Lt. Col. William Oliver Collins
Fort Collins was named after him.
Fort Collins Area Histories
Fort Collins - Its History in a Nutshell
Fort Collins had its beginning on July
22, 1862, when soldiers were sent from the 9th Kansas
Cavalry at Fort Laramie to what is now the town of
Laporte to protect the Cherokee trail and to guard the
Overland Stage Line.
- By Charlene Tresner - 1981
The name "Camp Collins"
was given to the post by Gen. James Craig in honor of Lt.
Col. William 0. Collins, the able and popular commander
of Ohio Cavalry troops whose headquarters were at Fort
After three and a half months, the Kansas Cavalry was
replaced by Colorado troops who manned Camp Collins until
May, 1864, when Company F of the 11th Ohio Cavalry was
ordered by Col. Collins to relieve the Colorado soldiers.
A devastating flood rushed down the canyon of the
Cache la Poudre River during the night of June 9, 1864.
Flooding Camp Collins, it carried tents, ammunition and
some of the cabins downstream. The soldiers managed to
retreat to the nearest bluff without lives being lost,
but the morning presented a scene of desolation: a sea of
muddy water and only the roofs of a few cabins visible.
Soon a search began for a new location for the post.
Joseph Mason (credited with being Fort Collins' first
white settler) was living on his farm between the present
North Shields and Wood Street on Vine Drive. Mason
pointed out land on the Cache la Poudre River in the
vicinity of the present Willow St.
On August 20, 1864, Col. Collins signed the order
setting aside the present location of Fort Collins as the
new military reservation. Here the danger of flooding
would be less and sufficient land was available without
interfering with the claims of individuals. Thus it is
August 20 that Fort Collins Historical Society honors as
the celebration of Fort Collins' birthday.
In October of 1864 the new post was ready for
occupation and the term "Fort Collins" is used
instead of "Camp Collins" in the order book,
although there seems to have been no official order for
For almost two years Fort Collins remained a military
post until the last soldiers were evacuated in September,
1866. The only building from the old fort that has been
preserved is the Auntie Elizabeth Stone cabin which has
been moved to Library Park. Originally located on
Jefferson St. just back of the present Major Motor
Supply, the cabin was built as an officers' mess hall,
with Auntie Stone in charge. She was the first white
woman to be a permanent resident of Fort Collins.
A few farms and ranches were located
around Fort Collins and squatters settled on the
abandoned military reservation in "Old Town"
along the river before legal snarls were untangled to
open government land to settlement. Finally on May 15,
1872, Congress opened the reservation to pre-emption
homesteading and that same year the Agricultural Colony
arrived to buy land and plat out Fort Collins. Old Town
had been built parallel to the river, while New Town was
attached to it, being square with the compass. Fort Collins was incorporated as a town February 3, 1873. Statistics
of 1870 give the entire population of Larimer County as
838 people. (At that time the present Jackson County was
included in Larimer County.)
Fort Collins' first
business was the former sutler's store, Old Grout, at the
southwest corner of Linden and Jefferson Streets. Old
Grout was so named because of the grouting material of
which it was constructed. Razed in 1882, it had served as
an all-purpose building for holding meetings, church
services, dances, court sessions and incarcerating
prisoners, as well as housing the general store.
Realizing that irrigation was necessary for crops in
this arid area, settlers near the present Bellvue dug the
first irrigation ditch in 1860 to take water from the
Cache la Poudre River. From that time on there began to
develop Larimer County's elaborate system of irrigation
and water supply that we know today as the lifeblood of a
rich agricultural region.
It was with rejoicing that the first railroad was
welcomed to Fort Collins as it chugged down Mason St.
(its present location) on the morning of October 8, 1877.
Livestock and farm products could now be shipped out and
consumer goods brought in at a reasonable cost and with
savings in time. Travelers, too, found it a convenience,
especially before automobiles began appearing shortly
after the turn of the century. Another milepost in Fort
Collins' progress was the opening of Colorado
Agricultural College (now CSU) in the fall of 1879. Ten
years later the first high school opened on the second
floor of Franklin School, which once stood where Steele's
Market on West Mountain is now located.
From its beginnings to the present "Choice
City" of some 70,000 inhabitants, Fort Collins owes
its growth to many factors: mild, dry climate; proximity
to mountains, rivers and lakes; location of important
industry; favorable conditions for agriculture and
livestock; and Colorado State University with 17,000
students as the city's chief employer.