HistoryLoversVacationinFoCo

There are a lot of fantastic reasons to take a vacation (or a staycation) in Fort Collins: shopping, beer, music, food, proximity to the great outdoors…. But there’s also a tremendous amount of history to be mined in our fair city, and today I’m going to outline some ways that you can take a “History-Lovers Vacation” in Fort Collins, Colorado.

I’ll cover three main areas: where to stay, how to get around, and what to see and do. But this is the kind of post where you might want to skip around to the part that you find most interesting or that will best fit with your plans. (If you’re already planning to stay with Grandma Jane when you come to visit, then you obviously can skip the bit about where to stay, for example.) So I’m laying this post out in a way that will hopefully make it really easy to skip to the part that benefits you most. That said, some of the places I write about under Where to Stay and How to Get Around include historic buildings. So you might want to still do a little skimming.


Where to Stay

There are a few places to stay in Fort Collins that are especially suited to the history buff.

The Armstrong Hotel 259 S College Ave

The Armstrong Hotel

The Armstrong Hotel – 259 S. College

Once the tallest building in downtown Fort Collins, the Armstrong Hotel was built in 1923 by Charles and Carolyn Mantz. They named the hotel after Carolyn’s late father, Andrew Armstrong, whose house had previously stood on the property.

The hotel’s website includes a great deal more information on the history of the building. Other highlights include complimentary cruiser bikes that can be checked out for the day, unlimited access to the Old Town Athletic Club nearby, wifi, cable, and probably the best perk of all, the Mugs Coffee Lounge is located on the first floor of the building. The hotel is also pet friendly. Find out more about the Armstrong Hotel through their website.

The Edwards House

The Edwards House

The Edwards House – 402 W. Mountain

This bed & breakfast was once the home of Alfred Augustus Edwards. The house was designed by Montezuma Fuller and was built in 1904. (It’s because of Fuller that many of our historic buildings have a truly unique-to-Fort-Collins look.)

As a guest you can enjoy the fire in the parlor, the spacious front porch, a sauna, cable, and wifi. The Edwards House is located within a few blocks of Old Town shopping and restaurants as well as the MAX rapid transit line on Mason Street. For more information on the Edwards House, check out their website.

Fernweh Inn & Hostel

 

Fernweh is located in a house on W. Mulberry that was originally built for Charles Sheldon (of Sheldon Lake at City Park). The house was moved from its original location at 131 S. Howes where the Key Bank building stands today. It includes several housing arrangements from shared rooms (hostel style) to individual rooms and even a grand suite.

If none of these options are within your budget or don’t work for some other reason, a couple of other hotels to look into include the Best Western University Inn on South College – a straight shot south of Old Town and close to a MAX transit station. Or the Fort Collins Hilton Inn, just south of the CSU campus and also fairly close to a MAX transit station.


How to Get Around

Most of Fort Collins’ historic places are located in or near downtown. If you’re able to stay in the Armstrong Hotel or the Edwards Bed & Breakfast, then you may be able to rely entirely upon walking or biking to see all the sites. The Armstrong has bicycles that you can check out for the day. But if those are unavailable, or you’re not staying at the Armstrong, but you still want to get around by bike, then I’d recommend the Fort Collins Bike Library.

If you are able to stay south of Old Town along College or near Mason Street, then the MAX transit system is a great solution. The MAX is a new rapid transit system in the city and is completely free to users until August 23, 2014.

There are also parking structures in Old Town — one at the corner of Remington and Mountain Avenue and the second at the corner of Laporte and Mason — as well as some surface lots. See the complete map on the Fort Collins city site. The first hour is always free and the rate after that is $1 per hour, so parking is a very reasonably priced option.

The Fort Collins Bike Library is located in the historic Colorado & Southern Depot.

The Fort Collins Bike Library is located in the historic Colorado & Southern Railroad Freight Depot.

The Fort Collins Bike Library – 250 N. Mason Street

The bike library is located inside the Colorado & Southern Depot which was built in 1906. The attached dock was so large that 12 freight cars could be unloaded simultaneously. If you wander inside the building you’ll find a wall of old photos as you walk towards the Bike Library check-out counter. In these photos you’ll note a beautiful passenger depot that was torn down in 1952. The depot stuck halfway out into Laporte Avenue, an anomaly that eventually led to its removal.

For more information:

The MAX Bus Rapid Transit Service – Along Mason St. and McClelland Dr.

The city has recently installed a new rapid transit service that runs along the spine of Fort Collins. It provides a handy way to get from the south end of town to Old Town. The buses have bike racks either in front of the bus, or for the double long buses, by the back door. Along with the transit line, the city completed the Mason Corridor bike trail that runs along Mason street until it hits the CSU campus where it splits off into a multi-use path and turns into a dedicated bike trail south of Prospect. For more information on MAX, check out the Transfort website. MAX is free for users until August 23, 2014.


What to See and Do

Finally we come to the heart of the matter. There is so much delightful history in Fort Collins that I will only be able to skim across the top of what’s available to see and do. But I will hopefully provide a solid framework from which you can build a History Lovers day, or weekend, or even a full week of delightful history-centric traipsing about town.

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery includes history exhibits.

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery includes history exhibits.

The Fort Collins Museum of Discovery – 408 Mason Court

Our history museum was recently combined with our hands on Discovery Museum. This can lead to a bit of confusion when you first enter the building expecting to find dusty old displays and somber attitudes. The first thing you’ll probably notice as you enter the building is the noise. Don’t let that scare you off. Not only is there some delightful history embedded within the music section of the museum, but there’s also an instructive history section somewhat hidden behind all of the madness and mayhem. Be not afraid. After paying the entrance fee, descend into the abyss of noise and head to your right. You’ll eventually see farm equipment and a shed-like structure. If you make a B-line in that direction, you’ll find yourself in the midst of some intriguing history-centric displays that are well worth the visit.

Don't miss the old graffiti on this old stage coach.

Don’t miss the old graffiti on this stage coach.

The museum has a lot of fun, hands on displays for kids of all ages. Even the history displays include some interactive elements in order to engage children. You’ll find that most of the displays are organized around themes or stories rather than providing a chronological timeline.

If you are a Fort Collins resident, there are some serious advantages to becoming a member of the Museum. In addition to gaining entrance to the museum all year long and getting discounted tickets to the digital dome theater, you can also use your Museum of Discovery membership to get into select History Colorado museums including the History Colorado Center in Denver AND the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. (The full list includes over 300 museums and science centers all over the United States.)

To find out more about the Museum of Discovery or the Fort Collins Archive that is also housed there, check out the museum website.

Michael Murphy will be your guide through Fort Collins' history on the Magic Bus history tours.

Michael Murphy will be your guide through Fort Collins’ history on the Magic Bus history tours.

Magic Bus History Tours – Meet up at 19 Old Town Square, in front of the Visitors Center

Magic Bus Tours provides several options for visitors to Old Town. In addition to local brewery and “Farm to Table” tours, there are three tours that might particularly appeal to the history lover: a walking tour through Old Town (downtown), a bus tour that covers a broader view of Fort Collins history, and a ghost tour that delves into the spooky side of Fort Collins’ past.

I recently took the Old Town walking tour and was delighted not only by Michael Murphy’s engaging presentation, but also by the fact that I learned several things that I didn’t know (and I know a fair bit given that I’m a Fort Collins history blogger). One advantage of the walking tour is that you actually walk in and among the buildings and places that famous Fort Collins residents have traversed before you. You can touch the places they touched and see (and even hear) the things that they saw (and heard.  OK, so not exactly what they heard but… well, you’ll have to take the tour to see/hear what I mean.) Michael told me that he’s taken several groups of locals on his history tours and they (like me) enjoyed learning things they didn’t know about our fair city.

Tours can be booked online at the Magic Bus Tours website.

Haunted Fort Collins

There are also a series of tours that focus entirely on all things ghostly in Fort Collins — run by Haunted Fort Collins. Though I haven’t taken one of these tours, so I can’t relate my own experiences, I’ve learned that they include trips by horse & buggy or even by hearse! which looks like a lot of fun. You can find out more about these tours at Haunted Fort Collins.

The trolley passes between vintage houses as it traverses Mountain Avenue.

The trolley passes between vintage houses as it traverses Mountain Avenue.

The Fort Collins Trolley – Depot located at City Park, by the tennis courts

Take a ride on Birney Car 21 as it trundles along the green belt in the center of  beautiful Mountain Avenue. Originally a means for folks living in the “suburbs” to commute to work or school, the trolley ran from 1907 to 1951. It was reborn in 1986, thanks to the hard work and loving attention given by several local volunteers. The system continues to be run entirely by volunteers to this day.

You can catch a ride at any of the four stops along the line: City Park (near the tennis courts), at Shields (at Mountain, near Beavers grocery), at Loomis (and Mountain), and at Howes (and Mountain, near Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church). If you want to hop off to grab a quick bite to eat before returning to your starting point, just ask for a transfer. Get all the details at the Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society website.

The Avery House is a living museum just a few blocks from downtown.

The Avery House is a museum just a few blocks from downtown.

The Avery House – 328 W. Mountain Avenue

Built in 1879, the Avery House is one of the oldest residences in Fort Collins that hasn’t succumbed to the wrecking ball. This beautiful Victorian was originally the home of Franklin and Sarah Avery and their three children. You can visit this house museum, full of period furniture and other details, between 1-4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

The Avery House is run by the Poudre Landmarks Foundation which has a website, but I was unable to find the times that the house is open listed anywhere. (I had to rely upon the flyer I picked up at the Visitors’ Center instead.) There is some historic information however, and if you’d like to check that out, here’s a link to the Avery House page.

The Museo de Las Tres Colonias

The Museo de Las Tres Colonias

Museo de Las Tres Colonias – 425 10th Street

The Museo de Las Tres Colonias is also a house museum, but rather than tracking the history of the rich and famous in Fort Collins, it follows the story of the poor immigrant farm workers that were foundational to Fort Collins rise and success in the sugar, grain, and lamb raising industries.

This museum is a little further afield, but not so far that it couldn’t be reached with a short bike ride. Several breweries lie between the Museo and Old Town, so you can stop and refresh yourself if you find the ride too hot or tiring. The Museo is open to the public the third Saturday of every month.

The Museo de Las Tres Colonias‘ website is available in both English and Spanish. (And as much as I love the museum and think it’s a great example of early Fort Collins history, I have to admit that the geek in me is also thrilled by the fact that Edward James Olmos, the man that played Commander Adama in the most recent version of Battlestar Galactica, visited this little museum when he came to town in 2009.)

Even Farther Afield

There are other historic sites to see in and around Fort Collins, but they’ll require a car to reach.

Bee Family Centennial Farm Museum: Located at 4320 East County Road 58, this museum is open Fridays and Saturdays from 9am – 4pm, May through October. The Bee family moved to Fort Collins from Iowa in 1882. Learn about their story from their descendants and others. This is a fun historic experience for the whole family. There’s also a lot to see and do on the Bee Family Farm website.

The Fort Collins Water Works: Water is a big deal in often-parched Colorado, so the building of the city’s first water works was a big step forward in terms of being able to survive comfortably in Colorado’s arid climate. Built in 1880, the water works are still undergoing renovation and will soon be undergoing even more work in order to become an interpretive center. But you can drive by and see the waterworks from the road if you are interested (2005 N. Overland Trail) and the water works are open on occasion to the public. Find out more about the Water Works online. (Sign up for the “History Now” newsletter — find the button at the top right of this website — for updates on when tours will be given. Or watch the Poudre Landmarks main page.)

Self-guided Walking Tours and a Few Other Places Worth Seeing

There are several self guided walking tours available at both the downtown Visitors Center and online.  At the visitors center, look for a tour of the Ghost Signs downtown (there’s also an online version), the History of Fort Collins Cemeteries, and though not a tour, watch for the “Its history makes it special” flyer by historian Wayne Sundberg.

The Poudre Landmarks Foundation Walking Tour Map

The Poudre Landmarks Foundation Walking Tour Map

Online you’ll find a nicely done Historic Landmarks flyer (pdf) that wasn’t created as a walking tour, but it could still be used for that purpose if you wanted to view the sites in person.  And the Poudre Landmarks Foundation has five walking tours (pdf) that focus on specific parts of town. (I found that both of these tours fit reasonably well into the screen of my smart phone. You’ll just have to do some resizing now and then to zoom in on specific pages.)

A little more hit and miss, I’d encourage you to pop into various buildings throughout Old Town. Many have old photos of the same building up in their lobby areas. Buildings I know for a fact include old pictures include: the Armstrong Hotel, the old Linden Hotel (where Nature’s Own is today, but look for the door to the Northeast-ish of Nature’s Own – down Linden), the Northern Hotel, the Silver Grill Cafe, and the old Train Depot on Mason Street.

In addition to these self-guided tours, you may want to swing by The Farm at Lee Martinez Park. Though not often billed as a museum, the farm reflects the dairy that once stood in the same location in the early 1920s and 30s and there is a Farm Heritage Museum on the site. Kids will love being able to see and pet the animals. And the old tractor was a favorite picture taking spot for us when my kids were young.

Feedback

I’d love to hear about your experiences when you visit any of these locations or use any of the walking tours. Also, I’m sure I missed some places in this survey of History Lovers places to visit. So please use the comments section here to fill me in on what I’ve missed, to give reviews of things you liked or didn’t as you toured our fair city, and I’d even be delighted to hear you wax eloquent on what your historic visits have meant to you or taught you.

 

Join Forgotten Fort Collins next week as we explore stories of the early stage-coach routes through Fort Collins.

 

Sources: Most information in this article came from websites and the flyers found at the Fort Collins Visitor’s Center. Some came from personal experience. I took all of the photos myself, though the postcard image of the Armstrong Hotel was a photograph of the postcard that’s hanging up in the lobby at the hotel. I also got some of my trolley information by talking to volunteers at the trolley depot. (I also have a somewhat funny story of trying to get the *perfect* trolley photo on Mountain. Some day I need to do a post on the back stories of the articles I write. Every story seems to come with a sub-story of one kind or another.)  🙂