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Soldiers in front of headquarters building, c. 1865
Soldiers in front of headquarters building, c. 1865

History of Fort Collins

Specially Prepared for this Publication by Mr. C. S. Potter, Secretary of Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce.

Fort Collins is a city of high destiny. It has prospered from the first, not because of any boom movement or organized effort to promote it's welfare, but the city's growth, though rapid, has been steady, permanent and enduring, based solely upon its immeasurable natural resources and position and warranted by them.

The history of Fort Collins is not a long one. Its story is that of a city founded by hardy pioneers of early Western times and of its growth in size, prosperity and importance keeping pace with the development of its resources of the wonderful country surrounding it.

In 1828 trappers employed by the American Fur Co. first came to the valley of the Cache la Poudre and established a trading post for the exchange of goods and furs with the Indians at what is now Laporte, some five miles northwest of the present city of Fort Collins. In the early '40s a permanent town was established at Laporte, which was then the gateway to the mountains and a stopping place on the long trail which led through the Rocky mountains to Utah and California.

The tide of Mormon immigration, which passed through the country in 1841, made Laporte a town of some importance.

Then followed the Pike's Peak gold excitement - 1859-60 - which brought many emigrants to Colorado and many hardy American pioneers, wearied in their search for gold, settled in the fertile Cache la Poudre valley to engage in the growing of hay for the neighboring forts and the raising of cattle and horses.

Laporte was then the chief town in the region and its citizens were largely French-Canadian mountianeers who had intermarried with the Indians.

Larimer county first secured representation on the map of the Overland stage route in 1862 when stations were established at Mariana's Crossing of the Big Thompson river, Spring Canon, Bonner Springs, Virginia Dale and Laporte.

In 1864, Lieutenant-Colonel William L. Collins, commander of the military department of the Platte, with headquarters at Fort Laramie, came to the Cache la Poudre valley in search of a location for a military post.

Noting its advantages of situation and surrounding country, Colonel Collins that fall established a post on the site now occupied by the city of Fort Collins, which was called Camp Collins in honor of its founder. In 1865 a military reservation six miles square, having Camp Collins as its headquarters, was established by the national government, a number of log cabins were erected for the accommodation of the soldiers and the post came to be known as Fort Collins. The number of settlers in the valley increased and the nucleus of a settlement was thus formed.

Indian raids by the Sioux, Arapahoes and other Indian tribes were frequent in those early days and many a thrilling tale of fights with the Indians can yet be told by settlers of those times, many of whom still make their homes in Fort Collins. The last Indian raid occurred in 1868 and in 1879 the last of the Indians, mostly Arapahoes, had left the region. An Indian reservation six miles square with Fort Collins as its northern boundary was maintained in Larimer county until 1871.

In 1865 Judge Stone erected a log house and conducted it as a hotel, thus virtually establishing a town and the settlement began to grow. As the dangers from Indian attacks diminished the soldiers were withdrawn and the military post abandoned. Grains came to be cultivated to such an extent about this time that a grist mill was erected, which remained a landmark of the locality until destroyed by fire in 1887.

The first school was opened in July, 1866, in one of the military commissary buildings and the first school house was erected in 1871 at a cost of $1,250. The same year a Masonic lodge was instituted and the first kiln of brick was burned. At this time there were only about half a dozen buildings in Fort Collins, exclusive of the soldiers' cabins. In 1872, however, immigrations set in and the town enjoyed a rapid growth.

The first newspaper was published that year, two large irrigation canals were built, and numerous farms were taken up near the town. In 1873 a bank was started, a church was organized and many new business houses were established. The Colorado Central railroad, then building from Denver to Cheyenne, reached Fort Collins in October 1877. The advent of the railroad gave a new impetus to the growth of the place and in 1878 the population of the town more than doubled. This year saw the building of the State Agricultural College in the town and the Remington street school, both substantial brick structures. Many business blocks and residences were also erected.

The opera house, having a seating capacity of 800, was built in 1880.

The Greeley, Salt Lake and Pacific railroad was completed to Fort Collins in 1882 and again the town experienced a boom and made a wonderful growth. Building operations received a new impetus. Church edifices, mercantile blocks and residences, many of them beautiful and commodious, sprang up as if by magic.

The town was incorporated as a city of the second class in 1883. Since then the city has experienced a continuous, steady and substantial growth.

In 1887 the Larimer County Court House was erected at Fort Collins at a cost of $50,000, the edifice being large and attractive and containing accommodations for the courts, county offices and a strongly constructed jail. In 1902, a city hall was constructed. In the fall of 1903 was begun the erection of one of the largest sugar factories in the country, with the assistance of a large investment of local capital. The factory was completed and ground its first beets Jan. 4, 1904. The mammoth manufacturing plant, erected at a cost of $1,250,000 and having a capacity of 1,200 tons of beets per day, has become one of the city's greatest industries.

The Carnegie free public library, a beautiful structure built of red stone taken from the quarries near the city, was opened to the public July 1, 1904.

The State Agricultural College has increased in importance and size until it now occupies ten large brick buildings heated by steam, lighted by electricity and having all modern appliances and conveniences, and its large, well cared for grounds are among the most attractive features of the city. The experiments conducted on the college experimental farm of about 300 acres have attracted national attention and gained for the college an enviable reputation in matters pertaining to stock feeding, breeding, agriculture, etc.

The public schools have kept pace with the rapid growth of the community and the city has four commodious brick school buildings with a school attendance of about 1,800. The buildings are all modern in sanitary arrangements and school appliances. The High school building occupies a full block of ground centrally located in the city. It was completed in 1903 and is a strictly modern and beautiful school edifice in all respects.

During the past three years the population of Fort Collins has doubled, many large business blocks, beautiful church edifices, attractive residences and hundreds of more modern homes have been built. During the last year $500,000 were expended in building operations, consisting largely of the building of homes by individuals. An electric light and power house plant have been established, as also an up-to-date gas plant.

Through the enterprise of citizens a large amusement park, covering 45 acres, has been built, including an excellent race track and facilities for the giving of annual Northern Colorado fairs. Fort Collins has been made a part of the Western circuit of the American Trotting Association and its race meets furnish tests of speed between the same race horses that contest on the tracks of Denver, Salt Lake City and other large cities of the West.

Arrangements are being made for street paving and this spring will see the work completed.

Perhaps most important of all the resources of the surrounding and supporting country have developed and grown until it has become one of the leading and most productive agricultural regions of the entire West. The beet sugar industry, beet growing and the winter sheep feeding industries have grown to such proportions that they have made the country famous. As a consequence the city has become a market center and shipping point of importance and its business interests and industries have increased and prospered.

Fort Collins today, with a population of 7,280, stands, with its ideal climate, its substantial business blocks, beautiful public, church and school buildings, attractive residences, its wide, electric lighted streets, bordered with shade trees, not only as one of the most attractive but because of its unrivaled location, rapidly developing industries and increasing business activity, its importance as a market center and shipping point, as one of the most important and prosperous cities of the state.

The metropolis of Northern Colorado.
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