In 1873, J. L. Hilton built a small house half-way between Greeley and Fort Collins, Colorado. It became known as the “half-way” house and was a landmark for travelers between the two bigger towns and county seats of Northern Colorado. Even today, Windsor, Colorado is shared by Larimer and Weld Counties.
Below are some images of Windsor, mostly from the early 20th century. I hope you enjoy them.
We’ll start with two images of Main Street, both circa 1905.
I think these two images show the two sides of Main Street at a time when horse and buggies still filled the street but signs of a more modern time, like cement sidewalks and power poles, were appearing. Notice that both postcards use “New Windsor” as name of the town. There is an interesting story behind this version of the name told in The Struggle for Identity: Windsor’s Historic Downtown by Adam Thomas, HISTORITECTURE, LLC.
“Contrary to the belief of many, the town was never known as “New Windsor,” but the name of the post office was changed from Windsor to New Windsor because of the careless habit of so many in abbreviating the names of Colorado and California, “Col.” and “Cal.,” making their o’s and a’s so much alike that mail clerks had difficulty in determining where to send some pieces of mail. There was a Windsor, California, too.”
The article goes on to say that while this is an interesting story, a simpler explanation is that at the time of the founding of Windsor in Northern Colorado, another Windsor already existed in Routt County, Colorado. The post office had to append “New” to the Windsor name to avoid confusion. However, the residents stuck to their name saying in an 1899 newspaper article that “the town is no more New Windsor than it is New York.” Fortunately, the post office and citizenry became united in name on October 1, 1911, after Routt County’s Windsor had disappeared.
While centrally located, Windsor wasn’t ideal for farming. Cultivation was only possible in the limited river bottoms. However, early settlers knew the area had a particularly low-lying and marshy spot – a natural reservoir site. Construction began in the early 1880s and the reservoir, first called Lake Hollister and then Kern Reservoir or Windsor Lake, changed the future of Windsor. Thomas in The Struggle of Identity says, “With irrigation, Windsor became the center of an expansive farming and livestock-feeding empire that made the town a natural agricultural processing hub.”
Windsor farmers grew a variety of products, including oats, barley, and alfalfa, but the area later became known for its potatoes and sugar beets.
An early objective for many Northern Colorado towns was the completion of a local flour mill. Windsor was no exception. As early as 1884 the Fort Collins Courier reported, “There is strong talk of a steam flouring mill built in Windsor this summer,” but the first Windsor mill wasn’t completed until October 1896. The Greeley Tribune reported on October 29, 1896, “Last Tuesday smoke began to ascend heaven ward, bearings were lubricated and wheels began to revolve and the Windsor mill was in motion and ready to make Windsor flour a reality.” Unfortunately, this mill was destroyed by fire in July 1899, with loses estimated by the Fort Collins Weekly Courier at $50,000.
Windsor remained undaunted. Within a month, the planning for a new mill was underway. The February 8, 1900, Greeley Tribune reported, “The Windsor brick flouring mill, which is to be twice as large as the one that burned down, . . . is nearing completion.” Known as the Windsor Milling and Elevator Co., the plant, according to the September 20, 1900, Fort Collins Weekly Courier, was completing some finishing touches and “Windsor can now boast of one of the largest, finest most complete and up-to-date mills in the west.”
Here is a photograph of the Windsor Milling and Elevator Co., circa 1910.
Located at 301 Main Street, the plant operated until 1990 as a flour mill and later a feed mill. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 1998. The mill’s fourth story and much of the third floor were destroyed in the 2008 tornado that tore through Windsor. Renovations are now underway to turn the historic structure into a brewpub, bar, and dining facility.
Below is the building as it looked a few days ago. One recent article said that the target date for completion is the end of 2017.
The next, and probably the most significant event in early Windsor history, was the opening of a sugar beet factory in the early 20th century.
Sugar beets were changing Northern Colorado. The Loveland sugar beet factory had opened in 1901 and farmers all over the area were switching their fields from wheat to sugar beets. Windsor was no exception.
The Windsor beet dump opened on October 18, 1901, providing the mechanism to efficiently transfer the beets from the farmer’s wagons to the railcars, which would move the beets to the Loveland factory. (See “The Sugar Beet Dump” post.) But Windsor wanted their own plant and got it.
Ground was broken for the plant in November 1902, on property east of town, and they started processing beets one year later.
One local newspaper wrote, Windsor “is no longer a wayside trading post. A bright day has dawned upon our little city, and the future will evidently unfold brighter things.”
Sugar beet factories changed our small Northern Colorado towns. They brought the first real industry to most of them. Thomas’ The Struggle for Identity: Windsor’s Historic Downtown documents the growth in population. “The 1900 U. S. Census found 305 people living in Windsor, a number that had been nearly stagnant for decades; by 1910, the town had about 1,780 residents, a 484 percent increase over ten years.”
Thomas also found a surge in downtown building. Of the 43 extant commercial buildings that he surveyed in 2009/2010, nineteen were built between 1900 and 1910. The factory had an “immediate and profound effect upon Windsor.” I’ll cover a couple of these buildings next Sunday in Part 2 of the Windsor story.
The Windsor factory shut down in 1966. Luckily, the sugar beet site was quickly leased to Kodak and, by 1968, the “Welcome Eastman Kodak” signs were hanging in downtown Windsor.
At its peak, Kodak would employ 3,000 people, in the Windsor location. The transition to digital photography impacted the workforce and the operation was sold to its largest creditor, Kodak Alaris, in 2013.
Next week I’ll continue the Windsor story with images of some of its commercial and governmental buildings.