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Looking South on Linden Street, c.1878
Looking South on Linden Street, c.1878

Fort Collins as it Appeared To a Stranger 40 Years Ago

By Ansel Watrous, Fort Collins Express, November 28, 1918, Thanksgiving Edition
Pages 1 and 2 Vol. 45 No. 154

Nearly forty-one years have elapsed and passed on into the silent realms of eternity to join their millions of comrades who had served their purpose and gone before, since I first stepped foot within the limits of Fort Collins. I had left my Wisconsin home the day after Christmas 1877, and turned my face towards the setting sun and after a four day's ride on the cars, landed in this embryo city at 6 o'clock on Saturday, December 30th. The trains in those days made but little better time than the overland stage used to make in crossing the plains. I arrived in Cheyenne shortly after 1 o'clock in the afternoon and waited until 4 o'clock when the Colorado Central train left for Denver. The train was composed of engine, tender, baggage car and one coach. My companions in the coach, like a dozen in number, were stockmen going to Denver to attend a stockgrowers' meeting, some traveling salesmen and a few others, but no women. We passed Jack Springs, W. S. Taylor's ranch, about dusk and rolled on down to Bristol station on Boxelder creek. Here was a small station house and a water tank. Here W. B. Miner and Hugh Barton with whom I afterwards became well acquainted and esteemed them as friends left the train. There was not a house, a cabin or tree between Bristol and Fort Collins but just as the train began to drop down the bluff north of town I discovered three lights twinkling in the distance. One of them was from the home of P. G. Terry who owned land now covered by the Larimer and Weld reservoir, another from the home of P. P. Black who lived at the north end of Terry Lake, and the third from the home of Austin Mason as I afterward learned.

My uncle, the late W. F. Watrous met me at the train station with his spring wagon, and took me to his home at the corner of College avenue and Myrtle street, where I remained until Monday morning.

Sunday I arose early as I wanted to see the town and know where I was. The view I got was not an attractive nor an encouraging one for a tenderfoot. A more desolate and dreary looking country I had ever dreamed of seeing. There were then perhaps a hundred buildings of all kinds and descriptions, mostly one story cottages and cabins and these were scattered from Dan to Ber-Sheba. Consequently a great many vacant places in the town site. There were a few fairly good business buildings and dwelling houses, but for the most part they were merely habitations, not entitled to rank as comfortable and convenient homes. There was not a tree or shrub to be seen, except a few young cottonwoods that Judge Bouton had planted in front of his home on North Sherwood street. There were no sidewalks, no street crossings and but few open streets, all the rest being open country. The population of the town was perhaps 500, although optimistic citizens claimed 800. I naturally wondered what it was that induced people to come way out here from the east and attempt to build in the desert and why they remained here for any length of time. The snow stood about four inches deep on the ground and this, to my mind then, did not add to the attractions of the town and surrounding country. It but added to the bleakness and apparent desolation that greeted my eyes, look in whatever direction I might. The mountains to the west of the town was all that my eyes delighted to rest upon.

On New Year's day 1878 I went to work at W. C. Stover's general store, having in the meantime secured board and lodging in Mr. and Mrs. H. C. Peterson's hospitable and comfortable home. I came in contact at my boarding place and at the store with many excellent people and soon formed a number of acquaintanceships, the memory of whom is filled with pleasant recollections. At the boarding house I met J. W. Barnes, the school teacher, A. J. Hottel, who was head miller at the Lindell mills, and Joseph Kortz, who was also employed in the mills, all splendid gentlemen and afterwards warm friends. Mr. Barnes went to Golden soon after his school closed and was later County Judge of Jefferson county. Mr. Hottel married and along in the late eighties went to Lamar, Colorado, to take charge of a new merchant flouring mill of which he was part owner. "Jack" Hottel as we called him, became one of the most popular young men of the town. At the store I met and became acquainted with a great many excellent patrons of the store from whom I gleaned much interesting information bearing on the town and its history. To name them all and the names of most of them are still fresh in memory-would take up too much space. The patrons of the Stover store in those days were mainly the pioneers, men like J. G. Coy, P. Anderson, A. J. Ames, F. W. Sherwood, Tommy Cline, Eb Davis, Tom Earnest, N. C. Alford, William Calloway. The Hardin brothers, John Hardin. E. N. Garbutt, Ben Claymore for whom Claymore lake was named, Abner Loomis, H. C. Peterson and others, men who were in comfortable circumstances and able to pay for what they purchased.

At that time the town was divided into two factions, the "Old Town" faction and the "New Town" faction and for many years a deep seated bitterness existed between the two. The Old Town had laid off streets parallel with the river soon after the U. S. soldiers had been withdrawn from Camp Collins and all the business houses and all the homes were centered in the Old Town. In 1872 a colony, composed mainly of dissatisfied Greeley colonists, located here and laid off a townsite and hitched it on to Old Town, causing sharp angles in the streets. The colony was headed by Gen. R. A. Cameron. The efforts of the New Town to draw business away from Old Town caused a sharp rivalry to spring up between the two factions. College Avenue, Jefferson and Linden streets were the main thoroughfares on which business was centered. On the north side of Jefferson street there were the Grout barns built by Joseph Mason in 1870 as a stage barn, Dr. D. B. Bennett's cottage, James Landell's harness shop, J. M. Galloway's law office, a building that had been occupied by Charles Boettcher as a hardware store, the Metropolitan hotel kept by G. G. Blake, W. C. Stover's general store, Joseph Mason's general store in which the post office was located, Tom Wilson's saloon, two or three small one-story cottages including Frank Morrison's barber shop, D. L. Powers home and Bill Morgan's blacksmith shop. In the block east were four small cottages including Albert Yale's which stood on the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Jefferson street. On the south side of the street there were Chris Philippi's harness shop, Demmels shoe shop, the Stone hotel kept by T. L. Moore, the Yount bank building and the old Grout erected in 1865 by Joseph Mason and Capt. Asaph Allen for use as a sutler's store. That building served many and various purposes in the early days. At the time I speak of it, it was occupied by Mrs. Cowan and children and L. R. Rhodes had his law office in it. A few feet west of the Old Grout, William Shipler had a photograph gallery. Joseph Mason and family lived in a cottage which stood at the corner of Jefferson and Pine Streets. On Linden street Louis Dauth had a small grocery store and there were two other small buildings, the names of the occupants I cannot recall. Next came the McConathy block, the Standard restaurant and a Meat Market kept by Querin Schang, a cottage on the ground now occupied by the Elk's Club. Those were all the buildings on the east side of the street. On the west side Abner Loomis, which stood on the ground now occupied by Hollar and Scharp's furniture store, a small building in which was printed the Larimer County Express and the Presbyterian church built in 1876. All of the rest of the street on both sides was open country. The Express building stood where the City Drug now stands and the Presbyterian church at the corner of Walnut and Linden.

On the west side of North College avenue, there were Jacob Welch's general store housed in a two story veneered brick, Judge Jay H. Bouton's law office, Frank C. Avery's office and Joseph Shipler's home. The Welch building was destroyed by fire and all of its' contents on the night of February 3rd, 1880. The second floor of this building was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Welch, Miss Tillie Irving, A. F. Hopkins, L. W. Smith, all of whom barely escaped with their lives excepting Miss Irvin who was burned to death. They were clerks employed in the Welch store. A small dwelling and J. B. Fletcher's stone meat market were all the buildings north of Mountain avenue, on the east side of College avenue. South of Mountain avenue, a small cottage at the corner of Oak street an unfinished frame building owned by G. S. Cathers which stood where the Warner Inglefield furniture store now stands, marked the occupied boundary line between Fort Collins and the Big Thompson valley. Grange hall stood on the west side of the avenue at the corner of Mountain avenue, then some three small office buildings, the Jacob Armstrong house now occupied by Dr. Quick and family, the W. F. Watrous home at the corner of the avenue and Myrtle street. Except for a small brick structure on the college farm, used to store farm tools in, there was not another house to be seen until one reached the Big Thompson valley.

Between College avenue and Mason Street on the south side of Mountain avenue there was one frame cottage, the remnants of the building in which the Express was born and the Agricultural hotel kept by D. M. Harris. There was nothing else on that side of the avenue clear to the foothills, if we expect a two room frame structure in the center of court square used as an office for the County clerk and County treasurer. On the north side of the avenue F. C. Avery and family lived in a small cottage which stood where the Avery residence now stands.

Judge Bouton, James Conroy and Chas. R. Goldsborough lived on North Sherwood street and there was nobody south, east and west of them. Nobody lived on Meldrum street and there was one house on Howes street and that was owned and occupied by Chas. P. Scott, county clerk. The railroad track was the only sign of civilization on Mason street and a cottage owned by J. H. Mandeville and one occupied by Joseph Coyte were all that kept Remington street from being a blank.

Andrew Armstrong built and occupied the house now owned and occupied by Dr. Stuver and family on Matthews street, J. S. McClelland's town residence was next south of Armstrong's and David Patton and family occupied the Cloud house at the corner of Olive and Matthews streets and three blocks south J. W. Norvell lived in a cottage. These four embraced all the structures on Matthews street in December 1877. Rev. D. E. Finks, pastor of the Presbyterian church lived on east Oak street and John W. Smith lived on West Oak. Mr. Smith's home stood on the ground now occupied by Ed Baker's handsome bungalow. Those two houses were all Oak street could boast of those days. The Episcopal church, which stood near where the Owl Drug store now stands, a dwelling which stood on ground now occupied by the Avery block. "Uncle" Ben Whedbee's store, which stood on the ground now occupied by the First National Bank, his dwelling house, and a small cottage and F. N. B. Scott's blacksmith shop were the only ornaments of East Mountain avenue. The Methodist church stood on Laporte avenue west of the railroad. It was moved from that location in 1878 to a new one on East Mountain avenue, there being more water on the old site than was needed for sprinkling purposes.

The Colorado Central railroad (now the C. & S.) stretched its iron rails through the county from north to south in 1877 and ran its' first train into Fort Collins, Oct. 17th of that year. The depot was a small three room brick which had to serve as waiting room, freight room and office room for T. J. Montgomery the agent.

On Willow street there were the Lindell Mills, and the residence of W. C. Stover and M. E. Hocker, and F. P. Stover. In 1876 H. C. Peterson made the brick and built the first brick house erected in Fort Collins. It stood on Lincoln avenue near the Lindell Mills, and the first school house, a small frame structure, was built that year. In 1879 after the Remington school building was completed the old school house was converted into a Catholic church and when the new Catholic church was completed in 1901, it was made over into a dwelling house. In 1873 L. R. Rhodes built a somewhat pretentious brick dwelling at the eastern end of Mountain avenue, then way out to the prairie. This house has recently been occupied by the Powers Maternity hospital.

Forty years ago nearly all the lots on the eastern part of town were vacant, including those on Remington , Matthews, Peterson, Whedbee and other streets and they could have been purchased for from $ 10 to $ 15 each.

The foregoing completes the story of the situation and how Fort Collins appeared to a stranger forty years ago.

The town fight which waged so vigorously for almost a quarter of a century, finally came to an end after nearly all the promoters, founders and defenders of the Old and New Town had passed off the stage of action and now peace and harmony exists among those left behind.

The names of the county officers serving the people when I set foot in Fort Collins follow: County Judge Jay H. Bouton, County Clerk Chas. P. Scott, County treasurer W. B. Osbourne, Assessor Joseph Murray, Sheriff James Sweeney, County Superintendent E. N.Garbutt. County surveyor Jack Dow, County Commissioners Noah Bristol, Lewis Cross and Revillo Loveland. Only Mr. Loveland survives his fellow members of the board at that time and he now is an honored resident of this city.
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