Posts Tagged 'Camp Collins'

Go with the flow

by Toby J. Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

Cache la Poudre River just east of the Narrows, June 6, 2010 (photo by Terry Burton)

This year’s extended winter season, mixed with the quick onset of summer-like conditions, has created some interesting situations for the state’s rivers. Many are overflowing their banks and seeing a substantial increase in water movement. Measured in cubic feet per second, some rivers have increased their flow from an average of 400 to well over 1,000 cubic feet per second. What’s that mean?

There are roughly 7.4 gallons (28 liters) of water in a cubic foot. Now, imagine seven gallon-sized jugs of milk flying past you in a second’s time; or, if you’re lactose intolerant, 14 containers of whatever it is you like to drink that happens to come in a 2-liter bottle. That’s equivalent to just one cubic foot of water. A rate of 1,000 cubic feet per second; well, let’s just say, that’s a lot of diet soda moving past you.  Factor in that each of these cubic feet of water weighs approximately 61 pounds, and you have a formidable force of movement.

These were just some of the thoughts that went through my mind as my wife and I headed to the Cache la Poudre for a white water rafting trip this last weekend. I was aware of the risks that come with increased water flow, but my curiosity was also at a peak. I needed to experience the true force of the river to further my understanding of not only physics but local history. (Don’t feel too bad for my wife, the trip was her idea to begin with.)

The Cache la Poudre has played a huge role in shaping the development of Fort Collins. Starting as a military settlement along the banks of the Poudre, the soldiers established Camp Collins in 1862 to protect people traveling the Overland Trail. June of 1864 saw several days of heavy rainfall melting off the snow pack in the mountains. According to some reports, the Cache la Poudre became a twenty-foot high “wall of water” that washed away the camp. That fateful flood caused the Army to reestablish a few miles east of their original location, thus creating Fort Collins.

As we build the new home of the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center, the Cache la Poudre figures prominently into our plans. Not only will the river help us illustrate the history of the region and demonstrate scientific phenomena ranging from biology to physics, the river itself will form a backdrop for the museum property. Watching the banks of the Cache la Poudre swell and overflow a short distance from our proverbial backdoor is, on the surface, a little scary. It’s also an important reminder of the power of nature and its ability to affect mankind, on a variety of levels.

Cache la Poudre River just west of College Ave. in Fort Collins, June 7, 2010 (photo by Terry Burton)

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.”

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


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