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.

Davis Carpenter building 1897 B640
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.

Davis Map 1895 B640
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.

Davis Barn Built 1887 UHPC_2880a 1922 B640
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.


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