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“Old Town,” the Birthplace of Fort Colllins

Posted by on May 7, 2012

A flyer came in the mail last week from a local real estate agent. Her focus is on the Old Town area of Fort Collins and she included a map on her brochure letting you know exactly what that means.


That map really intrigued me. It included areas that I don’t generally think of as Old Town. And that got me wondering, how do I define Old Town? What counts and what doesn’t and why?

Fort Collins got its starts as a town back in 1873, when the army outpost that was located here (originally called Camp Collins and later referred to as Fort Collins) was closed. The military had set up an outpost in the Colorado Territory in order to protect the pioneers that were traveling to Utah, California or Oregon, from the Lakota, Sioux and Pawnee. (The Arapaho and Cheyenne also lived in the area, but they generally got along more peacefully with the white encroachers.) In 1865, most of the natives were removed from the Colorado Territory and the military was no longer needed to protect the trail. Though the army camp was disbanded, there were shop keepers and other residents who remained behind and they founded the present day city of Fort Collins.

Camp Collins had been set up along the Denver Road (now Jefferson Avenue), which was the part of the Overland Trail that passed through this area. The camp extended from the Denver Road toward the Poudre River, near the present day intersection of Willow and Linden streets. The town grew up on the opposite side of the road, where Old Town’s businesses and shops still reside today. In 1870, the town was selected as the future site for the Agricultural College (now Colorado State University), and residential building began to spread westward and southward along the edges of the college’s boundary lines. It’s interesting to note that in the early 1920’s when the town was deciding where to locate its new Fort Collins High School, people were aghast that it might be built way out in the boondocks on Remington Street between Pitkin and Lake. (The building now houses CSU’s Center for the Arts. You can see it on the map below, right under the word “College.”)


I’ve included the map from the real estate flyer again, a bit larger, so you can see the area that it’s including as Old Town. I’m intrigued by the fact that the area where Camp Collins was originally located isn’t included. That’s probably because there isn’t much in the way of residential housing in that area, so I think we can let that slide. But what leaves me scratching my head is the inclusion of the areas north of LaPorte and west of Shields, and the area to the far lower right of the map that is characterized by curvy streets.

A quick survey of building dates for the houses in Tennyson Heights, Mountain View Heights, and the Hanna Neighborhood (all neighborhoods around Putnam Elementary school, which can be seen in the upper left of this map) show that most of the building took place in the 50s and 60s (with the occasional farm house built in the 20s or a late build taking place in the 70s). Reclamation Village (also by Putnam) and the neighborhoods closer to LaPorte Avenue were mostly built in the 40s. And that squiggly area in the lower right hand part of the map? 50s. (Now that I think about it, most of the houses behind Dunn Elementary were also built in the 50s.) So where do you draw the line between old, as in Old Town, and the next round of building that came along, which in my mind would be the spurt of building due to the G.I. Bill after the Second World War. (I believe the GI bill kicked in after the First World War, but the government didn’t have the money to pay out on that once the Great Depression hit.) Should we count a neighborhood that was built primarily in the 50s as being a part of Old Town? If so, what about all of the other neighborhoods in town that were built during that time that aren’t usually included, such as City Park Heights, which is south of Mulberry and west of Shields and was built up in the 1950s?

I’d be curious to know where other people place the boundary lines for Old Town. I don’t think there’s any official delineation of what “counts” and what doesn’t. It’s really more a matter of common usage. So how do you use the term? What does it mean for you?


Fort Collins Facts

Wikipedia page on Camp Collins

Wikipedia page on the Overland Trail

The GI Bill

Larimer County Records Database

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