Poudre Canyon: Indian Meadows and the Miller Cabin

At the end of the last Poudre Canyon post, “Poudre Canyon from Big Narrows to Eggers,” I said I would cover Rugh Ranch and Indian Meadows next. Since that time, I found I had the wrong location for Rugh Ranch. I thought Rugh Ranch was located at Eggers but it really was west of Rustic. So, I’ll get to it in a later post.

If you drive approximately two-miles past the bridge to Pingree Park, you’ll come to Indian Meadows. It is a very large meadow on the north side of Highway 14, at milepost 94. There are a few parking spots at the center of the meadow with a foot path to the north that will take you to the Poudre River. It is a popular fishing spot and a beautiful place to picnic. It also has an interesting history.

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Heading East on Poudre Canyon Road towards Indian Meadows, c. 1940, Photograph by Mark Miller.

Indian Meadows, described by Norman Fry in his book, Cache la Poudre: The River, was a gathering place for Native Americans roaming in the canyon. About the naming of the large meadows, Fry said, “In the River’s upper mountain parks . . . it seemed that the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and the Ute Indians had through the years camped, hunted, and fished. Even refugee Cherokees from the State of Georgia, I was told, had traversed the section looking for a new home. These really were the ‘Indian Meadows’ then!”

Born in England, Fry arrived in Fort Collins in 1888 at age17 on his way to try his hand at ranching in the Poudre Canyon. He worked a variety of jobs in the canyon and had memorable experiences which he later recalled in his book. Fry worked for six-years at the large Indian Meadows Ranch that encompassed over 1,000 acres, including Indian Meadows and the Indian Meadows Resort, which I’ll discuss next.

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 Indian Meadows Today, Looking West from the Footpath, June 5, 2017. Photograph by M. McNeill.

Continue west on Poudre Canyon Road for just over one-mile and you’ll come to the Indian Meadows Resort, located on the south side of the highway.

Indian Meadows Lodge began in 1928 as a store, with living quarters in the back, and a few small cabins. Motorists could purchase gas along with engine oil, fan belts and other minor-repair automobile parts. According to Stanley Case’s, The Poudre: A Photo History, the original owner and builder was Guy Slonecker, who operated the business until he retired in 1933 or 1934. It went through a number of hands over the next 80+ years.

Below is a series of photographs of the resort from circa 1928, close to when the resort opened, until today.

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Indian Meadows Store and Camp, c, 1928. Photograph by William Sanborn.
04 Indian Meadows Gas c1925 Sanborn B640
Close-up of Gas Pump, c. 1928

My guess is that this photograph was taken by Sanborn shortly after the opening of the resort. Notice the gas pump. There isn’t a building yet, just a swing behind the pump.

05 Indian Meadows Resort Miller 1943 B640
 Indian Meadows, Poudre Canyon, Dated July 1943. Photograph by Mark Miller.

By 1943, a small gas station is in place, with slightly newer gas pumps. The Indian Meadows sign on the right edge advertises cabins, cottages, and an up to date store, with lunch, candy, cigarettes, and film. Fishing is also mentioned.

06 IMR Full 1953 B640
 Indian Meadows Resort, Poudre Canyon, c. 1953. Photograph by Mark Miller.

If you’ll notice, the main building has been extended on the left side, changing the roof line. The main building went through a number of modifications to add a bar, dining room, and space for live music.

07 IMR Strip Cabins pm 1956 Miller B640
 Indian Meadows Motel, c. 1956. Photograph by Mark Miller.

Sometime in the mid-1950s, a “modern” motel was added to the property, on the east side of the main building. You can see the edge of the main building on the right side of the image. This postcard is postmarked 1956.

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Indian Meadows Resort, June 5, 2017. Photograph by M. McNeill.

Above is a photograph of the resort, which I took earlier this month. More recently the resort was hosting weddings and other events but it looked closed to me when I was there this month.

Not far from the Indian Meadows Resort, and on the other side of the road, was the cabin Mark Miller and his family owned. These two images are from the Miller Family Album, which I discussed earlier in two posts, starting with “Mark Miller: Images from the Photographers’ Family Album – Part 1

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Miller Family Cabin near Indian Meadows Resort, c. 1940. Photograph by Mark Miller.

With some other buyers, Mark Miller purchased land there based on an agreement with the seller that building cabins would insure their ownership of the land. Traveling up on weekends, materials on board, Miller built the cabin where John Miller, his son, recalls spending the happiest days of his childhood.  One big room with a screened porch across the front, the cabin had no plumbing or electricity.

10 Miller Children Fishing at Cabin
Miller Children Fishing near Cabin, c. 1935. Photograph by Mark Miller.

Despite their mother’s fear of the water, the children often went down to the river to fish or skip rocks.  None of the children recalls any close calls. In the daytime, whenever she had the chance, Effie, Mark’s wife, set up her easel and painted, and of course Mark Miller, who loved to fish, always had his camera handy in case an opportune moment came along. A tight-knit family, they played card games or Monopoly in the evening by the light of a lantern.  Sometimes they sang, as they often did when the family was together.

Sadly for Mark Miller, who had dreamed of someday turning his cabin into an outdoor learning facility for youths, he eventually lost the cabin, and it was torn down during World War II.


Next Sunday I will post a set of important images from the early 1900s, known as the Anderson Postals.

Did Amelia Earhart Visit Fort Collins?

A few years ago, I bought a small collection of early photographs of the Fort Collins Airport. Dedicated in 1929 and later renamed Christman Field, the airport was located at the west end of Laporte Avenue, about 3.5 miles from downtown. According Paul Freeman’s website, Abandoned & Little Known Airfields, the airport consisted “of a rectangular 200 acre sod field, within which were 5 runways, with the longest being a 3,000 foot northeast/southwest strip. The field was said to offer a hanger, minor services, and fuel.”

Shortly after I bought the collection, the Fort Collins Archive was doing something on the airport and I donated the collection to them. However, there was one very interesting photograph, which I scanned before delivering the material to Lesley Struc, curator at the Archive. It was a photograph of a strange aircraft and on the back was a penciled caption, “Exp. Airplane,” which I took to be an abbreviation for “Experimental Airplane.”

I did a little research at that time and found the plane was a class of aircraft known as gyrocopters, or autogiros, or autogyros.

Here is the image:

Exp Helicopter Blog
Autogyro at Fort Collins Airport, 1930s. Unknown Photographer.

Here is the Wikipedia description of an Autogyro:

“An autogyro, also known as gyroplane, gyrocopter, or rotaplane, is a type of rotorcraft that uses an unpowered rotor to develop lift, and an engine-powered propeller, similar to that of a fixed-wing aircraft, to provide thrust. While similar to a helicopter rotor in appearance, the autogyro’s rotor must have air flowing through the rotor disc to generate rotation. Invented by the Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva to create an aircraft that could fly safely at low speeds, the autogyro was first flown on 9 January 1923, at Cuatro Vientos Airfield in Madrid. Under license from Cierva in the 1920s and 1930s, the Pitcairn & Kellett companies made further innovations.”

My intention was to end this post at this point but I kept poking around the Internet. First, by comparing my image to other images on the Internet, I found the make and model of my autogyro. It appears to be a Pitcairn PCA-2, an autogyro developed in the United States in the early 1930s. Then, as you can see in the close-up below, there is some advertising on the fuselage of the airplane.

Exp Helicopter CU Blog 640
Close-up of Pitcairn PCA-2 at Fort Collins Airport, 1930s.

You can see a capital “B” followed by the word “Nut.” Searching “Beech Nut” and “Pitcairn PCA-2” brought up a lot of information on Amelia Earhart and her adventures with autogyros.

Earhart was given the opportunity to try a Pitcairn in early 1930. After just 15 minutes of instruction, she became the first woman to fly an autogyro. On April 8, 1931, Earhart set an altitude record with the plane with a height of 18,415 feet.

On May 29, 1931, Earhart took off from Newark, NJ in Beech-Nut Packing Company’s vivid green Pitcairn in an attempt to become the first person to fly a gyrocopter across the county. Since the plane had to be refueled frequently, Earhart made many stops in small communities along the way, where the ungainly looking aircraft, with its stubby wings and 45-foot-diameter rotor blades, drew plenty of curious spectators. She reached Oakland, CA on June 6 only to find that John Miller, the first person to purchase a PCA-2, had completed the transcontinental trip two weeks earlier. She started a return trip but three “crack-ups” caused her to quit it early. Of course, I wanted to know if one of those stops was in Fort Collins, CO.

On the Internet, I found a model of the Pitcairn PCA-2, with the same advertising and the same identifying number, displayed in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. Then, I wanted to know why this particular PCA-2 was so important.

I have sent emails to the Amelia Earhart and the Smithsonian Museums with the hope that they can tell me why the plane was in Fort Collins and if Amelia Earhart was with it. I’ll report back to you when I hear something from them.

Until we hear differently, we can all hope that Amelia Earhart visited our town in 1931 and is lost in the crowd in the back of this photograph.

If you happen to know why this plane was in Fort Collins, please let us know by using the Comment Box below or by message me on mcneil0115@comcast.net.


Poudre Canyon from the Big Narrows to Eggers and the USFS Photo Archive

When Barbara Fleming and I were working on our photo book on the Poudre Canyon for Arcadia Publishing, I stopped at the United States Forest Service office on Centre Avenue in Fort Collins, CO and asked about photographs. As it turned out they had an underutilized photo archive, open and free to the public, and staffed by very helpful people, including Sue Struthers, Heritage Program Manager.

Barbara and I spent many hours searching through folders and notebooks, many that probably hadn’t been opened in decades, looking for unusual photographs of the Poudre Canyon. We found quite a few of them and, though my blog is designed to share my personal photographs and postcards, I decided to include three great USFS photographs of this stretch of the Poudre as well. You can see many more of their images in our book, Poudre Canyon (Images of America).

The last section of the Poudre Canyon I covered was posted on March 5, 2017 and entitled “Lower Poudre Canyon: Mishawaka, Tunnel, and Totem Rock.” That post ended with the canyon road completed through the Baldwin Tunnel, in the summer of 1916. Once the tunnel was completed there was an easy three- or four-mile stretch, before the very difficult Big Narrows section was reached. Work progressed slowly and, in September 1918, a very difficult section of rock was reached. A decision had to be made on whether to tunnel through it or blast it out of the way. Here is how the September 13, 1918, Fort Collins Weekly Courier summarized the decision.

“Superintendent Asher of the road camp was before the county commissioners this morning asking for instructions as to whether to try to round the point of rocks at the narrow [section] or to tunnel through. . . . A discussion as to which would be the cheapest took place. Mr. Asher said . . . that his opinion was that the tunnel would be the most satisfactory as in rounding the point so much rock might be thrown into the river that a dam would be created that would back the water on the upper side so high that the . . . road would have to be raised up into the cliffs which would be avoided if the tunnel is built.

“Engineer Edwards seconded these ideas [and added that] the tunnel can be worked from both ends at the same time which was not possible at the Little Narrows  and will be 40 feet long. The work can be carried on faster.

“The commissioners and Engineer Edwards will visit the spot Friday and decide just what to do.”

Below is a USFS image of that meeting, held on September 20, 1918.

01 PV Good Roads Asoc 1916 Full USFS B640
County Commissioners at Big Narrows, September 20, 1918. Unknown Photographer. USFS Photograph.

The results of their meeting was reported in the Weekly Courier that same date.

“The county commissioners with Engineer Edwards went to the end of the Poudre Road to view the work of the road builders and decide as to further constructions of the road. After deliberations it was decided to shoot [dynamite] the rock at the point of the Big Narrows instead of tunneling. This will make the cost of construction cheaper and plans have been made whereby with no unforeseen accidents the grade above will not have to be changed.”

The November 29, 1918, Weekly Courier again reported on the progress of the road crews.

“County officials went to the Poudre Canon road camp yesterday on an inspection trip and they found that Supt. Asher is making rapid progress with the work. . . . The heavy blasting will be finished by the last of the month and that will complete the hardest of the rock work in the Big Narrows. Only two large places remain to be shot out.

“The men have already finished half a mile of road beyond the narrows and they will connect this up with the new road at an early date.

“In two months the road in the narrows will be completed.”

It took over two years to get through the Big Narrows but it gave us one of the most scenic stretches of the Poudre Canyon road and it opened Fort Collins to Rustic and beyond. Here is an image of the Big Narrows taken circa 1925.

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The Big Narrows, Poudre Canyon, c. 1925. Photograph by Bruce Wiswall

Taken for the Denver Tourist Bureau, this photograph was published in an unknown newspaper with the following caption, dated August 8, 1928:

“In the Big Narrows, Poudre Canyon. The pure joy of motoring over a wide, solid roadbed in the Cache la Poudre canon, out of Fort Collins, has its romantic angle when one recalls the pioneer days when Indians and Frenchmen battled for supremacy of a region where fur-bearing animals were numerous and the trapper’s trade was highly profitable.”

While I can’t see this caption bringing hordes of tourists to the Poudre Canyon, it is a really nice image of the Big Narrows and a classic automobile. If you think you recognize this car, you are paying very strict attention to my posts. It is the same car, probably a 1921 Marmon Model 34, which is shown in my earlier post on the Baldwin Tunnel. The auto and the young ladies have moved up the canyon a little and had their pictures taken again. This time, a close up of the car allowed me to find out something about the photographer. Here is a close-up of the automobile.

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Close-up of Automobile in Big Narrows, c. 1925

In the close-up, you can see some writing on the windshield. There is enough of it showing that I was able to determine that the car was from the Wiswall Tavern, in Grand Lake, CO. The proprietor of the tavern was Bruce Wiswall, who was also a photographer for the Denver Tourist Bureau. Wiswall occasionally used models in his shots and that may be the case with the young women in this photograph. One of the articles called Wiswall, “One of the most expert photographers on out of door pictures.”

Notice the wide running board and the ladder-like object at its edge. One of the experts on the Antique Automobile Club of America website identified it as a collapsible luggage rack built for the Marmon by a third party manufacturer.

The road up the Poudre Canyon was built mostly with convict labor. As construction moved along the canyon, the camp for the convicts moved with it. Here is another USFS photograph of the camp when, according to Case, it was located in what is now the Narrows Campground. It was moved to this location shortly after the heavy work was completed in the Big Narrows.

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 “Convict” Camp near Today’s Narrows Campground, c. 1919. Photographer H. N. Wheeler. USFS Photograph.

Stanley Case, in his book The Poudre: A Photo History, discusses this photograph. Case says it was taken by H. N. Wheeler, better known as the Supervisor of the Colorado National Forest, than as a photographer. Case says the camp was located at milepost 101.6 and that the pointed rock, on the right edge of the photograph, is still visible from the road.

In 1921, work started on a road from the Poudre Canyon road to the college’s new Pingree Park campus. A bridge had to be built over the Poudre River to connect the two roads. Although today the bridges in the canyon are made of steel and concrete, early bridges were all timber construction. This picture, the last of the three USFS photographs, shows the construction of the bridge.

05 Building bridge at Eggers 1921 USFS B640
Construction of Pingree Road Bridge, 1921. Unknown Photographer. USFS Photograph.

This bridge is called a “three-span bridge,” with the first span going from the north shore to the first wooden trestle, the second span bridges the two trestles, and the third span connects the second trestle and the south shore. From the photograph, it seems like the river must have been partially diverted. Building a bridge in 1921 was obviously a pretty manual event. In this photograph, the bridge is pretty far along, with the decking being laid.

It was built some distance above the current steel Pingree Park bridge and was torn down years ago.

Recognizing the business opportunity the junction provided, Fred and Alma Eggers applied for and received a Forest Service lease to start building a little town named Eggers, Colorado. By 1922, construction was underway on the south side of the Pingree Park bridge. Here is an early view of Eggers, from a real photo postcard, circa 1925.

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 Eggers, Colorado, c. 1925. Image by Fishback Studio, Fort Collins, CO.

You can see the south end of the bridge in the bottom, right corner of the image. The two buildings in the foreground are the store/post office and a very small gas station. The last three views of Eggers are all from a circa 1935 real photo postcard.

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 Eggers, Colorado, c. 1935. Unknown Photographer.

This full view shows the store/post office and gas station in the far right foreground, a couple of private homes in the center, and the Eggers School on the far left edge. Here are two close-ups from the same image.

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Close-up of Store/Post Office & Gas Station, Eggers, CO, c. 1935.

According to Case, the Eggers Post Office opened on April 23, 1926, and closed on April 30, 1944.

Mr. and Mrs. Eggers decided that their three sons and other local children needed a school. Construction of the school was a 1933 Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. While the CCC employed young men, the WPA employed older out-of-work men on public-works projects. This close-up shows the Eggers School.

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Close-up of the Eggers School, Eggers, CO, c. 1935.

Closed in 1959, the building was moved near the Poudre Canyon Chapel and is today a museum of canyon history.

Case says all the Eggers buildings but the school house were gone by 1951, leaving only foundations.

My intention was to take this post through the Indian Meadows Resort but there were just too many images for one post. So, I’ll continue the trip up the canyon next Sunday, with images of Rugh Ranch and the Indian Meadows area. If I have the time, I may throw in a very short, one-image post on Wednesday to break up the trip through the canyon.

I appreciate everyone who views my blog and remember, if you ever want to comment use the Comment Box at the end of each post or email me directly at mcneil0115@comcast.net.

Thanks for your support.

John C. Davis: An Early Fort Collins Carpenter & Contractor

I was planning on doing a post on a section of the Poudre Canyon but, as fortune would have it, I won two applicable images on eBay so I’m going to delay that post until their arrival. Instead, I decided to share an 1897 image of John C. Davis’ Fort Collins carpenter shop. I’m going to share some information on both the building and its owner.

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J. C. Davis, Carpenter & Contractor, c. 1897. Photographer Unknown

Notice the false front on the building. False fronts were popular on wooden buildings in the West in the last half of the 19th century as a way to add dignity to a hastily constructed building.

The reverse side of the photograph has two different handwritten notations. The first one is about the building and gives us an address of 140 S. College Avenue, Fort Collins and an approximate date of 1897. A trip to the Fort Collins Archive and a search of their Sanborn Fire Insurance maps found Davis’ building sitting by itself on South College. Below is a section of the 1895 Sanborn map, showing the location of the carpentry shop on South College Avenue.

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1895 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

The lot is empty in two earlier Sanborn maps from 1886 and 1891. It is shown on the 1895 and 1901 maps but, on the 1906 map, the carpentry building is gone, replaced with two businesses, a wallpaper and paint company and a printing business.  The City Directories and some other clues indicate that Davis was running his business from his home by 1902 or 1903. So, the structure shown in the first image probably only graced Fort Collins for ten years or so. Today, the store “Wear It Again, Sam” is probably where the Davis building stood at the turn of the 20th century.

The second caption on the back of the photograph identifies two of the people in the image. John C, Davis is the older man on the far right of the photograph. His son, Orton Davis, is standing to his left. The other two men, probably employees, are unidentified. Here is a close-up of Orton (left) and John Davis (right).

JC and Oorton Davis 1897 B400
 Left to Right: Orton Davis (son, age 21) & John C. Davis (father, age 54), c. 1897

A lot can be written about John C. Davis. I’m going to keep it brief.

Davis was born in 1843 in Pennsylvania. During the Civil War, he enlisted as a private with Company G, 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 140th Pennsylvania saw a lot of action during the war. Davis’ fighting record was so extensive that the Fort Collins Courier ran a summary of it on May 27, 1908. The article mentions 29 “major” battles, including Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Somehow Davis made it through the war unharmed.

Davis returned to his home in Pennsylvania and married his wife, Sarah Leticia, in 1867. They had a daughter, Cora, in 1870 and their son, Orton Volney Davis, was born in 1876. During this period, Davis worked as a carpenter and a teamster. In April 1882, a brief article in the Monongahela, Pennsylvania Daily Republican announced the next phase of the Davis family’s life:

“John C. Davis and family left on the noon train for Colorado. John will work at his trade, that of carpenter, for a while after he reaches the hills, but intends ultimately to farm or graze cattle.”

It is possible that Davis came almost immediately to Fort Collins, since the September 16, 1882 Fort Collins Courier reports on a fight between a contractor named Bishop and “a carpenter named Davis.” The fight apparently started with an argument over some measurements and ended with Bishop trying to hit Davis with a saw. It wasn’t the first fight for Bishop so Davis got off with a five dollar fine for disturbing the peace.

Davis quickly became one of the premier carpenters and then contractors in Fort Collins. The list of the buildings he built is extensive. For example, a brief article in 1902 mentions that Davis had built 12 homes in the last two years. But, he also worked on large projects for the town and for the college. One of his earliest major projects was the construction of a barn for the college in 1887.

The August 11, 1887, Courier announced that “bids for the building of the college barn were opened. . . . Contracts were awarded to Geo. Kelly, who secured the stone work, John C. Davis the carpentry and Smith and Soult, the painting.” Below is a photograph, courtesy of CSU’s online images, of the barn Davis built.

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College Barn built in 1887. Photograph taken in 1922. (Courtesy University Historic Photograph Collection, Colorado State University, UHPC_2880a .)

According to Gordon “Hap” Hazard, a CSU historian, this barn was built as a horse barn in 1887 but was converted to a dairy barn when a new and larger horse barn was built. The dairy barn was razed in 1957.

Davis would go on to build other major structures, including a veterinary hospital for the college, a new Methodist Church, the Trimble Block on North College, and many of the finest homes in Fort Collins.

John C. Davis died in 1927 and is buried in Grandview Cemetery.

Orton followed in his father’s footsteps. At 25, Orton was the general contractor and carpenter for the Avery House, when it was built in 1901.

Next week, depending on when my new images arrive, I’ll either do a post on the Poudre Canyon or share a collection of Fort Collins fraternal order ribbons I’ve collected over the years.

The Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory: The Smell of Prosperity

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Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory, North Side, c. 1910. Real Photo Postcard by F. P. Clatworthy.

Perhaps more than any other single event, the arrival of a sugar beet factory propelled Fort Collins, Colorado into the 20th century and the industrial age. The high-plains climate and terrain in the area proved well suited to this large root crop; by the turn of the century processing factories began to appear in Colorado, but not in Fort Collins.

Denver entrepreneur Charles Boettcher and others saw the potential for a Fort Collins plant. So business and community leaders formed a committee to raise capital for a sugar factory and to secure guarantees from farmers for 5,000 acres of sugar beets. On October 13, 1903, the committee made its first payment to Kilby Manufacturing for the Fort Collins factory. The factory was even underway before the first official payment. Below is a construction photograph, dated October 18, 1903.

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Construction of the Fort Collins Sugar Beet Plant, October 18, 1903. Unknown Photographer.

You can already see some of the gears, pipes, and vats that will make up the processing plant. If you look closely, one young man’s face is circled. On the back of the photograph is his name, John Siebenaler. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any information on him or the Siebenaler family in Fort Collins.

The plant opened here in 1904, near the Poudre River and the railroad tracks on the east side of the small town. At 10 o’clock on Monday morning, January 6, 1904, the Fort Collins sugar beet factory began to refine sugar. The Fort Collins Weekly Courier reported that the “event was signalized by the blowing of whistles, the ringing of bells, the firing of cannon and the hearty rejoicing of the people.”

Here is an image of the plant taken within a year or two of its start-up.

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Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory, South Side, c. 1905. Printed Postcard.

This postcard has a message that gives some idea of the pride the plant brought to the community. “Uncle Ed: This is the Sugar Factory. I do wish you could see the beets they are hauling here. The crops are fine. Some of the beets weight from six to ten pounds. Addie.”

The 120-acre complex was located on the southeast corner of Vine and Linden Streets. It had seven major buildings, the central building measuring 70 feet by 300 feet and standing four stories tall. The facility cost a staggering $1.2 million and employed hundreds of workers.

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Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory, West End, c. 1930. Printed Postcard

The factory received sugar beets from farmers’ wagons and from railcars and sent them through a complex, multi-stage process that produced refined sugar. But the sugar beet business was more than a factory. It also was an agricultural hub of beet farmers, rail sidings, beet dumps, irrigation ditches, and a host of suppliers, all funneling money into the Fort Collins community. (See an earlier post entitled “The Sugar Beet Dump.”) The 150-foot smoke stack declared that big agribusiness had arrived in Fort Collins.


FC SBF Diagram c1920 B640
“Extracting Beet Sugar” Diagram by the Great Western Sugar Company, c. 1920

As this diagram from a bulletin produced by the Great Western Sugar Company shows, sugar refining was as much a chemical as an agricultural process. Pumps, pipes, slicers, distillers, centrifuges, and filters were all part of a highly technical process that produced an average of 10 teaspoons of refined sugar from each beet. The Fort Collins factory also included a Steffen House, a secondary process that extracted more sugar from molasses, usually a waste product of the refining process. The Greeley, Eaton, and Windsor factories shipped their molasses to Fort Collins for processing.

Experiments by the agricultural college and others found that the waste products of the beet industry, the beet tops cut off in the fields and the beet pulp and molasses from the factory, made nutritious feed for livestock. This fostered the cattle and sheep industries in Northern Colorado. Although beet pulp had an unfortunate odor (the pungent smell compared to “a slaughterhouse in midsummer,” by one man), Colorado’s former governor Benjamin Eaton said, “I smell prosperity.”

The 10 teaspoons of sugar per beet adds up when your are processing millions of beets. Below is a photograph of the bags of sugar, circa 1930.

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Bags of Sugar, Fort Collins Sugar Beet Factory, c. 1930. Photographer Unknown.

The Great Western Sugar Company reported that the Fort Collins factory annually produced the equivalent of 10,000 one-hundred pound bags of sugar and employed around 100 people continuously, increasing to over 400 during the beet processing “campaigns.”

Even before the factory was completed, beet farms sprang up around Fort Collins. Beets required precise farming techniques and were very labor intensive, but they generated more income for the farmers than any other crop. The factory paid almost $300,000 to local farmers in 1905, which increased to $500,000 by 1910.

 Wars, the economy, trade policies, and weather all impacted the profitability and viability of the sugar beet industry. Drought and high winds in the mid-1950s reduced the sugar beet acreage. The Fort Collins factory announced in 1955 that it would not operate, moving the harvested beets to other plants for processing. It never reopened. In 1967, the major buildings were razed and the area left to reinvent itself.

FC SBF 2008 MEM B640
Fort Collins Sugar Beet Site in 2008. Photograph by M. E. McNeill

Here is a photograph I took in 2008, looking at the site from approximately the same spot that Clatworthy did years ago. The view is much less impressive. Three of the original buildings remained, purchased by the city as a home for the street department. But thanks to the industry, Fort Collins had grown and become a real player in the new 20th century economy.

Next week, I’m going to return to the resorts of the Poudre Canyon and share some images between the Tunnel and Rustic.


Alabaster Art Shop & the Church at Owl Canon

Late last year, Barbara Fleming wrote a column for the Coloradoan on the alabaster business in the Livermore, CO area. (I’ve placed a link to her article at the end of this post.) Her column reminded me that I had a couple of images of an alabaster art shop. It took some time to put it all together but I’m going to share them with you today. I knew nothing about the art shop and had trouble finding someone who could help, and then there was the mysterious old church.

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Charles E. Roberts’ Alabaster Art Shop, Laporte, Colo, c. 1932. Photograph by William Sanborn.

The image of the Alabaster Art Shop and the old automobiles and gas pumps are interesting in themselves but then there is the church in the background. The church dramatically raised the interest of the card.

One of the joys of historical research, at least for me, is tracking down someone who knows something about an unusual image. This image proved tougher than most. I finally sent the image to the Livermore Woman’s Club and asked if they knew anything about the art shop or the church. A few years ago, the Club wrote a book on the area, entitled Among These Hills: A History of Livermore, Colorado, and I hoped they might recognize the church. Kathy Packard was nice enough to send the request to their membership and I was finally able to connect with Tom Peden, a local who knew a good deal about the art shop and the church. Tom even had a website with information on the art shop. (I’ve placed a link to his website at the end of this post.)

First I’m going to focus on the art shop and then I’ll tell you what I was able to find out about the church. Most of the information on the art shop comes from Tom and I hope I got it right.

Charles E. Roberts started at least two limestone quarries, one in Ingleside, Colorado and one in Rex, Colorado. Limestone was used in the processing of sugar beets. He ran the quarries from around 1913 until he retired around 1930. The 1930 census shows a Charles E. Roberts with an occupation of merchant of a general store in Livermore, CO. The store was probably the combination art shop and store in this image, which at the time of construction, was on the road from Fort Collins to Laramie, WY. The the license plates on the automobiles in the photograph are also form the 1930s. You can see that Charles sold alabaster art, Aztec curios, soft drinks, and of course, gasoline. Below is a later image of the shop, circa 1940.

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Charles E. Roberts’ Alabaster Art Shop at Owl Canon on the Laramie Highway, Laporte, Colorado, c. 1940. Photograph by William Sanborn

In this image, the buildings are a little bigger and the church is gone. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to date this card except that it postmarked 1942, so the image was taken before then.

Tom remembers that the road to Laramie was rerouted in 1952. This store was abandoned and the owner at that time, Napoleon Martinez, built a new store on the rerouted highway. Tom thinks that the buildings in these two images were abandoned and slowly deteriorated. He believes they were burned down in the 1980s. Now let’s move on to the church.

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Church at Owl Canon Enlargement, c. 1930

The information on the church in the early photograph was even harder to track down. Tom had some memories of it that he shared with me and, fortunately, the Catholic Archdiocese Denver had some records of the church. Neither thinks the church was ever named, so I’m calling it the Church at Owl Canon,

Tom remembers that the church was built on land owned by Charles E. Roberts in the mid-1920s. Roberts was still running the limestone quarries and was looking for a place for his mostly Hispanic workforce to worship. Tom thought that Roberts donated the building and land to the Catholic Church.

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Workers at Ingleside Quarry, Ingleside, CO, c. 1915. Photographer is unknown.

Karyl Klein, Archivist, Archdiocese of Denver, kindly searched their records and confirmed that the Roberts’ family donated the land to Bishop Tihen in 1930. Bishop Tihen served as Bishop of Denver from 1917 until 1931. Father Trudel, pastor of Holy Family Church in Fort Collins, CO, often worked with the migrant community and probably preached there on occasion.

Once the limestone quarries closed, the land was too far from Fort Collins and, it appears, the church was abandoned. The church records show that the land was deeded back to the Roberts’ family in 1948.

Tom thinks that the church was moved from the site and re-purposed. That must have happened prior to 1942, since it isn’t in the postcard with the 1942 postmark. Where it went and what it was used for remains a mystery.

Here is the link to Barbara Fleming’s article, “A Little Known Local Resource.”

Here is the link to Tom Peden’s website, “Owl Canon.”

Next week I’m going to share images of the Fort Collins’ sugar beet plant.

The Automobile Comes to Fort Collins

When I arrived in Fort Collins 15 years ago, I started buying vintage photographs and postcards of our area. I began to notice, in the street images, how quickly Fort Collins changed from a horse and buggy to an automobile town. As you’ll see from these images of the College and Mountain Avenue intersection, the town changed blazingly fast.

Fort Collins’ first automobile was purchased by County Judge J. Mack Mills. It was a 1902 Curved Dash Oldsmobile that he purchased in Denver and drove to Fort Collins, with an overnight stop in Berthoud. Years afterwards, Mills daughter Freda wrote about his arrival at their home at 702 South College Avenue:

“It had rained all night the night before so that the mud was about a foot deep in places. About dusk, we looked out the window and saw in our driveway what looked like a mud statue of a man sitting in an automobile. He was as proud as a peacock.”

It was Friday, June 27, 1902. Fort Collins’ first car was home.

It would take over a year for the next two cars to be bought by Fort Collins residents, both Curved Dash Oldsmobiles and both bought by doctors – Dr William A. Kickland and Dr, S. T. Quick. So, it isn’t surprising that there isn’t an automobile in sight in the photograph shown below from around 1904.

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 Intersection of College and Mountain Avenues, c. 1904

Looking northeast across the intersection of College and Mountain Avenues, the photograph shows a sleepy town, with a horse team watering in the center of one of the busiest intersections in the city. Two years after Mills arrived with the town’s first automobile, Fort Collins was still a horse and buggy town, but then cars began to arrive more quickly. Here is the same intersection circa 1910, when around 140 cars were registered with the city clerk.

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Intersection of College and Mountain Avenues, c. 1910

The most obvious change in town is the arrival of the trolley system. I wrote about the 1907 arrival of the streetcars in an earlier post, “The Denver & Interurban Railway Corporation Streetcars in Fort Collins, Colorado.” But, an automobile is also in the scene as you can see in this enlargement.

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Left Side Enlargement, Intersection of College and Mountain Avenues, c. 1910

While the car isn’t perfectly sharp in the image, some automobile experts have dated it to around 1910, one expert even going further and speculating that it is an EMF Model 30 Touring Car. EMF was a short-lived Detroit automobile company that produced cars from 1909 to 1912, before being taken over by Studebaker. The single automobile in the photograph is still outnumbered by the many horse and buggies parked to the left of it.

The next few years brought changes both to the automobile industry and to Fort Collins. In the automobile business, Henry Ford started producing his Model T, fulfilling a pledge he made in 1908 to “build a motor car for the multitude . . . so low in price that the man of moderate means may own one.” As the number of automobiles grew, Fort Collins responded. In 1916 the town began paving the major streets, horses were banned from downtown, and the hitching posts were removed. Here is an image of the same intersection taken in September 1922, with the precise dating made possible by the movie advertisement on the streetcar.

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Intersection of College and Mountain Avenues, 1922

Taken just 20 years after the arrival of our first automobile, the streets are now paved and the town is bustling with automobiles. In two decades, the automobile went from a toy for our wealthiest citizens to a necessity of everyday life. Notice, also, that the bigger Interurban streetcars have been replaced by the smaller Birney cars. That happened in 1919.

Let’s jump ahead another 20 years and look at this same intersection, circa 1943.

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Intersection of College and Mountain Avenues, c. 1943

Of course we have newer cars, but really not much else seems to have changed. The Birneys are still running. The buildings that we can compare are the same and the number of cars on the road certainly hasn’t increased. (World War II gas rationing may have had something to do with that.) If you look closely at the left side of the image, you can spot one change – traffic signals have made it to Fort Collins. Below is an enlargement of that section of the image.

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Traffic Signal, College and Mountain Avenues, c. 1943

The traffic signal is in the center of the intersection, probably where the watering tank was in the 1904 image. I’ve tried to research the history of traffic signals in Fort Collins, but I failed. I’ve heard that the earliest traffic signals in Fort Collins were some kind of semaphore signal, with stop and go flags. I haven’t been able to confirm that in the local newspapers. I also haven’t been able to find out when the first traffic lights were installed in Fort Collins. If you happen to know, email me at the address shown below or tell all of us by using the Comment box following this post.

You might have noticed that this 1943 image was made by Mark Miller, a long time Fort Collins photographer. Some years ago, I had the chance to interview John Miller, Mark Miller’s son. He told me a story about this image that I thought I’d share with you, even though it is off topic.

Mark Miller loved this photograph. He thought it showed the best parts of our town – the historic buildings, the wide streets, and the trolley system. He thought this photograph should be the one the Chamber of Commerce used to promote the city. According to Mark Miller, a publishing company used the image without his permission to make a printed, colorized postcard, Printed in high volumes, the colored postcard, rather than Miller’s black-and-white real photo postcard, became the more recognized image of downtown Fort Collins. His name was removed from the card, so he received no credit or recognition for the photograph.

Below is the colorized version. It’s interesting to compare the two postcards to see the changes and simplifications that the publishing company chose to make in their printed versions, long before Photoshop was around to help.

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Colorized and Printed Version of Miller’s Real Photo Postcard, c. 1943

Next Sunday I’m going to post some images of an alabaster art shop and a very short-lived Catholic church.

If you want to reach me directly, my email is mcneil0115@comcast.net



Rock Formations of the Lower Poudre Canyon

There are a couple of famous rock formations in the Poudre Canyon. Profile Rock and Sleeping Elephant are probably known to most visitors to the canyon. A few weeks ago, in a post I called “Lower Poudre Canyon: Mishawaka, Tunnel, & Totem Rock,” I posted an image of Totem Rock, a lesser know formation in the Little Narrows area.  Even more recently, I bought a postcard of a Poudre rock formation captioned “The Duck, Little Narrows.” Here’s a scan of it and, as you can see, it looks a little duck-like.

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The Duck, Little Narrows, c. 1925

Jan Gueswel, a Poudre Canyon resident and the editor of a monthly newsletter for lower Poudre Canyon residents, and I have shared emails in the past. I had a chance to meet her personally last week at a presentation I was giving on the “Automobile Comes to Fort Collins.” I mentioned my latest Poudre Canyon purchase and Jan began telling me about other rock formations in the Canyon, none familiar to me. Jan was nice enough to take pictures of them and send them to me. Now she’s letting me share them with you.






First, let’s look at Jan’s Duck image, which she found just below (or east of) the tunnel, on the south side.

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The Duck, April 2017, by Jan Gueswel.

Here are the others she sent, roughly in east to west order up the Canyon. I’ve included Jan’s location information as well as well as a re-post of my Totem Rock image.

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Vulcan Salute, April 2017, by Jan Gueswel. Below the tunnel, near the Duck, on the south side of the canyon.

Any “Trekker” will recognize this rock formation as Mr. Spock’s Vulcan Salute from the 1960’s television series Star Trek. The salute was often accompanied by the phrase “Live Long and Prosper.”

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The Thumb, April 2017, by Jan Gueswel. Still below the tunnel but on the north side of the river.
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The Pink Pig, April 2017, by Jan Gueswel. Approximately 200 yards above (or west of) the tunnel on the canyon wall, south of the highway.

Apparently, instructors stop at this point in the canyon to point out this feature to geology students. According to a geologist friend of mine, “This is an intrusion of younger granitic rock, probably a pegmatite into older metamorphic rock. If it cooled slowly crystals could form in it. The pink color is from the mineral feldspar which is a large component of granite along with quartz.” Visualizing the pig is up to you.

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Totem Rock, c. 1920. Possibly by William Sanborn. Locally called “Palisades,” just west of the tunnel, on the north side across the river.
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Balance Rock, April 2017, by Jan Gueswel. Just below (or east) of the Narrows Campground, across the river on the south side.
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Gorilla Rock April 2017, by Jan Gueswel. West of the road to Pingree Park, on the north side of the highway. Note that you have to be driving east on Highway 14 to see it.

It might be worth a ride to check out these formations and maybe find and name some of your own. Have fun and let me know if I gave any bad directions. Also, if you know of any more rock formations in the canyon send them to me with some directions and I’ll post them in the future. Send them to my email:


Next Sunday, I’m going to show you how fast the automobile changed the face of Fort Collins.

Fort Collins Motorcycle Race, July 4, 1911

The early automobiles were very expensive and only the wealthy could afford them. For example, the first three automobiles in Fort Collins were bought by the County Judge and two doctors. Motorcycles were more affordable and stories about them began showing up in the Fort Collins newspapers as early as 1905. Here are a few examples.

August 30, 1905: “Arthur Evans of Fort Logan visited Fort Collins friends. He made the journey on his motor cycle.”

March 6, 1907: “Miss Lillie Nicolson came over from Windsor on a motor cycle for a Saturday visit with her parents.” Way to go Lillie!

March 25, 1908: Earl Verry owned Verry Bros.’ Package Delivery in Fort Collins and ran this weekly advertisement: “Let the Verry Bros’ motor cycle do the hurrying.”

May 12, 1910: “The sheriff’s office has acquired a new vehicle wherewith to run down those who have sought to buck the law. It is a new Excelsior motorcycle, which is apt to be just as much of a bucker as the average bronco. The brute is now ready for use by any member of the sheriff’s office who finds a swift method of locomotion necessary at any time in the prosecution of his duties.”

It wasn’t until May 15, 1914, that the Fort Collins police got their own motor cycle, an Indian motorcycle. They said, “It will be used to run down speeders who violate the city ordinances.” It wasn’t hard to speed in the early days of the automobile. The first speed limit in Fort Collins was 12 mph on the straightaway and 8 mph going around curves.

By 1909, motorcycle races were a part of any big festivity, including the September 1909 Lamb Day Celebration. Click Lamb Day 1909 & 1910 to see an earlier post of this event.

Below is an image of the start of one of those motorcycle races.

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July 4, 1911 Motorcycle Race

The bikes are arrayed across College Avenue, looking north from Mountain. This photograph was most likely taken at the start of the July 4, 1911 motorcycle race. The Weekly Courier described the race this way, when it laid out the upcoming events of the day:

“Another event, not on the regular program, but which will help make the day interesting is the motorcycle race to be run in the morning over a 125-mile course. [the race will be] three times over a road from Collins to Loveland, Loveland to Windsor and Windsor to Fort Collins.”

I’m told by several motorcycle experts that the bikes are a mix of Indians, which were produced in Springfield, MA as early as 1902, and Excelsiors, which were produced in Chicago starting in 1905. Both companies started as bicycle manufacturers and then moved on to motorcycles. The first four on the left side are Indians, the second and third bikes from the right are Excelsiors, and the two brands are mixed in the middle.

I couldn’t find any information on the prizes or the winners but I did find an article that discussed an accident that occurred during the race. The July 7, 1911, Weekly Courier, reported that “country people” were “incensed” over the motorcycle races being run on public roads. Apparently, a motorcycle in the July 4th race had frightened a team of horses driven by a farm boy, throwing him out of the wagon, and severely injuring him.

I don’t think the injury or the publicity stopped the races.

The next post will be a fun post, the rock formations of the lower Poudre Canyon.

The Telephone Exchange, 1911

The first time I got to share some of my images with the Fort Collins community was in 2007 when Barbara Fleming and I did a series of articles for the Fort Collins Now newspaper, which is no longer in business. The November 24, 2007 article was on the Fort Collins Telephone Exchange. I was surprised at how early telephone service came to Fort Collins. Here is the image we used, a real photo postcard that was postmarked January 2, 1911. It is followed by Barbara’s article.

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Fort Collins Telephone Exchange, Postmarked 1911. Located in the 300 block of South College Avenue.


“A telephone in the home, trumpeted the 1920s newspaper advertisement, was ‘better than a revolver’ should an intruder break in. The caller had but to pick up the phone, respond to the question, ‘Number please?’ and ask for the police, whereupon the operator made a connection and the police were on their way.

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Fort Collins Courier, September 9, 1880

“In the beginning, though, this was not possible. When telephone service came to Fort Collins in 1880, one phone was installed, in a drugstore. In 1887 city hall was connected to the water works so that more water pressure could be requested in case of fire. Then a few more connections were made, between City Drug and owner Frank Stover’s home, between the county clerk’s office and the [A. W.] Scott residence and between the railroad depot and the Tedmon Hotel. Mr. Stover, however, could not call Mr. Scott.

“Gradually, despite scoffers who dubbed the telephone a silly toy or an unnecessary luxury, the device caught on. In the 1890s, you could actually talk to someone in a nearby town – even in Denver – though that could take up to four hours. Installers could be seen riding around town, bicycles laden with telephone equipment. In 1902, a telephone exchange on College Avenue made it possible for Mr. Stover to talk to Mr. Scott at last (if he so desired). Most phones were business lines, with numbers like Red 35 and Black 315.


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Telephone Operator, 1911

“Operators like those seen here were the heart of the telephone system. During the blizzard of 1913, when the whole state was shut down for several days, they made their way to the exchange by horse and buggy, heroically staying on the job for three days.

“Switchboard operators worked in the phone exchange until 1975, when dial phones made their jobs obsolete – nearly a century after the first phone came to town.”

Sometimes real photo postcards come with interesting messages on the reverse side that give us a glimpse into what it was like to live in Fort Collins in earlier times. Here’s the note that was on the reverse side of this postcard, mailed to Mrs. Perry Shafer in Pleasanton, Kansas.

Postmarked January 2, 1911

“Aunt Sudi,

“I will write for Cora as they are all shut up. Jess has got the small pox, her aunt [is] a bit sick, but I or Jim or Walter can’t go home. Bill is up and around but is [doing] very poorly. I will keep you posted if they get any worse.

“Yours R. E. Stone”

Sunday I’ll post a photograph of the start of the July 4, 1911 motorcycle race. I think you’ll enjoy it.