Posts Tagged 'Old Town Fort Collins'

Trails Thursday: Explore Old Town’s pocket park

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Gustav Swanson Natural Area, early spring

In this week’s exploration of our Trails of Northern Colorado natural and cultural heritage tour website, I thought we’d take a look at a wonderful little natural area that’s tucked away practically right under our noses in Old Town, Fort Collins: the Gustav Swanson Natural Area.

I’ve lived in Fort Collins for almost 25 years, and worked in Old Town for many of those years, but until I worked on the Trails project I had never heard of the Gustav Swanson Natural Area. Just over the Poudre River bridge on Linden Street, this sweet little park winds through the cottonwoods along the river and is a great place to bird watch or just relax in the shade. If you visit early in the morning, you may even see deer.

The area originally became a park in 1887, then went through several changes of fortune before becoming one of the City of Fort Collins’ natural areas in 1988. The area’s name was chosen to honor Gustav Swanson, a pioneering conservationist and head of the Fishery and Wildlife Department at Colorado State University.

So if you’re craving a break from your urban existence, a beautiful little bit of nature is waiting for you on the north edge of Old Town. Go explore!

You can also find more information about the Gustav Swanson Natural Area on the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas website.


Arson in Old Town

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

The Welch Block in 1880. Photo courtesy of the Fort Collins Local History Archive

When Shadow the Arson Dog visited us last month, it got me thinking about times in Fort Collins history when we really could have used an arson dog. Several fires in a single building in Old Town come to mind immediately – the 100 block of W. Mountain Avenue, the Welch Block is Austin’s American Grill today. It is the scene of three suspicious fires in its 130+ year history.

In 1880, L.W. Welch owned and operated a mercantile on the first floor of the building, while the second floor housed apartments where Welch’s family, two employees, and a handful of other people lived, 12 in all (including Dr. Timothy Smith, the physician from Camp Collins who was responsible for inviting Auntie Stone and her husband to come live at the army post). The fire on February 3 was discovered by a passer-by (who later became the victim of Fort Collin’s only documented lynching, but that’s a story for another blog) at about 11 pm. Most people living in the building escaped. Six climbed through the second floor windows while 2 jumped from the store’s front awning All of them survived a 12-foot drop, including Mrs. Jacob Welch, who was cradling her toddler grandchild at the time!

Sadly, two people died: Mr. Welch’s store clerk, 24 year-old A.F. Hopkins, and 20 year-old bookkeeper Tillie Irving. Miss Irving was sleeping in her apartment that night when others warned her to evacuate. She likely died trapped in her room, attempting to put on her corset before leaving. Some people think she must have been vain; some people laugh when they hear the story. I find it a sad testament to the strict etiquette required in Victorian society. Miss Irving, as an unmarried woman, would have been ruined socially had she left her apartment in her nightgown only.

Newspaper accounts from the time reported that the police suspected arson. One of the victims, Mr. Hopkins, was found, partially burned, in the store. A common theory of town residents held that Hopkins may have heard a burglar in the store and went from his upstairs apartment to the first floor to investigate. There, the burglar killed him and then set the store on fire to cover his tracks. Miss Irving’s remains were also discovered on the first floor, although it is believed that she fell through the floor from her upstairs apartment during the fire.

Just imagine, if the volunteer fire department at the time had a Shadow! They could have determined if the fire was set intentionally.  Maybe they could have found justice for A. F. Hopkins and Tillie Irving.

As a side note, the Welch block had two other fires in its history, both suspicious and both considered to have been likely caused by arson.

You can learn more about the Welch Block fire at the Fort Collins Local History Archive.


by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Old Town Fort Collins. Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation

Earlier this morning, Fort Collins Mayor Doug Hutchinson stood on the west steps of the Museum to announce some exciting news: Fort Collins has been chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of their dozen “Distinctive Destinations” for 2010. The communities recognized by the National Trust are characterized as offering an “authentic visitor experience by combining dynamic downtowns, cultural diversity, attractive architecture, cultural landscapes and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization.” Yup, that’s us!

Fort Collins is frequently recognized for its beautifully preserved historic architecture — you’ll hear this a lot around here, and it’s true: “Main Street USA” at Disneyland was modeled on our very own Old Town. There are over 1,800 historic properties in Fort Collins that are on the national, State or local historic register. Fort Collins is not a very old community, but we’ve worked to preserve our heritage as a city, albeit a “young” one. The National Trust also gave us enthusiastic nods for our “active living” and our longstanding sustainability efforts. And our beer, too, of course.

But the phrase that popped out at me was “cultural landscapes.” To me, this is our most shining, if also least known, jewel: our literal “cultural landscape” is over 12,000 years old. Historic preservation is mostly about structures — the “built environment.” Around here, the built environment reflects less than 2% of the total time people have lived in this area. For the rest of that time, landscape and culture were deeply interwoven. The histories and traditions of the people who lived here over the millennia were encoded in the prairies, rivers, hills, plants, animals, earth and sky. If you’re familiar with the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, you know that Ice Age peoples left ample evidence of their lives at the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site. You may not know that stone tools created by even more ancient people were discovered in a farm field in Timnath, just east of Fort Collins. This Clovis cache resides at the Museum today. Folsom tools have been found not far from where the CSU Rams play football on fall afternoons.

This story is a harder sell — no wonderful old trolley cars or sandstone buildings to point to. Lots of stone tools, yes, but so much we don’t know about them. The people who could have told us the stories written on the prairies, rivers, and hills were driven off long ago and much of that precious information has been lost forever.

But this is the essential underpinning of what makes Fort Collins a “Distinctive Destination,” this deep cultural taproot that has grown so vigorously in this amazing landscape. I hope it’s a story people will continue to be curious about as they explore this marvelous community.

And don’t miss this: you can vote for your favorite of the 12 “Distinctive Destinations.” Vote early, vote often, vote Fort Collins!

Some other links:

National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2010 Dozen Distinctive Destinations

USA Today article “National Trust names Dozen Distinctive Destinations for 2010

Speaking History: The Soapstone Prairie Oral History Project (video)

March 2023

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