Friday, February 26, 2016

Road Trip to Fort Collins

The 1881 Fort Collins Fire Department and City Hall
After several weeks of being kept indoors due to the Colorado wintry weather, I escaped on a clear day on short road trip to Fort Collins, Colorado. This northern Colorado city is about one and a half hours by car, up Interstate 25 from Castle Rock. The 90 minute trip was mostly pleasant, with heavy traffic through Denver.

Different years of Architecture
Camp Collins was built in 1862 by the ninth Kansas Volunteer Calvary to protect travelers, settlers and mail along the Colorado branch of the Overland Trail, near the current town of LaPort in Poudre Canyon. Camp Collins was built during the scary times of the 1860 Indian Wars. In June of 1864 a flood of the Cache le Poudre river sent the soldiers to higher ground near the present-day location of Fort Collins where they built a new fort. Three years later, the fort was abandoned. By 1872, the former fort site had a hotel, store, school, a mill and a brickyard. Many travelers along the Overland Trail must have given up going west and stayed here when they saw the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains before them.

Every old building here has something to look up to...
Legend says the Cache le Poudre river was named for cached gun powder (poudre in French) during a severe snowstorm in the early 1800's. The French Canadian fur trappers and hunters there at the time needed to lighten their load and buried the powder to save it, planning to retrieve it later. Where exactly that was is unknown. Fort Collins history is full of western lore, wild and eccentric characters and generations-old stories.

Note The Wide Sidewalks Near The Old Bank Building Downtown on College Street
The city of Fort Collins was platted in 1873. Franklin Avery set out the very wide boulevards and parks because of all the open space available. His Victorian home was the first structure in the city to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and this year hosts a tour of period clothing following the time's of the PBS program Downton Abbey. You can tour the home most weekends.

Remember Fire Escapes?
One bit of history that I bet you do not know, the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Main Street was inspired by downtown Fort Collins due to the high number of old style buildings along Walnut Street, the old firehouse and the way the old buildings sit adjacent to 1950's & 1960's businesses. A Disney art director was from Fort Collins and shared stories about the town during the design phase with imagineers. You can read one story HERE and a second story here. I toured Walt Disney World in October of 1971 on Press Day with my father, before the park was open to the public. Then, Main Street there was a fun part of the park, with silent movies running all day, you could put a nickle in a Nickelodeon and watch the funny shorts, magic tricks were demonstrated and sold at the magic store, you could buy penny candies at the soda fountain and even find foreign cigarettes (yes, Walt smoked) at the cigarette store by the railroad station. It is not that way anymore.
Fort Collin's architecture is just wonderful for those who love old buildings, with all the overhangs, roof lines and cornices to look up at. I found myself constantly looking up at the roof details, enjoying the lost art of tile work and the lost craftsmanship of this era. The different styles of architecture are mixed on almost every street in the historic downtown area. For Fort Collins Historic Attractions CLICK HERE.

Another Walnut Street Building that inspired Main Street Buildings at Walt Disney World
The Colorado and Central Rail Road arrived in 1877, followed by the opening of the Colorado Agricultural and Mining College in 1879 when the first building on campus called Old Main opened for students. The school is now called Colorado State University. Agriculture was large in the area then and still is.

Above the door at one of many fine downtown eateries
There is lots to do here. You can ride a restored, historic trolley car, visit and tour many early homes, shop until you drop, and eat at any of the 84+ restaurants. To get more information locally, check out the Visit Fort Collins office at 19 Old Town Square just off Walnut and College Avenues. This is where many of the local events are hosted. Event Schedules are HERE. You can park along the street or in the public parking garage on busy weekends. The city sits at 5003 feet of elevation with a current population of about 144,000 people.

The Northern Hotel from the center of College Street
I added some photos of the wide streets and downtown buildings to show you just how wide the streets are. Think 2 extra lanes worth of width to cross while you are thanking Mr. Avery.

Fort Collins old Post Office
One of the walking tours offered by the city is to see the Ghost Signs. These are the old, hand-painted signs of Coca-Cola, auto parts, and hotels on the sides of buildings throughout town. Nine are listed to see, and all are still readable. They were painted by "Wall Dogs" who would work long hours with no premixed paints, little safety gear and no workman's comp insurance. Many were painted just because the sign painter's company offered to paint the whole wall for free if they could also paint their advertisement on it. Several of my photographs below include these signs.

Fort Collins Ghost Signs Angell's Delicatessen 1958

Painted over older signs that have faded...

Colorado Bakery & Grocery 1903-1927
Denver Post 1930's

Not on the Ghost Sign tour...
Champion Spark Plugs 1948-1960

Damm's Bakery 1925
Owl Cigar 1900-1910

Nedley Hotel with fallen light fixture 1909
A big thanks to the citizens and the city's historic preservation program to get so many buildings protected with historic designation in 1978. This led to Presidential acknowledgement in 2005 when Fort Collins was named a Preserve America City by the White House.  The city also has many bicyclists, with riverside paved bike and hiking trails and pleasant riding and walking in neighborhoods.

Sidewalk sign for bicyclists and skateboarders
While the weather was good, I didn't get to see very much of the town due to the time available. I will go back another weekend in warmer weather and enjoy more of the sights. 
To get here, take Interstate 25 north of Denver for 1 hour 15 minutes. Exit at 269B and head west on Colorado 14 toward the mountains. Watch for a jog to the right along the Cache le Poudre river and turn left onto College Avenue to reach the historic downtown. Hotels begin along the Interstate, with more historic hotels and restaurants in the downtown area and everything you are used to living with just south of downtown near the University. Click HERE for more information. 

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