Archive for August, 2009

From the Archive: Housewarming with history

by Lesley Drayton, Curator of the Local History Archive

Fort Collins' Avery House. Photo kindly provided by the Local History Archive

Fort Collins' Avery House. Photo kindly provided by the Local History Archive

Last week, a couple of folks came in the archive to do some research on the home they recently purchased in the Fort Collins Old Town area. They had a hunch that their house had some interesting history, and they wanted to gather information and photographs to display at their upcoming housewarming party. We here on the Archive staff thought that was a swell idea; we fully support inviting history to any party!

The Local History Archive has many resources available if you’d like to research the history of your home to proudly display at your next party. Click away at the Fort Collins History Connection website and check out these step-by-step instructions on how to go about doing detective work on your domicile!


Where’s the Fort?

by Toby J. Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

It’s one of the most commonly asked questions at the Museum. Even longtime residents are sometimes hard-pressed to come up with an answer to what should be a simple question. After all, the town is called Fort Collins; so again, where’s the fort?

To answer that question, we’ll need to look at a little history. Fort Collins had its beginnings in an order signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, to establish a military camp with the purpose of protecting travelers on the Overland Trail. That order eventually fell to Lieutenant-Colonial William O. Collins, commanding officer of the Eleventh Ohio regiment attached to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Collins assigned a group of his men with the task. Under the leadership of Captain William Evans, they soon found themselves in Colorado Territory, taking over a camp that had first been established by Company B of the 9th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, and then manned by a group of soldiers from Denver.

The camp was located near the Cache la Poudre River and the stage coach line based in LaPorte. Dubbed Camp Collins, in honor of Lieutenant-Colonial Collins, the facility consisted of a few temporary buildings and sleeping quarters. The soldiers would remain at this location until June of 1864, when warm rains melted off the heavy snow that had accumulated in the mountains the previous winter. According to the journal entry of a soldier stationed at the camp, the Cache la Poudre River became a twenty-foot high wall of water, which washed away almost everything in its path.

A new order was issued to reestablish the base as a fort. Lieutenant James W. Hanna worked with local businessman, Joseph Mason to secure a new location for the fort. They decided on the property just north of Mason’s supply station, Old Grout, so called due to the large amounts of grout that seeped from between the logs of which it was mainly constructed. Old Grout stood on what is now the south-west corner of Jefferson and Linden Street, a block north of Old Town Square.

The main body of the fort was located along Linden Street, between Jefferson and the Cache la Poudre River. The fort consisted of a series of buildings, loosely connected around a central square, or parade ground, roughly three hundred feet on each side. Some of the buildings included barracks for the soldiers, quarters for the officers, mess halls, and a hospital. The medical facility was run by Doctor Timothy Smith, who encouraged Louis and Elizabeth Stone to move from Denver to the fledgling fort, to serve as host and cook for the camp’s officers. The Stone’s cabin was built by another civilian attached to the fort, Henry Clay Peterson, who also served as the fort’s gunsmith.

If the names Mason, Smith, and Peterson sound familiar; they should, as these men have been remembered with street’s named in their honor. Sadly, none of the businesses or structures that they ran remain today.  Nor do any of the other buildings that made up the fort, save one – the Auntie Stone Cabin, which now resides in the Heritage Courtyard located at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center.

So, what became of the fort? Only existing as such for three years, 1864 to 1867, the fort was decommissioned and many of the soldiers returned to their homes and families in Ohio. The structures that made up the fort were looked to by the people that lived near the property as a resource. Lumber was hard to come by on the plains, and had to be brought down from the neighboring mountains. So, the fort’s buildings were dismantled; the wood being used to construct new businesses and dwellings.

From the remains of a small, frontier fort, located near the Cache la Poudre River, a successful town has grown. Today, the property once occupied by the men of the Eleventh Ohio Division serves as the home to local businesses including the El Burrito Restaurant, which some historians believe occupies the same spot as the bakery for the old fort.

For a great collection of historic photos of Jefferson Street and other Old Town Fort Collins locations, check out the Local History Archive website’s online exhibit “Fort Collins Then and Now.”

“A place is a story happening many times”

by Brent Carmack, Assistant Director, and Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

One goal of every museum is to provide opportunities for visitors to make connections between what they see and learn at the museum with their own personal stories. A new opportunity to make those connections at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center went up a few months ago in conjunction with the opening of the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.

One of the most impressive things about Soapstone is simply the vast landscape that overwhelms you when you visit that place. To know that people have lived and thrived on that beautiful, harsh, sometimes unforgiving landscape for over 12,000 years can be humbling and inspiring. For the people who lived there, that landscape was a part of their identities. For most folks, their own personal landscape helps define who they are and how they view the world.

At the Museum we give people a chance to learn more about the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and its history, but we are also interested in learning about our visitors’ own stories. We posed a thought and a question to our visitors and gave them the opportunity to tell us a little about themselves.

“A place is a story happening many times.”  What place tells your story, and why?

This simple question has generated tons of responses, some funny, some sad, some whimsical, others simple. Responses come from all ages and several languages. Each response shares a little something of themselves, a gift to others who might read their story. Each response is an opportunity for further connection with the Museum and a chance for a little reflective thought—all goals of any museum experience.

Visitor's responses to the question, What place tells your story, and why?

Visitor's responses to the question, What place tells your story, and why?

We’ve collected some of our favorite responses and put them together in an interactive VoiceThread slideshow. Take a look at what some of our visitors have shared with us. The slideshow will advance automatically, or you can use the large arrow buttons in the lower corners to move forward and backward at your own pace.

We would love to hear from you, too — you can participate in this project even if you can’t come to the Museum. Here’s how:

  1. You can add your comment to any of the messages in the slideshow by clicking the “Comment” button at the lower edge of the slideshow frame. You’ll see that a couple of us have posted some comments ourselves. You can type your comment, or record a spoken comment and upload it to the slideshow. You’ll need to register for a VoiceThread account to do this, but it’s easy (really! Just your name, email address, and password) and free (bonus!).
  2. The very last slide in the show is where you can add your own story of place. Again, you can type in your comment or record it and upload it.

Or — you don’t have to respond at all, just pause for a moment and ponder the meaning of place to you.

(But we’d be delighted if you did respond!)

From the Archive: Special Order Number One

There are some people who say that Colonel William Oliver Collins never visited the camp that bore his name. In the Local History Archive you can see the sources that suggest otherwise. Following the well-known flood in June of 1864, Colonel Collins at Fort Laramie received a report that detailed the damages to Camp Collins and suggested a new site that would be safe from the raging waters of the Poudre River.

After receiving the report, Colonel Collins and his guard left Fort Laramie for Laporte, arriving on August 13, 1864. Colonel Collins inspected the flood damage and surveyed the proposed site, which was suggested by Joseph Mason, currently of Mason Street fame!

Colonel Collins approved of the area and on August 20, 1864, passed Special Order Number One, which officially designated the area a military reservation. While Abraham Lincoln did not officially approve of the designation until November 14th, that August day when the Colonel visited “his” camp and approved of its relocation to higher ground is the day remember as the city’s birthday. Last Thursday, Fort Collins turned 145 years old.

Happy Birthday, Fort Collins. My, how you’ve grown!

special order 1

The order stated the necessity to maintain a permanent post near the Overland Stage route and that the proposed site would be “free from overflow by high waters, and the interference and injury to discipline from lot-holders in the town of Laporte and the settlers and claimants of land in the immediate neighborhood.”

Attached to Special Order Number One was a sketch by Colonel Collins of a rough plat to be used as a working outline for the new camp. It included a guard house, parade grounds, company quarters, officer quarters, and a hospital:

parade ground

Calling all smarty pants! History Mystery Challenge awaits

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

I’ll admit it; I’m not much of a scavenger hunt person. I suspect this stems from when I was little and the “Easter Bunny” (that’s right, Mom and Dad, I figured it out) would hide my Easter basket each year. I’d have to search for it as my parents sat in the living room, watching me with annoyingly self-satisfied smirks on their faces. One year the basket was in the garbage can (garbage removed, thankfully). Another year it was hanging from the shower head. Then there was the time it was suspended from the pipes in the basement. The “Bunny’s” finest hour was the year it was hidden under the pile of dirty laundry in my closet (took me over 5 hours to find that one, and then I had to do the laundry, too!). Suffice to say, the experiences left me lacking in “hunter” enthusiasm.

So it was with a little trepidation (and a lot of the spirit of a good employee who wants to continue to be employed) that this week I scavenger hunted once more. You might have seen me, along with my five companions, running through Old Town Tuesday afternoon. We were a motley bunch: two directors, two curators, one educator, and very smart soon-to-be third grader with cute shoes, clutching sheets of clues and trying not to trip over curbs as we ran through town (we already had one broken arm amongst us, and that was enough). Why were we doing this? History Mystery, of course!

Now, before you panic, don’t worry, you haven’t missed it. History Mystery Challenge, the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center’s fourth annual scavenger hunt fundraising extravaganza, will be happening Friday, August 28th and there’s still time to register. What we were doing was testing out the clues – seeing if the challenge to find all the answers in less than 90 minutes was possible.

Now, I can’t tell you what the clues were, as that would be cheating and we all know that cheating is wrong, but I can tell you that solving them was a blast! Deciphering clever clues written in (cough, loose, cough) rhyming meter is way better than hunting for your Easter basket in the garage. I discovered new areas of Old Town, and on at least two occasions I was instrumental in solving a clue and it felt good to be smart. You can feel good for being smart, too, and you’ll have even more fun than I did because the actual contest has food, drink, adult beverages, door prizes, and costumes.

If you haven’t signed up for History Mystery Challenge yet, there’s still time. Visit the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center website for more information and, after all the work I did testing out these clues, I expect to see you there.

(P.S. I can’t tell you the clues (remember, kids, cheating is wrong), but for a price I may be willing to consider performing an interpretive dance that gracefully embodies the riddles. Interested parties can contact me at the Museum – I accept cash, checks, and all major credit cards.)

More music

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

More music for your Wednesday — Education Coordinator Toby Swaford tipped us off to this amazing example of collective art created on the web: a project called “In B Flat.” It just held me mesmerized for the last 20 minutes. I won’t say anything more — just check it out for yourself!


Keeping the music alive, Fort Collins-style

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

I’m still recovering from New West Fest, although ultimately I didn’t work nearly as hard as the people who coordinated the event. The Museum set up an activity station within the Bohemian Nights’ Kids’ Music Adventure, which was located in our Heritage Courtyard. We focused our station on the “Science of Sound,” an exploration of how sound waves behave in water, along strings and in glasses of water. There’s nothing quite like the expression on a child’s face when they see something totally unexpected for the first time, such as when, after striking a tuning fork, they dip it into a bowl of water and watch the sound waves ripple through. I particularly remember the little girl who, upon making a craft stick harmonica, finally after many tries produced a note on that homemade instrument and just beamed. I hope that these kids continue to enjoy and explore music. I hope our city continues to provide these opportunities for music enjoyment and exploration.

I know of one girl whose hometown encouraged her exploration of music: Melissa Etheridge, who headlined the Bohemian Nights musical lineup at New West Fest. I’m pretty confident of that statement because I graduated from the same high school as she did, although about a decade later. At the time I was in high school, Melissa has just released her first album, was touring the country, and making regular appearances on David Letterman. The story of Melissa’s ascent in the music industry was common knowledge in the small community of Leavenworth, Kansas. Her father taught Psychology as well as the American Government class that all seniors at the high school were required to complete. He was so proud of Missy, as he called her, that we students could earn bonus points if we knew what city Melissa was playing, or on what TV show she had performed the night before. In the days before the Internet, this required some sleuthing on our part and Mr. Etheridge rewarded us handsomely for our knowledge. “Melissa was on David Letterman last night,” someone would say. “That’s 50,000 bonus points for you!” Mr. Etheridge would award with great enthusiasm using a carnival-barker’s tone.

Melissa Etheridge performs in Fort Collins at Bohemian Nights at New West Fest, Aug. 15th, 2009. Photo by Jason Wolvington

Melissa Etheridge performs in Fort Collins at Bohemian Nights at New West Fest, Aug. 15th, 2009. Photo by Jason Wolvington

I thought of Mr. Etheridge and many of my (and for that matter, Melissa’s) teachers on Saturday night as I sat in Library Park watching the simulcast of Melissa’s performance on Mountain Avenue. She made a point of reminding our community to cherish music. “Keep music alive, and you will thrive,” she said. Our little town in Kansas didn’t have big, free music festivals with such big name stars, yet I know Melissa’s music teacher (Lester Dalton for those keeping score – no pun intended – who, by the way, is still very active in music-circles in Leavenworth) kept music alive for her and thousands of other students through the years.

Here in Fort Collins, we have so many more resources available to our children to keep the music alive, with the Bohemian Foundation being an obvious leader in this. The City of Fort Collins offered free concerts in Civic Center Park on Thursday evenings all summer. The Taste of Fort Collins also included free performances throughout their festival weekend. Free music can be heard at Oak Street Plaza, in Old Town Square, and of course at the Museum’s own annual Indian Market. I could go on and on but the bottom line is that the cultural enrichment our thriving music scene provides our community is invaluable. Coming from a small town that did not have this same depth of music-listening opportunities, I appreciate the opportunities these events provide for me and my family to spend time together.

So, as I sit here in my office looking over the trampled grass of Library Park, rubbing aloe on my sunburned neck after two days in the sun making craft stick harmonicas, and mentally tabulating how much stuff I still need to clean up and put away, I remind myself how lucky my family and I are to live somewhere where this kind of FREE music-focused event happens. The grass will grow back, my sunburn will fade, and I will eventually get that stuff put away. But I will always have that moment of discovery with the little harmonica playing girl, seeing the impact of keeping music alive and helping her thrive. If we continue to support our local musicians, music schools, and music venues, maybe in the future that little girl will be up on a New West Fest stage playing and singing her heart out just like Melissa did.

From the Archive: the Northern Hotel

by Lesley Drayton, Curator, Local History Archive

Feel like taking a little trip this summer? Why not visit the Northern Hotel in Fort Collins, Colorado? Prominently located at the corner of College Avenue and Walnut Street, the Northern Hotel was the premiere place for travelers to stay during its heyday from the 1910s through the 1930s.

Today, the upper floors of the building serve as housing for seniors, and the lobby has been painstakingly restored, featuring hand-stenciling on the walls, a snazzy tiled floor, and spectacular stained glass in the ceiling. It’s a must-see while you’re strolling through Old Town.

If you had stayed at the Northern in the mid 1930s, this building would have greeted you:

Northern Hotel Exterior

Step into the lobby to check in:

Northern Hotel Lobby

Need some matches? Here’s a vintage matchbook cover from the hotel:

northern hotel matchbook cover

Have a list of things to do? Jot it down on your authentic Northern Hotel stationery:

northern hotel note

Feeling hungry? There were several choices to tempt your palate listed in a circa 1938 menu from the Northern Hotel dining room, including fresh deep sea eastern scallops fried in deep fat (50 cents), golden brown fried spring chicken (75 cents), grilled halibut steak with lemon slice (60 cents), and hot tamales smothered with chili (60 cents). Yum!

Do you have any Northern Hotel memories? Leave us a comment!

Lakota roots in LaPorte: “This was my family”

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Check out a great article in the current edition of the North Forty News about area history and contemporary Native American connections to northern Colorado:

LaPorte visitor explores his Lakota, French roots

Science at home: Last chance this year for Perseids

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

If you don’t have any plans tonight, say, oh, between midnight and dawn, I highly recommend checking out the annual Perseid meteor shower (you can actually see them anytime after dark, but you’re likely to see more as the night wears on). Tonight is the tail end of the peak phase of the shower, and now that the Moon is rising a bit later its bright light won’t wash out so many of the fainter meteors. So go find a nice dark place, a comfy blanket to lie on, and enjoy the show. Here’s more information from National Geographic News.

August 2009

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