Week 40: Fort Collins Lost

It doesn’t seem possible, but we’re more than halfway through May already. Did you know that May is, among other things, Better Sleep Month, National Egg Month, National Photo Month, and Fungal Infection Awareness Month? Neither did I. But for everyone who has fungus-free toenails and ate more than enough hardboiled eggs after Easter, please note that May is also National Historic Preservation Month.

To be honest, I didn’t know that when I ventured down to Old Firehouse Books for local historian Wayne Sundberg’s presentation of Fort Collins Lost: The Wrecking Ball of Progress. But that just made me doubly glad to be there. A retired PSD teacher—I was one of his students at Lincoln Jr. High—Mr. Sundberg is an author, speaker, and champion of historical preservation. (And, yes, it’s impossible for me to call any of my former teachers by their first names.)

It’s hard to imagine now, but Fort Collins’s early years were touch-and-go. A bumper crop of grasshoppers and the failure of the first bank led to the population declining from 400 in 1873 to 300 in 1874. But after the railroad came through in 1877, the numbers rebounded—and then some. And the people who came planned to stay, a fact that was reflected in the more enduring construction of their homes.

Some of those homes, such as The Avery House, are still standing, but I was surprised—and distressed—by how many have succumbed to “The Wrecking Ball of Progress.” The 1950s saw a huge influx of Fort Collins residents, and most of them had cars (sound familiar?). And cars need places to park. After seeing the pictures of historical buildings being razed to make room for parking lots—and Safeway, and the original J.C. Penney—I wasn’t surprised that I had the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi running through my head. (“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot…”)

The occasion of Fort Collins’s Centennial in 1964 got more people thinking about historical preservation, and things have since turned around. But, as Mr. Sundberg pointed out, not every building can—or should—be saved. The original Fort Collins High School (where the Lincoln Center now stands) was a firetrap, and the recently-deconstructed Poudre Valley Creamery, was ill-suited for renovation (partly for financial reasons).

Take time this month to appreciate our remaining historical buildings, including the Carnegie Library (now housing the Fort Collins Museum/Discovery Center), the McHugh House/Hospital, and of course the old firehouse, which is a great place to pick up a book and a cup of tea (at Happy Lucky’s Teahouse).

Consider taking a self-guided or guided historic walking tour of downtown. And if you get a chance to read Mr. Sundberg’s books or listen to his presentations, please do. He’s a very interesting man, and I’m sure he won’t mind if you call him Wayne.


April Moore said…
Great post! I also Mr. Sundberg at Lincoln--7th grade. It's sad to know of all the things that "progress" has destroyed.
Jenny said…
Thanks, April! I didn't know you went to Lincoln :-)
April Moore said…
We like to say, "survived" Lincoln! ;)

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