Water Wagon in Front of the Northern Hotel

A few months ago, I posted a two part history of the Northern Hotel, one of the premier early hotels of Fort Collins, Colorado. In case you missed them, here are the links.

Northern Hotel, Part 1: “Modern in Every Respect”

Northern Hotel, Part 2: The Place to Stay in Fort Collins

I used a number of images of the hotel in the two posts but I saved this one, one of my favorites, to show on its own. I thought it deserved its own post. I hope you do to.

Water Wagon in Front of the Northern Hotel, c. 1912

The image is from a real photo postcard, postmarked 1912. We have a great image of the Northern Hotel, at the corner of College Avenue and Walnut Street, when it was three stories high. In 1924, a fourth floor was added.

At this time, the Northern Hotel was the place to go for food and entertainment. The message on the back of this postcard was sent from “DRD” to Miss Merele Young, Portland, Ore. It reads, “Just came up here yesterday to a meeting. Banquet and Ball last evening. Finest time I’ve had since Jan. 1st. Wish I could have had three dances with you.”

The photograph was taken in the transitional period when Fort Collins was moving from the horse and wagon to the automobile era. There is a horse drawn water wagon front and center in the image but we also have a horse and buggy and an automobile, too blurry to identify, on the far left side.

The right side has a large group of vehicles. Below is a close up of that section of the image.

Right Side Enlargement

Even enlarged, it is hard to determine what vehicles are parked along the road. There are certainly a number of buggies, maybe one or two automobiles, and what appears to be a covered wagon at the end of the row. There are also a couple of bicycles parked at the main entrance to the hotel. In 1916, after College Avenue was paved, the hitching posts were removed and horses were banned from the downtown area.

To me, the water wagon is the star of the image. Let’s take a closer look at it.

Water Wagon Filling up at Hydrant, c. 1912

In the early 20th century in Fort Collins, water wagons were primarily used to wet down dusty streets during the summer. In this image, the driver is filling up his wooden water wagon from a city hydrant. The horizontal pipe under the wagon probably dispensed the water as the horses pulled the wagon down the streets.

This image is sharp enough to read the sign near the door behind the wagon. As you can see, the Fort Collins Bank & Trust Co. occupied the space Starbucks fills today. There is also writing on the top of the driver’s umbrella. It appears to be an advertising message but I couldn’t read it.

By the way, water wagons gave rise to a couple of expressions we still use today. In the early 20th century, “to be on the wagon” implied that the speaker was drinking water from the water wagon rather than drinking alcohol. He was an abstainer. Of course, he could always “fall off the wagon.”

I hope you enjoyed this wonderful image.

On Sunday, I’m going to post a series of images from Camp Wayne, a 1920s YMCA summer camp in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado.

The Big Snow of December 1913

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) calls it the “greatest snowstorm Colorado has ever seen.” From December 1, through December 5, 1913, the snow poured down. Denver, Colorado was buried in 45.7 inches of snow and Fort Collins recieved 34.5 inches of the white stuff. Our town came to a standstill and it took weeks for some sort of normalcy to return.

Below are five real photo postcards showing what downtown Fort Collins looked like after the storm. I’ve alternated the images with the messages on the postcards and some stories from the Fort Collins Weekly Courier (FCWC), published between December 5 and December 19, 1913. I hope you enjoy this look back at one of the major climate events in Fort Collins History.

South Collage Avenue, Looking South, 1913

Description: The photographer is standing in the middle of South College Avenue, on the snow packed trolley tracks, looking south towards Oak Street. There is a horse on the right and a trolley car off in the distance. The Post Office is barely visible on the right side of the image.

Postcard Message: “Did you ever see snow to compare . . . with this.? For six weeks this winter the street cars were snowed in. The cattle and sheep men’s loss was terrible. But the snow in winter is where our water comes from for summer.”

FCWC December 5, 1913: “Those who have been wishing and praying for snow have received an answer. The snow is here and a good sized consignment at that. This is the heaviest December snowfall in 15 years.

“The snow put a stop to street car operations here on Monday night [December 1, 1913]. At 8 o’clock the cars could make no progress and were compelled to remain idle.”

FCWC December 5, 1913: “The benefits to the farmer have an immense value to them. . . . The snow will furnish plenty of moisture for this crop and the dry-land farmer generally cannot help but reap a benefit.

“While farmers are rejoicing over the deep snow, there are some who are not happy. Those who are feeding sheep and cattle have troubles ahead of them. Much work is necessary to clean up the snow. In some laces there are large drifts and a careful watch is being kept to see that animals are not buried.”

FCWC December 12, 1913: “A peculiar situation is reported from the Greenacre ranch on the Boxelder northwest of the city. Mike Wessel went out a few days ago looking for live stock and sheep in particular. He was trying to walk over a large drift when he broke through. As he pulled himself out of the hole a lamb jumped out and ran away. Another one followed. He took the two lambs to the feed lot and they went after the feed as though they needed it. The animals had weathered the storm under the drift and were apparently no worse for the experience.”

North College Avenue, Looking North, 1913

Description: The photographer is standing on the west side of North College Avenue, near Mountain Avenue, shooting north towards the Northern Hotel, shown on the right side.

Postcard Message: [Student writing to his mother in Denver, dated January 5, 1914.] “Got here all right last night. . . . Will send some film soon to have you print. Got some swell pictures.”

Below is a close-up of the trolley and people towards the back of the image.

Close-up of North College Avenue and Walnut Street, 1913

Description: Bert’s Livery & Feed is on the north corner of Walnut. A few years earlier, Bert’s was across College on the north side of Laporte Avenue. (See the post, Laporte Avenue: Horses, Trains, and Automobiles.) In less than five years, both the new and the old Bert Livery locations would be automobile garages, places to store and have your automobile repaired.

I believe there are two men working in front of the trolley car. Getting the trolley tracks clear and the system up and running was a big issue.

FCWC December 12, 1913: “The street railway cars are about at a standstill and doing the public no more good than they did on Friday [December 5] when the snow was three feet deep. The efforts to move the cars has not been very strenuous. . . . Some snow plow work has been done. . . . Men are putting in a few licks with pick and shovel . . . but the impression is not noticeable.”

North College Avenue, Looking North, Man in Foreground, 1913

Description: An image much like Image 2 but taken from the sidewalk.

Postcard Message: [Written January 1, 1914] “This picture is on North College in front of Jones Dry Goods. You can see how we have to hitch to, yet lots of places you can’t get.”

You can see that the hitching posts are clear on the sidewalk side but the piles of snow obviously made it hard or impossible to tie up your horse. All hitching posts were removed when College Avenue was paved in 1916.

In this image, the sidewalk is pretty clear but that wasn’t true all over town.

FCWC December 12, 1913: “City Issues Mandate About Snow. It must be moved from walks, alleys, and streets. Complaints are to be filed against those who have piled up snow or refuse to clean up sidewalks. . . . The city has done more than its share in clearing up the snow blockade but there are some people who have an idea that they are privileged characters and do not have to make a passage for the public. . . . Some men are having the snow hauled away. Others will have to do the same.”

South side of West Mountain, Looking East, 1913

Description: This is the southwest corner of College and Mountain, looking east towards the First National Bank.

Postcard Message: “Now you can see how this burg looks on Jan, 11, 1914.” The writer was apparently stuck in town but told his mother, “I may well [leave] tomorrow.”

The snow slowed or stopped normal transportation as covered in the two newspaper clippings below.

FCWC December 12, 1913: “Coal dealers of the city are doing their best to supply those absolutely in need of fuel. Delivering coal is more than a boy’s task. It belongs to full grown men with plenty of horses to assist. On Friday several attempts were made to deliver small quantities of coal, but horses were stalled and many places were buried so that they had to be shoveled out.

“Today with more teams using the streets [and] packing the snow down, horses and vehicles are able to get to some of those in need . . . but it is an expensive piece of work and hard on men and horses. The cost of delivery is almost as much as the price of coal but dealers are standing the cost.”

FCWC December 19, 1913: “For the first time in nearly two weeks train service has resumed between Cheyenne and the city. The regular morning passenger train arrived here today on time. The rotary snow plow cleared the track Monday . . . and did the job so thoroughly that little difficulty was experienced by the passenger train in getting through.”

East Side South College, Looking South, 1913

Description: Snow is piled up, burying the hitching post and curb side signs in this card postmarked December 27, 1913. The photographer is on the east side of South College Avenue, shooting south. You can see the post office on the right side of the image.

Postcard Message: “Fort Collins after the snow. At Rustic [along the Poudre Canyon] 52 inches. It fell the week following Thanksgiving and only the main roads broken out yet. Elegant sleighing.”

It would take awhile before the local newspaper cared enough about the county roads to report on them but they finally did, as you can see from these clippings from the December 19, 1913, FCWC. The article was entitled “County Plowing Snow Off the Roads.”

“In order to permit vehicles to use the roads all manner of schemes are being tried by the county. . . . In places horses are being used to break a trail so that other animals can be used to pull ‘V’ shaped plows to shove snow to either side of the road. . . The task seems almost a hopeless one.”

“At Owl Canon the snow was so deep that it was necessary to shovel a road through, horses being unable to break a road.”

“The road at Harmony which runs east and west is covered with badly drifted snow. . .At present it is impossible for a wagon to travel over the road.”

“Norman Frey is working out from Rustic in snow from four to seven feet deep and progress is very slow.”

“W. S. Warner sent word today that he had cut a road up the Big Thompson to Drake. His men and horses are played out and help asked for. In places the snow is 15 feet deep.”

Of course the children found the snow wonderful. Schools were closed for awhile but even when they opened, the children found much to like as covered in this article.

FCWC December 19, 1913: “The wagons on the Consolidated district service are operating on bobsleds instead of wheels now. [Bobsled – A wooden wagon body, with bench seats down both sides, mounted on two sets of sturdy runners and pulled by horses.] With the bobs the rigs are able to make better time and furnish the children with rare sport.”

On Thursday, I’ll post another image that doesn’t require many words to enjoy. I hope you like it.

Update: Fort Collins, September 17, 1877, Posted September 2, 2016

At the end of the Shipler post, I wished for the ability to read the sign that was vaguely visible over the horses. Lesley Struc, the Fort Collins Archivist, left a comment saying that she thought the sign might say “meat market.” That led to some more work in Photoshop in an effort to get more of the sign visible. Below is the result.

Close-up of Sign

Though certainly not 100 percent conclusive, it looks like Lesley is right.

A search of the online newspapers for the 1877 period found two meat markets, the Schang Meat Market on Linden Street, and J. B. Fletcher’s Stone Meat Market on College Avenue. The building in the photograph looks like it is made of stone, so we are probably looking at the back of the Stone Meat Market.

Lesley was able to find a newspaper article, “Fort Collins as it Appeared To a Stranger 40 Years Ago” by Ansel Watrous, which ran in the Fort Collins Express, November 28, 1918. This means Watrous was looking back at Fort Collins as it was in 1878, close to the time of this photograph. Watrous places Fletcher’s Stone Meat Market “north of Mountain avenue, on the east side of College avenue.” An 1886 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows a meat market still in that location, though by 1886 it was clad in bricks.

Assuming all this is correct, James Shipler was probably on Linden Street, in what is now the pedestrian mall area, when he was photographing his sister-in-law and her two children. He was shooting down Linden Street, towards Mountain Avenue. Now we can add some details, hopefully correct ones, to the caption of this photograph, as shown below:

Shipler Fort Collins Left
Left to Right: Fred Shipler (son), Alice Shipler (daughter), Amelia Shipler (mother), and an unknown lady on Linden Street, Fort Collins, Colorado, September 17, 1877. Stereoview by Amelia Shipler’s brother-in-law, James W. Shipler.

Fort Collins, September 17, 1877

I’m now ready to write the first real blog in the series, since an introduction really doesn’t count. What image should I lead off with? I decided to start with one of my favorite photographs, a stereoview of early Fort Collins that allows some speculation and has some mystery.

Stereoviews were very popular in the late 1800s. These images were produced using a camera with two lenses mounted a few inches apart. The two similar, but slightly different images produce a three-dimensional effect when looked at through a viewer, a stereopticon. By the 1870s, photographers were traveling through the western mountains taking stereoviews that they sold individually or in sets. James William Shipler and his partner, Milton A. Williamson, were two of these traveling photographers.

Shipler got his photographic start in Denver, Colorado, and had a studio there by 1875. On June 19, 1877, the Denver Daily Times announced a big change for Shipler and Williamson; they had built a photographic wagon and “intend on going from [Denver] to Cheyenne, taking in Evans, Greeley, and Larimer [County] on the way.”

It made sense that Shipler would stop in Fort Collins. His older brother, Joseph Shipler lived here, in fact Joseph was Fort Collins’ first town clerk. And stop they did, taking this stereoview of our town.

Shipler Fort Collins
Fort Collins Stereoview by Shipler and Williamson 1877


Shipler FC Label
Label on Back of Stereoview


As you can see, the edges of the card are chipped but, thankfully, the images aren’t impacted at all. The label, on the reverse side, gives us the photographers’ names, where the photo was taken, and the date, September 17, 1877, much more information than you find on most stereoviews.

Let’s go in closer, looking at just one side of the stereoview.

Shipler Fort Collins Left
Left Side of Stereoview

Sitting in the wagon is a woman and probably her two children. Standing on the far side of the wagon is another woman. Fort Collins wasn’t much in 1877. There seems to be a row of homes and a couple of commercial buildings in the background. There is a sign on a building, just above one of the horses, that is almost, but not quite readable. I have spent a lot of time in Photoshop in a vain effort to find out what it says.

Now we come to the big mystery. I have shared this image with a number of local history experts and no one can figure out where in the town this photograph was taken. Please “leave a reply” below, if you know. If you know someone who might help, please share the image with them.

Let’s go even closer.

Shipler Left Side Closeup
Close-up of Left Side of Stereoview

Now you can clearly see the four people. I love the top hat on the little boy, at least I assume it is a boy. Also notice that the boy has the reins.


On the back of the stereoview, is a pencil note: “Amelia & Children.” Who was Amelia? James Shipler’s wife was named “Lizzie” and was back in Pennsylvania, so it isn’t her. The other obvious choice is Joe Shipler’s wife. Lesley Struc, our local history archivist, thinks Joe Shipler’s wife is a possible candidate.

Lesley found three names for Joe Shipler’s wife. Mrs. Shipler is shown as Alice in the 1880 census, Alsameda in the Find a Grave entry, and as Alameda in her obituary in the Fort Collins Courier on May 3, 1883. With this variety, Amelia could have been the name she used. Further, at the time of the photograph, she would have been 33, with a 10 to 11 year old son, Fred, and an 8 to 9 year old girl named Alice. All these ages and genders seem to fit for the family in the wagon.

I think it’s likely that Mrs. Shipler is Amelia. Now if I could just read that sign.

See Update, September 14, 2016

Comment by using “Leave a Reply” at the end of this post or email me at: fortcollinsimages@comcast.net.