Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.

Ask Cam

Why Fort Collins?

November 16, 2009

Cam, my question is: Why Fort Collins? When the legislature chose a place for the new land-grant institution (in the 1800s), why did they pick what was then a tiny town?

Cam’s answer: Once again I turn to our esteemed historian, James Hansen, for the answer – most of which is in his book, Democracy’s College in the Centennial State. I think this historical perspective is really interesting, and I hope you get a kick out of it too.

Our history speaks 


Fort Collins began as a military post during the Civil War when the Overland Trail was rerouted through Colorado to protect travelers and the U.S. mail from Indian attacks.

Named for Col. William O. Collins, military commandant of the region, a camp was originally established in Laporte. However, following a flood on June 9, 1864, the post was moved about four miles down the Poudre River to a more suitable site, and the following October, the new fort was occupied. Immediately, it served as an economic catalyst, providing a market for local farmers, stock growers, and businessmen.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, Indian resistance quickly abated and with it the need for a fort. Despite the objections of some residents, the military reservation was officially closed in March 1867.

Economic challenge - 1800's style

This development presented the community with a serious economic challenge, but Fort Collins boosters were equal to it. In 1868, for example, Joseph Mason successfully lobbied to change the Larimer County seat from Laporte to Fort Collins, and county offices were moved to the building that housed his store.

Keen rivalries existed between budding Colorado frontier towns that often featured struggles for government facilities. By 1868, Denver had obtained the capital, Boulder the state university, and Canon City the penitentiary. Accordingly, Harris Stratton, elected to the territorial legislature in 1867, began working to secure a Morrill Land-Grant Act college for Fort Collins.

Our very own ag college

In 1870, Representative Matthew S. Taylor of Fort Collins implemented Stratton’s idea with a bill that established “an agricultural college to be called and named the ‘Agricultural College of Colorado,’ which college shall be located in the county of Larimer at or near Fort Collins.” Gov. Edward McCook signed the bill into law on Feb. 11, 1870. Supporters correctly assumed that a claim on a Morrill Act college during the territorial period would result in federal land-grant support once Colorado achieved statehood.

Cam's last words on the topic

I’d like to add to Dr. Hansen’s story by saying that a lot of “high-powered political horse trading” was included in the decision to locate a college here – but that’s really not so different from the horse trading that goes on now.

In the end, a college in Fort Collins was considered desirable because of the influx of students with cash to spend, a boost in local employment, and the overall attraction of a populace that valued education.

That’s a pretty good description of Fort Collins today!