In the years following the American Civil War, Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter traveled with her family throughout frontier Minnesota, Colorado and Texas. After her father died, Mary attended the California School of Design in San Fransisco and was hired as an Interior Designer by the Fred Harvey Company in 1901. By 1910 she was an architect with the same company. She worked for the next 30 years in the rugged west and southwest, completing a series of landmark hotels, lodges, and most notably, structures along the south rim of the Grand Canyon.
Mary Colter designed Hopi House (1905), the observatory Lookout Studio (1914), Hermit’s Rest (1914), Desert View Watchtower (1932), and Bright Angel Lodge. Her work conveyed an understanding of archeology and a sense of history. Many of the installations were designed and constructed with the assistance of Hopi tribe members. She set an important precedent for future National Park Service architecture throughout the country that responds to its natural and cultural context and emphasizes the use of on-site materials.