Early Memories of Fort Collins (1909) Cars, Theatres, Streets and Voting the Democratic Ticket

Reminiscence of Ellen Michaud at 81

Interviewer: Jill Boice

Ellen was born in l893 and recalls that she was about 14 when her family moved to Fort Collins. The family had moved from Missouri to North Park, Colorado, where her father first trying farming and then worked as a hay hand. Finally, they moved to Fort Collins so her father could work in the sugar beet factory.

It was a small town then, maybe fewer than 11,000 people. North College Avenue was not paved and there was a big mud hole "where Griffith's used to have their cigar store." The hole was maybe eighteen inches deep, so big that sometimes you felt your horse and buggy might get stuck. A livery barn was on the corner of LaPorte and College and then on down the street at the corner of Jefferson and College was the City Corrals with horses and buggies to rent. Near the site of the Coloradoan building was a "show," she thought. Or maybe the theatre was on East Mountain. That was the Lyric Theatre and it was built in place of a livery stable. The American Theatre was on North College in the America Building, still standing in 2001.

There weren't many cars in those days, so Ellen still remembered her first ride in one. She was eighteen and it was "quite an experience in my life." The car belonged to the Collamer brothers and had neither doors nor a top. You got up on the running board of these "touring cars" and then just stepped in. Sometimes they had a top but they all had to be cranked up to start.

She learned to drive in 1916 when her father bought his first car, a Ford. She taught herself. She'd watched her father drive "and it didn't seem as though it was any trouble."

A lot of people thought cars were useless. She'd seen her first car in Missouri. "One drove up to our gate just a poppin' and a crackin' and we didn't know what it was cause we'd never seen one." Later a car scared their team of horses. They jumped and broke the tongue and ran off, leaving them "settin' there."

For a long time, horses and buggies and automobiles shared the streets. There were no traffic signs and people basically "drove where they wanted to." You could turn around in the middle of the street but you did have to be careful of the streetcars. "There wasn't so much traffic then."

"Paving was nice," she thought. She could remember when that change came. First two blocks on College were paved and then the two that made East and West Mountain were paved. What is now North College was the Inverness Farm.. She remembered the firehouse on Walnut Street and seeing the fire trucks pulled by beautiful teams of horses and often a Dalmatian dog riding up with the driver.

She saw some of the city's major buildings as they were constructed. The "Old Post Office" in those days was on Linden Street, a door or two North from the Linden Hotel and the Poudre Valley Bank, which was on the ground level of the hotel. Later the bank moved to the corner of Walnut and College, on the ground level of the Northern Hotel and later the site of the Northern Drug. Anyway, the "New Post Office," then was on the corner of College and Oak. (Present site of the One West Art Center).

Her family always went to the Presbyterian Church on Remington Street. Again, that was the site of the "Old Presbyterian Church in a red brick church on the corner of Olive and Remington. The "new" church still stands on College, near Laurel and the "Old" Unitarian Church, now the site of a fast food restaurant.

People were different then too. They moved slower, didn't get in such a rush, and always had the time to go visiting. To her, people in 1974 seemed more selfish. She remembered when one neighbor helped another, even getting in the harvest for a sick neighbor. She didn't remember much crime, but once the sheriff caught a couple of Colorado horse thieves in Wyoming and "one of 'em was killed."

Ellen felt that the world wars had changed people, especially WWI. "When so many boys were taken, it seems as though people grew harder and more selfish . . . I could be wrong, but that is my own feeling."

She was in her twenties during WWI and remembers so many men going to war and not as many coming home. Then there were men like Orphie Taylor who came home with "his face practically all shot off" and wore an artificial face and nose afterwards.

This interview took place while Mrs. Michaud was visiting in Fort Collins. She made her home in Oregon with her daughter. And even though she "loves Fort Collins," she didn't think she would come back again, "cause everything is changed and so many people are gone."

So many memories; ice cream parlors, the Russell Haymaker Barn on West Mountain Avenue where a street slants off to City park, the racetrack where the softball field is, seeing Buffalo Bill's Wild West show there. She remembered Frank Miller, the pioneer artist and showman who trained bears at his mountain resort and did trick shooting and "all such things as that." The circus was "quite an attraction." The big days when first Penney's and then Montgomery Wards and Piggly Wiggly came to Fort Collins. Then the first Safeway in place of a beautiful stone house; Senator Drake's home on the street named for him and a big red brick home and barn where Ghent Motor Company was built.

And finally she remembered politics - just a little. She was always registered as a Democrat and from the time she was twenty-one until a couple of years before, she never missed a chance to vote - Democratic. Fort Collins was largely a Republican town but she never missed voting Democratic. And both her children and their families were all Democratic.

Her interview concluded, "I always voted the Democratic ticket, whether they were elected or not."

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