A Brief History of Fort Collins

Upon the discovery of gold in California in 1848, thousands of immigrants rushed westward seeking wealth, land, and new beginnings.  With the mass migration, new trails were created and wildlife was driven off the land or killed. Northern Colorado Indian tribes found their traditional lifestyles threatened by these Anglo invaders, causing increased tensions.

The 1860s were a time of great conflict between Colorado’s Anglo and Native American populations. As settlement continued to move west, the mail service followed. Soldiers from the 9th Kansas Cavalry were called to what is now the town of LaPorte, from Fort Laramie, to protect the mail delivery along the Overland Trail from hostile natives and unruly outlaws.

Camp Collins was named after Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins.  A military post was established southwest of LaPorte along the banks of the Cache la Poudre on July 22, 1862. However, the military establishment was short-lived. On the night of June 9, 1864, the camp was destroyed by a heavy flood, forcing the camp to relocate to higher ground.

With orders from Colonel Collins, Captain William H. Evans instructed Lieutenant James W. Hanna to locate a new site. Following the suggestion of Joseph Mason, a local resident, Camp Collins was reestablished four miles downriver; the future location of the city of Fort Collins.  On August 20, 1864, Colonel Collins officially claimed the site as the new military reservation. The Fort Collins Historical Society honors this date as the city’s official birthday. 

The new post was occupied in October 1864 and became known as Fort Collins. Interestingly, the “fort” never contained a single wall. Buildings on the post included company and officers’ quarters, stables, corrals, a guardhouse, a hospital, a kitchen, a sutler’s store; 22 buildings in total, all contained within a 300-square-foot parade ground

By 1866, General William T. Sherman determined that threats to stage traffic and settlers in the area had been substantially reduced, rendering the fort useless.  The post was abandoned in 1867 by an order from President Johnson.

At that point, only a handful of civilian settlers had permission to reside on the former military site.  However, shortly after being deserted, squatters moved to the fort, anticipating is would soon be open for settlement.  These expectations were evidenced in Jack Dow and Norman Meldrum's survey and platting of the original town site, an area known as "Old Town."  Old Town extended from the river south to Mountain Avenue and west from Riverside Avenue to College Avenue.

Old Town had been built parallel to the river.  However, in 1873, when platting the streets of “New Town,” Franklin C. Avery designed a layout according to points of the compass.  When the original plat was overlaid, the southwest and southeast corners were truncated along College and Mountain Avenues. The differences in platting made an interesting contrast which continues to distinguish Old Town from New Town today.

To find out more about Fort Collins’ history visit the Fort Collins History Connection: an online collaboration of the Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center and the Poudre River Public Library District.

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