I’ve now been the Forgotten Fort Collins blogger for almost a year. During that time I’ve learned an awful lot about Fort Collins’ history. Some I’ve posted about, some I haven’t. Some things are details that any Fort Collins child probably grew up knowing. It’s been ingrained in their bones and psyche. Other things are details that have been lost to the sands of time and I’ve managed to dig them up and reanimate them in some fashion. Either way, I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the city that I call home.
In the early years, everyone in Fort Collins knew where everyone else lived and worked. Because of this, even when advertisements in the paper included a phone number, they didn’t include an address. To see a few examples, check out the May 23rd post entitled “Motorists Asked Not to Rob Cars“.
Before the Golden Age of the Automobile, streets were unregulated parts of town used by pedestrians and cyclists as frequently as (or even more frequently than) buggies and mounted riders. People would walk along them, or cross them, at any point they pleased. But in 1913, there as a movement to encourage motorists (if not everyone else using the street) to stay on the right side of the road in order to avoid accidents. We take it for granted today that cyclists and motorists should stay right, but it was a pretty new idea in the early 1900s. See the original post here: “Drive Right – a new law from the 1913 city council“.
Runaway horses were a real problem in the early days. I read several news articles about horses run amuck – usually with a buggy still attached and occasionally with people in the buggy. Such instances could be dangerous both for those screaming in fright inside the carriage, but also for those on the streets (or in the yards) where the horses were running wildly. And catching the critters was no simple task. To read about a creamery horse that took off down S. College Avenue for quite a ways, read “Pancho Villa Rides Again… as does a creamery horse… in 1914“.
The local dairies were a big hit with residents. So much so, in fact, that when some soldiers returned from fighting in World War II, their first stop getting off the train was to grab a cone from the Poudre Valley Creamery before heading home to see family and friends. Read more about these veterans in “FCHS Class of ’43 Goes to War“.
I published several posts on northern Colorado architecture that turned out to be far more popular than I had anticipated. Not only did I learn a lot about local history and architectural styles while writing these posts, but I learned how attached we are to buildings. Many people’s comments on the posts had more to do with memories of the buildings than anything regarding the architecture. But I think that just goes to show that there’s value (even if it’s not very tangible) to maintaining and retaining these buildings in our landscape. Here are some links to these posts, if you’d like take a visual tour:
- A Whirlwind Tour Through the Historic Architecture of Fort Collins
- Post War Architecture of Fort Collins
- Jack-in-the-Box Houses in Fort Collins
- The Architecture of the Loomis Addition
- Walk Historic Loveland – Downtown
- The whole list of architecture related posts beyond just what’s listed here
Fort Collins has always been a town of big ideas and early adopters. Though not all of the big ideas made it to fruition, and not all of the things adopted early played out, in general these things have worked out very well for the city. Bioscience and clean energy are two areas in which Fort Collins excels today. But in the past bringing in the train, the sugar factory, and innovations such as kindergarten, electricity, and the telephone, all set Fort Collins apart as a progressive town. One idea that didn’t pan out, but that still shows how Fort Collins residents like to think big, was Hugo Frey’s idea to bring a breakfast food factory to town. Kellogg’s and Post were making it big in the mid-west and Frey wanted to bring that same type of industry to FoCo. Read more about the adventures of Hugo Frey in “Hugo Frey – Tales of Adventure from a Native Son“.
I suspect that most people can at least imagine how hard it was to be a pioneering farmer in the early days. But we tend to think of shop owners as living a more stable life. That misconception was blown clear out of the water for me as I dug through old newspapers to learn of the life of William Bernheim, one of Fort Collins’ early dry goods owners and the first Jewish person to live in the city (at least as far as I could find). William’s life wasn’t so bad until the 1890s hit and things turned very sour very quickly. He now lays at rest along with his wife and one child in the Grandview Cemetery, though there are no headstones to mark the location. Learn more about William Bernheim’s story in “William S. Bernheim and Family“.
I’ve known for awhile now that racism is sadly alive and well in Fort Collins. What I didn’t realize is that it was an issue even within the church in the early days. Holy Family began not because Hispanics wanted a church of their own, but because the non-Hispanics at St. Joe’s wanted them to attend Mass elsewhere. Despite such an inauspicious beginning, the church has become a community focal point for many Hispanics in the city. Read more about the church in “Holy Family Catholic Church – A Parish for the People“.
Probably one of the most important things I’ve learned this year is that just because a lot of people say the same thing, that doesn’t mean it’s true. I have yet to find any original source material that states that Franklin Avery built wide streets so that a horse and cart could do a U-turn in the street. And thanks to Jayne Hansen at the archive, I discovered that despite all the ghost stories about Eva Howe haunting the building where the Armadillo used to be, it turns out she was actually murdered down the street, where Illegal Pete’s is now. Read more in “The Ghost of Goodwill Soon to be Wandering Illegal Pete’s?”
This might be the most controversial thing I’ve learned this year. In July I published a post entitled, “Top 10 Events That Have Shaped Fort Collins“. Many people responded that I should have included the burning of Old Main in 1970. They said that the city lost its innocence when the building was burned to the ground by an arsonist. I wasn’t in Fort Collins at the time. (I would have been only 2 years old, anyway.) So it isn’t something that I experienced personally. But for those who did, it seems to have been one of those times that gets burned (no pun intended) into your psyche and shapes who you are. But for those of us who didn’t experience it, either because we were too young or weren’t living here at the time, the loss of Old Main seems to be on par with the loss of many old buildings in the city. We may have heard about the building. We may have seen pictures and admired the style and history of the structure. But the emotional connection to its loss is akin to the regret we feel about many other cool old buildings that have been lost to the wrecking ball of progress. The difference in how the building was lost doesn’t seem to change the level of regret over its passing. I suppose to sum up this last point I’d say that a person’s life experiences affect how they see and relate to history. Living through something gives us different eyes with which to see than only hearing about it and looking at pictures.
I look forward to continuing to learn more about Fort Collins in the upcoming year. Thanks for coming along for the ride! I love to hear your thoughts on the posts and your memories of Fort Collins.