In 1912, the Colorado Agricultural School (now CSU) established a department of Rural and Industrial Education. Their mission was to study rural education in the state, a state still sparsely populated with many rural school districts, and to recommend changes for rural schools on a state-wide basis. It didn’t take long for them to identify the major problems; small, weak, and inefficient district school organizations, untrained and inexperienced teachers, and inadequate school buildings and equipment. The solution was also plainly obvious to them – consolidation – and one of their earliest experiments was Larimer County and what would become the Cache La Poudre Consolidated School, in Laporte, Colorado.
On July 4, 1913, the cornerstone was laid for the new school. According to the Fort Collins Weekly Courier, over 300 people witnessed the “imposing ceremony.” Many luminaries spoke at the ceremony that the newspaper called “one of the broadest steps in education ever made in Northern Colorado.
One of the speakers was Charles A. Lory, President of CAC. He reminded the audience of college’s long-time effort in rural education, thanked a number of people who were involved in the school’s planning, and closed by telling the audience that “the college’s telephone system [was] connected at all times with the Laporte district and that all they had to do was to call the college and anything that institution could do to help would be done promptly and cheerfully.”
In October 1913, the Cache La Poudre Consolidated School, consolidating six small rural schools, opened for business with 181 students, from first grade through high school.
In 1918, CAC released a report entitled, “Rural School Improvement in Colorado.” Around a dozen consolidated schools were reported on in detail, including the Cache La Poudre Consolidated School. According to the CAC report, the new school consolidated five rural school districts and parts of two adjoining districts. Six old buildings were abandoned and were replaced by “a beautiful structure of brick and stone, costing $30,000.” Here is how the school is described in the report:
“The basement story, all above ground, is made of Colorado red sandstone, quarried from the red cliffs within the district, while the two other stories of red pressed brick. There are about 15 rooms in the building. It is modern as to heating, lighting, and ventilation and has indoor toilets, and its drinking fountains are supplied with pure and cold mountain water. . . . Nine rooms are used for classroom work. The large school and community auditorium will seat 350 and the manual training teacher and his family live in five rooms on the ground floor.”
Below is the full-page image of the school, used in the report.
Transportation was obviously as important to the school consolidation effort as the new schools. The new Laporte school used six wagons to move students around the consolidated district. The wagons were purchased from the Delphi Wagon Company in Indiana. One local writer said the wagons “were not unlike the wagons used . . . for conveyance of prisoners from one jail to another.” The wagons were fitted with side curtains to protect the students from weather. When the snow was high, the wheels were replaced with bobsleds to make sure students could attend school.
The report also featured three other views of the school, which, along with their captions, are reproduced below:
As the county grew, so did the school system. Changes occurred to the consolidated school as reported in the history section of the Cache La Poudre Elementary School website. In 1949, the present day Cache La Poudre Middle School was built and called the Cache La Poudre High School. The consolidated school was then used for kindergarten through 9th grade. In 1964, Poudre High School was built and the old high school became the junior high school. Finally, in 1974, the original brick building was knocked down and the new Cache La Poudre Elementary School was built in its place.
Fort Collins has been proud of its schools for a long time. The town opened a kindergarten in 1880, the first kindergarten west of St. Louis, MO. It also started a four-year high school program in 1889, long before other western towns of similar size. The pride also spread to the student body. The above multi-view postcard was mailed by a proud granddaughter, Florence, c. 1907, to her grandmother. Her message reads, “Grandma, this is my school house in the right hand corner, the Remington school. I will mark it X so you will know. Florence”
Below are photographs of the early historic schools in Fort Collins. The Fort Collins Archive kindly let me use a couple of their images so that you can see all the Fort Collins early schools from the Remington School, opened in 1879, through the second Fort Collins High School opened in 1925.
There are a lot of images so I’ve kept the text to a minimum. If you want to know more about the schools, here are links to a school post Meg Dunn wrote on Forgotten Fort Collins and to the premier document on the school system, In the Hallowed Halls of Learning: The History and Architecture of Poudre School District R-1, by Historitecture, L. L. C. It is available as a pdf and can tell you anything you want to know about the history of the Poudre School system. Most of the dates and other information I’ve used come from Chapter 5 of this document.
The first building constructed for the Fort Collins School system was a simple home built at what is now 115 Riverside Avenue. It was a front-gabled, wood frame building and opened in September 1871, almost 150 years ago. It was known as the “yellow schoolhouse.” I’ve never seen an early image of the school but, fortunately, the building still exists and is shown to the left in a photograph I took this week. It is designated a local historic landmark.
As the town grew, the need for a bigger school became apparent. The answer was a sturdy, square, brick structure at 318 Remington Street. The Remington School opened in 1879 and featured gaslights, central heating, and three teachers. Below is an image of the school, courtesy of the Fort Collins Archives.
The Remington School was razed in the late 1960s to make room for the DMA Plaza senior housing.
Only a few years after the Remington School was built, the need for another school became clear. The Benjamin Franklin School, on the southwest corner of Mountain Avenue and Howes Street, was completed in 1887, serving third- through eighth-grade students. Below are photographs of the school, from two different sides.
The Franklin School was a large, square, two-story structure. The large chimneys, projecting from the roof, helped communicate a sense of massiveness that wasn’t felt when looking at the Remington School. The completion of this building must have added to the growing civic pride of our small town.
The school boasted electric lighting and other modern conveniences. It was also the home to the district’s first high school – an experiment – that began in two classrooms. The high school graduated four girls and one boy in 1891. The building was torn down in 1959 to make room for Steele’s Market that itself was demolished in 2010.
High school enrollment soon justified a separate high school. The new school was designed by Fort Collins’ architect, Montezuma Fuller, and completed in 1903. It was located at 417 South Meldrum Street.
There were staircases on both sides of the school. Boys entered the school on the south and girls used the north entrance, with each having a separate lunchroom. Below are two images of the school in 1912.
The high school was expanded twice, to the south in 1916 and to the north in 1921. Below is a color postcard of the school after the 1916 addition.
Upon completion of the new high school, this building became Lincoln Junior High School. In 1977, parts of the school were torn down and parts were incorporated into the new Lincoln Center.
Fort Collins student population continued to grow quickly and in 1906/1907 the school district made a decision to build a pair of twin schools – both built from the same set of plans. Architectural critics decried it as unimaginative but the practice provided fast growing school systems with efficiencies of time and money. Montezuma Fuller was again hired as the architect. In 1906, the Laurel Street School opened, followed in 1907 by the Laporte Avenue School. Below is an image of the Laporte Avenue School, circa 1910, along with a close-up of the students clustered at the main entrance, the most notable architectural feature of the building.
The Laporte Avenue School was razed in 1975 but the Laurel Street School, located east of College Avenue, continues to serve the school district as Centennial High School, with a new addition that doubled the size of the school.
Another set of twin elementary schools followed in 1919 – The George Washington and Abraham Lincoln Schools. The two schools marked a departure from the earlier, box-shaped schools. The buildings reflected an era of reform in education, exemplifying a move from the school as a place for moral inspiration to the school as a place efficient learning. Below is a photograph of the George Washington School, circa 1919, courtesy of the Fort Collins Archive.
The schools are classified as “mutedly Craftsman” in architectural style. Architecturally, the buildings sported brackets and exposed rafter ends but the important design change was the interior, with smaller, more intimate classrooms arranged around a core of offices and a gymnasium/auditorium.
The George Washington School was located at 233 South Shields Street and is now the home of Colorado State University’s Early Childhood Center.
The Abraham Lincoln School, located at 501 East Elizabeth Street, changed names to Harris Elementary School in 1939 and is now the Harris Bilingual School.
By 1919, it was clear that Fort Collins needed a new high school but voters weren’t ready to support the construction of a new school. The north addition to the old high school was constructed as a compromise. The board kept pushing for a new high school and a committee was established to investigate the need for the school and possible sites. Voters slowly came around and in 1923, funding for the new school was approved.
Still, arguments persisted over the cost and the location of the proposed school. Finally, Louis Clark Moore, a prominent Fort Collins businessman and the treasurer of the school board, donated land to the district. The new high school would be built at 1400 Remington Street; a location many residents complained was too far out of town.
The Fort Collins High School opened in 1925. It was designed in the Colonial Revival style, with symmetrical wings extending from a central portico crowned by a white-painted cupola. Below is an image of the school shortly after completion.
The building featured a cafeteria, a full kitchen, a library, and a modern auditorium. The portico consisted of slender and extremely tall Doric columns. Here are a couple more images of the school:
Used until the new Fort Collins High School on Timberline Road was built in 1995, it is now the Colorado State University Center for the Arts.
According to In the Hallowed Halls of Learning, the high school on Remington Street was the last Fort Collins’ school designed in a historically inspired style. Later schools were built in a modern or postmodern style.