Time marches on
“Make up Your Mind Today That You Are Going to Own a Good Irrigated Farm.”
Good advice, especially that irrigation part. Today’s incessant droughts and water shortages make any farmland a highly valued commodity. Except that wise counsel wasn’t from some 2022 ag real estate ad. It was an exhortation in a 1908 Chamber of Commerce (C of C) pamphlet. The chamber, having just been founded in 1904, was a newfangled thing in fledgling Fort Collins, Colo.
Someone was impressed enough by statistics in that Fort Collins complimentary brochure to have saved it all these 114 years. And what an eye popper it is.
Although most of the figures appear to have been rounded off, the city’s population of a mere 9,000 to 10,000 souls pales in comparison to Fort Collins’ current density, which has risen to more than 200,000 residents.
The little 1908 C of C publication features a photo of the intersection of College Avenue and Linden Street. Quite noteworthy is the traffic: pedestrians, horses and wagons busily navigate the streets while barely a handful of autos appear in the image.
The location was described as the “center of prosperous community; low, warm, valley; magnificent mountains scenery; pure water and pure air.’
Although College and Linden were central to small town Fort Collins’ urban life less than a decade into the 20th century, the larger surrounding Larimer County remained most definitely rural.
FARMING WAS KING
Lamb feeding in the broader locality numbered 300,000 annually. “Greatest lamb-feeding section in the world,” boldly proclaims the pamphlet.
Thousands of tons of potatoes, onions, cabbage, sugar beets and alfalfa were grown every year. Potato harvests were conducted to the tune of 200 sacks per acre.
Fort Collins was touted as one of the oldest cities in Colorado and “one of the best all-round towns of its size in the West.” Located in one of the richest agricultural and best stock raising districts in the country is the famous Poudre Valley, continues the glowing description.
“The valley has 160,400 acres under irrigation; 196,735 acres under ditch. Farm values close to Fort Collins range from $40 to $150 per acre, according to location, improvements and water rights.”
Chamber statements continue about the town’s location: “beautifully situated four miles from the Rocky Mountain foot hills, about 75 miles north of Denver, on the Colorado & Southern railroad…”
Streets back then were broad and shady with about 20 miles of stone sidewalks; homes handsome and well built; business blocks large and substantial; streets lighted by electricity.
And Fort Collins citizens, well… They were noted as being “cultured, industrious and happy.” Enticing images for potential newcomers, yes?
Colorado State University was called State Agricultural College back in 1908; the school boasted 500 students who brought in $125,000 annual revenues to the city.
Larimer County’s stats indicate a far greater agricultural usage than do those of the city of Fort Collins. The county covered approximately 5,000 square miles, with resources “as diversified and valuable as any county’s in the state”.
With a population of 30,000, its total assessed valuation was $8,514,123. (That’s total assessed value for 5,000 square miles. ) Assessed values were divided as follow:
Cultivated land — 96,319 acres; total assessed value $1,570,740
Grazing land — 566,412 acres; total assessed value $664,945
Meadow land — 37,260 acres; total assessed value $190,145
Mineral land — 724 acres; total assessed value $7,205
(Improvements not considered in above figures)
Horses, mules and livestock were counted and assessed, too:
10,800 horses, assessed value… $39,705
420 mules… $17,075
51,416 cattle… $460, 705
2,628 sheep… $4,020
1,488 swine… $4,615
Lambs annually fed, not assessed, 175,000 to 400,000; value $875,000 to $2,000,000.
“Agriculture and lamb and cattle feeding are the principal industries (in Larimer County), but horticulture and honey making are rapidly becoming great wealth producers.”
Today’s colony collapse disorder and other pollinator loss issues have certainly taken their toll on that prediction.
Fort Collins city limits included a beet sugar factory with a capacity of 1,600 tons per day. Built at a cost of $1,200,000, the facility had a payroll over $30,000 per month for five months each year; pays over $600,000 for beets and makes over 30,000,000 pounds of sugar annually.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
One of Larimer County’s 1908 entrepreneurial highlights was a combined amusement park/race track. The fun-filled feature covered 45-acres that included a 3,500 seating capacity grandstand. Anyone know exactly where it was located in the town?
There was also an opera house and “four of the finest lodge halls in the state.”
Of note also was the importance certain businesses were given over others, then versus now. The 1908 city of Fort Collins sported only three automobile dealers and three bicycle dealers but had 12 blacksmiths; two carriage makers; five dealers of carriage/wagons/carts; six harness and saddle shops; eight hay and grain dealers; two hides and pelts stores; seven livery and feed stables; four farm implement stores.
One might consider humming a thoughtful, “Hmm” at the counts of some other business endeavors (or lack thereof). Even back then, Fort Collins was a tummy-pleasing town that celebrated good food. There were 13 grocery stores; 10 restaurants, six meat markets; two confectioners; three bakeries; three wholesale produce companies.
When things didn’t go exactly according to plan, or if all that yummy food became too much of a good thing, highly valued were the town’s nine dentists, 23 physicians, five opticians, six drug stores, two hospitals, and two undertakers. Note: Not even one saloon was listed among local businesses. (Feel free to insert one of those thoughtful “Hmm”s here.)
MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE FARM…
“The soil about Fort Collins is rich and prolific. Here, as in other parts of the county, crops are raised under irrigation, for which an abundant water supply is found in the rivers, supplemented by the greatest system of storage reservoirs in the world.”
“Alfalfa, fruit, and sugar beets are now leading crops. Of the latter, 12,000 acres were grown in the vicinity of Fort Collins in 1906. Wheat, potatoes, onions, cabbage, and other garden products are money makers.
“Honey and small fruits are also good products, the annual output of the former being about five carloads (railroad) from 14,000 stands of bees.
“The fruit and berry crop is enormous each season, and the businessmen and farmers ready to liberally support such an enterprise.
“A fair average yield is: five tons alfalfa, 50 bushels wheat, 60 bushels oats, 40 bushels barley, 200 bushels potatoes, 150 sacks onions, 10 tons cabbage, and 18 tons sugar beets to the acre.
“Lamb fattening is the principal winter occupation. The average number of lambs annually on feed is 300,000. Profits range from 50 cents to $2 per head.
“Since the completion of the sugar beet factory, thousands of head of cattle and sheep are fattened for market on the pulp combined with alfalfa, and the entire output of pulp is fed each season with most profitable results.”
THEN VS. NOW
Anyone up for a climate change discussion? In 1908, the Fort Collins air was “delightfully dry and invigorating. Summer evenings are always cool, and winters are open and seldom excessively cold. Summer is free from the close, oppressive heat of lower altitudes.”
Pleasantly, then as now, its C of C touted Fort Collins as having 320 days of sunshine annually.
Housing: A house of four to six rooms sold for $1,000 to $2,500; same class of houses rented for $10 to $25 per month.
Some phrases appearing in the old brochure likely stir up jealousy in today’s potential home or commercial buyers. Consider this one: “the land values are low.”
Nevertheless, a similarity from 1908: “Some real estate has doubled in value within the past 18 months.” Not similar: “Houses rent well, but most of the citizens are homeowners.”
Similar: Fine fishing and hunting can be reached in… (dissimilar) one day’s drive. “Camping outfits can be hired at all times and several good resort hotels can be reached from (Fort Collins) by daily stage.” That’s stage COACH, folks, and likely not a quick, smooth, uneventful journey up into the foothills.
Fort Collins/Larimer County’s 1908 wish list included an alcohol factory. Likely to compensate for the area’s mournful lack of saloons. Also wanted, a paper factory, starch factory, cheese factory and creamery, farmers, fruit and vegetable growers, horse/cattle/sheep traders, poultry farms.
So, how many of those 1908 wishes came true? Lots of cheesemakers here now. Also many fruit, veggies, poultry and livestock dealers. Saloons (bars), too, plus big Budweiser and a plethora of small home brewers. Starch or paper factories? Probably not so much.
But hope springs eternal. Maybe today you’ll make up your mind that you are going to own a good irrigated farm.
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