carelessly tossed matches soon caught to the remaining straw, and before long the whole building was engulfed. The real tragedy lay in Hermann’s fateful decision some months before to not sell the building for the offered price of $3,500.
Hermann’s Hotel was insured—but for a mere $1,200. The thankful German took the money and opted not to rebuild. The 1887 Manitou directory found him working as a bottler. What line of work he pursued after that is anyone’s guess. The illustrious man did continue to live in the Pikes Peak region with his wife Josephine, who died in 1924. Frederick passed away in 1926, and the infamous conflagration of Hermann’s Hotel was forgotten.
Manitou Springs circa 1890