Early Mishawaka/Thompson’s Resort Business Card

Walter S. Thompson was a traveling piano tuner from Denver who began visiting Fort Collins as early as 1901 for his work. In 1907, he bought Woods Music on South College Avenue and moved to Fort Collins with his family.

On a motorcycle trip through the Poudre Canyon in 1916, he fell in love with the river. A musician, he loved the river’s sweet song. His wife, Alma, played the piano and the cello, and Walt played the piano, trombone and drums. The couple decided to move to the canyon and open a resort. They filed a homestead claim and built a cabin beside the Poudre River. Although Thompson named the resort Mishawaka for an Indiana town of which he had fond memories, for years most people knew it as Thompson’s Resort.

Thompson’s Resort Looking East, c. 1940. Real Photo Postcard by Mark Miller.

It didn’t take long for Thompson’s Resort to catch on. The Thompsons offered cabins for overnight guests, at milepost 108. An apple orchard graced the hillside, and a handmade water wheel provided electricity.  The whole family was involved: Walt worked outdoors; the couple’s two daughters managed the store and dining room, and Alma gave music lessons. Canyon residents loved to drop by on a summer evening, often finding a square dance underway. (The signs in this circa 1940 image show 20 and 21 cents per gallon for gas.)

Of course, in the winter the resort could look very different.


Resort in the Snow, postmarked November 27, 1931. Real Photo Postcard by William Sanborn.

The message written on the back of this postcard says, “Ten inches of snow here [Fort Collins]. In mountains is 14 inches.”

I love the signs on the old buildings. Below is a close-up of the lodge so that you can see the various advertising signs circa 1935.

Thompson’s Resort Lodge w. Signs, c. 1935. RPPC by Mark Miller.

There are signs for Bell Telephone, two for Coca-Cola, the Denver Post, Conoco Gas, and a “Pep So” sign that might be Pepsi Cola. Notice that the building carries the Mishawaka name over the door and the Thompson’s Resort name on the big Conoco sign. By this time, the resort consisted of six cabins, a store and refreshment stand, and a rustic dance hall.

A big selling point for the resort, even proudly listed on their business cards was the availability of electricity. Below is my favorite image of this resort, a close-up of a Sanborn real photo postcard showing the water driven power plant.

River View of Thompson’s Resort, c. 1930. Real Photo Postcard by William Sanborn.

Stanley Case’ book, The Poudre: A Photo History, includes a brief story of the power plant, shown on the right side of this photograph.

“[Walt Thompson] put in a water wheel and turbine for electricity. Legend has it that he was assisted in that project by an automotive engineer from Detroit, a man who built the flume and installed the wheel and was repaid in being able to buy 80 acres and Walt’s original home.”

Ticket for Joan Baez at Mishawaka, September 15, 1998.

Changes in ownership after the couple’s deaths brought changes in the resort. Today, Mishawaka is a popular contemporary-music venue, still standing though much different in appearance than the resort Miller and Sanborn knew, and lacking the rental cabins, apple orchard and water wheel. Now known mostly as Mish, the outdoor music venue has featured many artist, including Joan Baez as shown on this 1998 ticket receipt.


A little farther up the road, at Little Narrows and milepost 107.3, is the picturesque Baldwin Tunnel . Blasted through solid granite, it is named for supervisor Charles Baldwin. Initially, the tunnel was 14 feet wide and 12 feet high. As you can see from the next two images, the tunnel was widened at least once.

Car Entering Baldwin Tunnel from the West, October 1920.

This image was used in a newspaper, probably the Denver Post, on October 10, 1920. The photograph carried this caption.

“The tunnel at the Little Narrows in the Poudre canon highway, which promised to become one of the most popular scenic and trout fishing highways in Colorado.”

The Poudre Canyon Tunnel from the East, c. 1950. Real Photo Postcard by Mark Miller.

Just as it is today, the tunnel was quite short allowing one wag to quip in the December 17, 1915, Fort Collins Weekly Courier that the tunnel “won’t be long enough to make safe kissing in the dark.”

Work on the tunnel was underway by March 1916 and in June work wagons were using it. The first automobile formally allowed to use the tunnel was the Cadillac owned by Colorado State Senator Drake on July 6, 1916.

Below is one more image of the Baldwin Tunnel, circa 1925.

Tunnel in the Poudre Canyon, c. 1925

This image was taken by the Denver Tourist Bureau and was accompanied by this flowery caption:

“Like a nature presentation wherein curtains are drawn is the stage effect of the scenic splendor of Cache la Poudre Canyon out of Fort Collins, when emerging from the man-made tunnel along the way.”

I’m sharing this mostly for the automobile in the photograph. I love photos of our area that include old cars but I’m terrible at identifying them. Fortunately, the Antique Automobile Club of America has a “What Is It” forum on their website. I can upload an image to the forum and within hours experts have debated the make, model, and year of the car and sent an answer, even when the front of the car isn’t visible. In this case, the experts quickly agreed that this automobile is a 1921 Marmon, Model 34, with a 1925 Colorado license plate. The Marmon Motor Car Company was located in Indianapolis, IN and produced cars from 1902 to 1933.

Although the canyon isn’t known for its rock formations, there is one named rock formation, near the tunnel. I’ll end this post with its image.

Totem Rock – Poudre Canyon, Ft. Collins, c. 1920. Real Photo Postcard Possibly by William Sanborn.

Totem Rock is largely bypassed today; it is not referenced in any recent books or maps, but the site of the photo labeled Totem Rock is just west of the Baldwin Tunnel, on the north side of the road, though I couldn’t spot it. According to an August 4, 1916, Fort Collins weekly Courier article, it was named by O. J. Watrous, an agent for the Union Pacific Railroad, who thought the rock looked like a totem pole.

In addition to liking photographs for what they show about early Fort Collins and the surrounding area, I like them for what they tell us about photographic history. I have a couple of additional tunnel images that are great examples of an early photographic technique. I’ll share them with you next Sunday.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page can click the “Poudre Canyon” category to see the rest of my Poudre posts.



3 thoughts on “Lower Poudre Canyon: Mishawaka, Tunnel, & Totem Rock

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