Fort Collins history

Fort Collins itinerant beet workers
A family of itinerant beet workers was living out of a prairie wagon home on the edge of Fort Collins in 1915. Even the children, 7-12, worked in the fields. | Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine / Library of Congress collection

By Sue Deans

The fort that became Fort Collins was around for only a short time. It was founded in 1864 as successor to Camp Collins, built to protect travelers on the Overland Trail from Indian attacks. A flood destroyed the fort in 1864, and a smaller fort with no walls was built near the present Old Town but was decommissioned in 1867.

The first school and church in Fort Collins opened in 1866 and the town was laid out in 1867. In 1872, an agricultural colony was established, bringing hundreds of settlers. The Colorado Agricultural College was founded in 1870, but no classes were held until 1879.

Homes and commercial buildings began to spring up, and industries included stone quarrying, sugar-beet farming and sheep butchering. Sheep liked to eat beet tops and the area became known as the “lamb feeding capital of the world.” A Great Western sugar processing plant was built in nearby Loveland in 1901.

The city’s population doubled after World War II, and the enrollment of CSU doubled during the 1960s, as it became a major force in the city’s economy. Alcoholic beverages, banned since the 1890s, became available again in 1969. Civil rights activism and anti-war demonstrations caused tension during the ’60s, as several buildings on the campus were burned. In May 1970 Old Main was set on fire, destroying the university’s cornerstone, 92 years old.

The city made revitalization of Old Town a priority in later years, and the area is now a popular destination for visitors and locals. In 2006, “Money” magazine ranked Fort Collins first in its “Best Places to Live” ratings.

The Colorado Agricultural College, founded in 1870, six years before the Colorado Territory became a state, became Colorado A&M in 1935, then Colorado State University in 1957 and is now a top-level, highly respected university with nearly 30,000 students. Its veterinary medicine and occupational therapy programs are highly rated, as are its environmental science and biotechnology programs, along with agriculture and construction management.

Students are at the center of the city’s culture in many ways. A local music scene and popular microbreweries draw many of them, as do frequent downtown festivals and concerts. A symphony orchestra is based at the Fort Collins Lincoln Center.

The beer culture has become a claim to fame for the city.

Among the microbreweries are the New Belgium Brewing Company, Odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins Brewery, Equinox Brewing and the Pateros Creek Brewing Company.

The world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch, has a brewery northeast of the city, complete with its famous draft horses. Brewpubs include the original C.B. & Potts Restaurant and its Big Horn Brewery and CooperSmith’s Pub & Brewing. The Colorado Brewers’ Festival is held in late June each year, attracting about 30,000.

Besides Colorado State University , higher education choices include Front Range Community College and branches of the University of Phoenix and Regis University. The Institute of Business & Medical Careers also has a campus in the city.

Fort Collins is home to a number of research institutes. Facilities are maintained by the Centers for Disease Control Division of Vector-Born Infectious Diseases, the Center for Advanced Technology and the Colorado Water Resource Research Institute. Other facilities include the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, the Institute for Scientific Computing, the U.S. Forest Service Experimental Station, the National Seed Storage Laboratory, and the U.S.D.A. Crops Research Laboratory.

The business community includes both manufacturing and service businesses. The largest employers are Colorado State University, Hewlett Packard, Poudre Valley Health System, Poudre School District and Agilent.

Many high-tech companies have come to Fort Collins as well, such as Hewlett Packard, Intel, National Semiconductor and LSI. Other industries include clean energy, bioscience, and agri-tech businesses.