An Iconic View of Colorado State University, c. 1887

Below is an iconic view of Colorado Agricultural College, now CSU, taken circa 1887. Unlike the last two images I’ve posted, many of you have probably seen this image. It has been used in a number of local histories, including Fort Collins: Then & Now written by Barbara Fleming and me and Democracy’s College in the Centennial State: A History of Colorado University written by James E. Hansen II. I hope this post can tell you some things you didn’t know about the image and, even if it doesn’t, it is still a phenomenal image.

View of Colorado Agricultural College from College Avenue, c. 1877. Photographed by E. F. Bunn and S. H. Seckner.

When I decided to post this image, I approached the CSU Archives for help in identifying the buildings. Victoria Lopez-Terrill, Librarian and Assistant to the Coordinator, at the Archives and Special Collections, an always helpful resource, sent me to Gordon “Hap” Hazard. Many of you may know Hap, he is a History Researcher at the CSU Archives, and, by chance, was also investigating this image. Hap knew the buildings and had a wealth of information on the setting of the photograph. Together, Hap’s knowledge of the campus and the buildings and my knowledge of the photographers allowed us to establish a date for the photograph that we think is right, plus or minus a few years.

First, let’s look at the photographers.

This photograph is a cabinet card. Cabinet cards are photographic prints mounted on card stock, which made the prints stronger and more durable than the photographic print alone. They came to be called “cabinet cards,” because they could be easily propped up and displayed in a home, especially in a cabinet in the parlor. Eventually large albums were made to hold the cards, which soon became a staple in almost every home in the United States. They were introduced in the 1860s and reached their peak of popularity in the 1880s and 1890s.

They are big photographs, typically 4 ½ x 6 ½ inches, though this one is bigger, about 5 x 8 inches over all, though the image itself is slightly smaller. Often, cabinet cards had room on the front for the photographers name but on this card, the information is printed on the back.

Back of Image

Edward F. Bunn and Stephen H. Seckner both began photographing in Fort Collins around 1885. Exactly when they became partners is harder to know. A Fort Collins Courier article dated July 24, 1890 says the two men had just purchased an existing photographic studio together but they could have been working as partners before then. A newspaper advertisement in January 1891 indicates that Seckner was working by himself, which gives us an end date for the partnership.

Looking at the date of the photograph just from the point of view of the photographers, gives us a range of 1885 to 1891. This date span corresponds well when Hap compares the buildings in the photograph to the early construction history at CAC. Both lead us to think that circa 1887 is a reasonable date estimate for this image. Now let’s move on to the location of the photograph and the buildings in the image, using Hap’s knowledge of CAC’s history.

View of Colorado Agricultural College from College Avenue with Labels

This image was probably taken on South College Avenue, close to where the South College Gymnasium and Glenn Morris Field House are located today. The buildings are labeled in the slight enlargement shown above. Below are two enlargements that show the buildings better, along with a little information about them.

Old Main and Spruce Hall, Right Side of Image

Just for fun, I have cropped this image to match the section Dr. Hansen used in Democracy’s College. The images shows Old Main on the left and the Dormitory Building, which we now know as Spruce Hall, on the right.

Old Main, the first classroom building on the campus, was opened in 1879. Old Main was all-purpose, with classrooms, offices, and living quarters for the college’s first president. Almost a century and several additions later, the rambling building was destroyed by fire, deliberately set during a period of student unrest in the 1970s. I’ll do two posts in the future on Old Main, one showing some early images of the building and a second to share a number of photographs of the fire that destroyed this College and community landmark.

Early in its history, CAC was having trouble growing its student population. It was hoped that adding a dormitory for out of town students would help the school grow. The Dormitory Building was constructed in 1881. It has served several purposes since then and was renamed Spruce Hall. Spruce Hall is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Click “CSU’s Spruce Hall” for an earlier article and photos I have posted on this building.

Barn and Mechanics Shop, Left Side of Image

The Barn, shown on the left side of this image, probably has the most complicated history. The barn was built in 1882, for the veterinary program, and converted into a chemistry laboratory a year or so later. Since then it has served various purposes, including becoming the school’s first freestanding library in 1905. We now know it as Laurel Hall, home of the Office of International Programs.

The building on the right side of the enlargement is the Mechanics Shop built in 1883. It was the first stage of four stages that would form the Mechanical Engineering Building or what is now known as the Preconstruction Center. The building is on the Colorado State Registry of Historic Properties. I’ve also done an earlier post on this building and you can see more photographs and get more information by clicking “Mechanical Engineering Building.”

Finally, I tried to guess where this photograph was taken and I’ll end by showing a “Now” image from the spot I chose on South College Avenue. The neighborhood certainly has changed since 1887.

View of Colorado Agricultural College from College Avenue, April 22, 2017

Next, I will post two great images only related by being taken in 1911 – the Fort Collins Telephone Exchange and the start of a July 4th motorcycle race. I will try to post one on Wednesday or Thursday and the second image on Sunday. I hope you enjoy them.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page can click the “Colorado State University” category to see the rest of my CSU posts.