Fort Collins has experienced incredible growth over the years, which has spawned the construction of modern retail buildings and new construction homes throughout the region. While we love these shiny new additions, we have a special place in our heart for the many historic buildings in our midst.
Fort Collins has a rich history dating back to the 1860s, and there are still several structures throughout town that tell the colorful story of this lively Colorado town. Let’s take a virtual tour of some of the most noteworthy historic sites in Fort Collins, from residential homes to churches, schools and train depots, some dating all the way back to the 1800s!
Read on to learn the stories of these historic buildings in Fort Collins — then visit in person to make their stories come to life.
Franklin Avery was the man behind Fort Collins’ wide streets, he founded First National Bank, and he was instrumental in developing the water projects that enabled agriculture to boom throughout Northern Colorado. The 1879 Avery House was originally built for $3,000 in 1879 using sandstone from local quarries. Franklin Avery and his wife Sara raised their children in the house and added several additions throughout the years. Today, the house, the Margareth Merrill Memorial Gazebo, the fountain, and the carriage house are all part of the Avery House Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s all maintained by Poudre Landmarks Foundation. To learn about private group tours and weekly open houses, click here.
Maintained by Poudre Landmarks Foundation, The 1883 Water Works was Fort Collins’ first public works project. Today, the landmark consists of more than 20 acres, four buildings, two ditches, vintage apple trees and more, but the main attraction is the original Gothic Revival pump house, which received water from the supply canal and the Cache la Poudre River. You can also tour the Water Works on select Saturdays from May through October. Get more details here.
The Harmony Mill was built in 1886 when prominent citizens formed the Farmers Protective Association as a response to other local flour mills not giving them a fair price for their grain. The group raised about $100,000 from farmers in the region and created the Harmony Mill to be an independent competitor. The mill encountered some financial difficulties after just 16 years in operation, but still stands today as a representation of the national movement by farmers against monopolistic practices in the late 19th century. The building itself is notable for its architecture, which appears more commercial than industrial, featuring an abundance of windows and corbelled cornice.
Home to the second hospital in Fort Collins starting in 1906, this structure contained an operating room and enough private rooms to house more than 40 patients. It was in operation until 1925, when a new three-story county hospital was opened. The building was sold in 1926 to the University of Commerce and went on to house a number of things, including the Pillar of Fire Church from 1931 to 1972. The building is comprised of brick and red sandstone, featuring a symmetrical open front porch adorned with four Tuscan columns.
Hattie McDaniel, who was best known for her role as Mammy in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind, once lived in Fort Collins — in this quaint home at 317 Cherry Street, to be exact. McDaniel was the first African–American to receive an Academy Award, and went on to act in many films and had a successful music career as well. She was born in 1893 to formerly enslaved parents in Wichita, Kansas before the family moved to Fort Collins in 1900 and eventually to Denver. They lived near a few other African-American families in this rented home during a time of segregation and discrimination, and Hattie attended Franklin School on West Mountain Avenue.
Between the years of 1866 and 1878, traveling priests stopped by Fort Collins, holding services in people’s homes. Bishop Machebeuf returned to town in 1878 and authorized Frank Michaud to purchase an old schoolhouse to act as a church and assigned Father Abel to the church. With more than 1,000 parishioners in 1899, the church was outgrowing its schoolhouse-turned-church building. They purchased land at the corner of Mountain and Howes and built the stunning building that still stands today. Completed in 1901, the church was built with stone from nearby quarries and Stout, the town that now lies beneath Horsetooth Reservoir. St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church is the only historic church in town that still holds its original congregation.
To replace a small brick church building in the same location, First Baptist Church was constructed in 1903-1904, and was enlarged with an addition on the east side in 1912. This gorgeous building is an example of a combination of Gothic Revival with Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. It was constructed by Butler & McDaniels for approximately $15,000, using sandstone from a local quarry just west of Fort Collins. Take note of the Gothic arches in and around windows and doorways, the prominent two-story corner tower with a crenellated parapet, and the heavy horizontal-paneled wood doors. The church once had a steeple on the southeast corner but it was removed in the 1940s due to leakage issues. The building is now home to Mountain View Community Church.
The Laurel Street School is a relic from a period of population growth for Fort Collins. In the early 1900s, Poudre School District was building a number of new buildings to hold more students, including the Laurel Street School, which was built in 1907. It is indicative of the school architecture of that time and was designed by a well-known architect named Montezuma Fuller, who designed more than 400 structures over his 40-year career.
The largest depot north of Denver in its hay day, the Colorado & Southern Freight Depot was a bustling shipping center for both domestic and industrial purposes, for industries such as sugar beets, livestock and lumber. Built in 1911, the depot was accompanied by a freight dock, a massive 150-foot structure that could unload 12 freight cars at the same time.
In the 1930s, the Colorado & Southern Freight Depot was introduced to its main character — Annie, the “railroad dog.” She was a sick, pregnant, mixed-breed mutt that railway crew members discovered in Timnath and brought back to the freight depot. They nursed Annie back to health and she was a mainstay at the depot, where she greeted passengers until she died in 1948. The railroaders then laid her to rest not far away — and you can visit her gravesite today.
This ornate Italian Renaissance Revival building in Old Town once held the town’s post office, starting in 1912 when it was constructed. It was designed by James Knox Taylor, the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury, and was described during that time as the “finest building in the city.” It features Alabama marble, sculptured designs, a red tile roof, and an ornate façade. Today, this building is home to the Fort Collins Museum of Art, adding even more class and artfulness to the already stunning structure.
Maintained by the nonprofit Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society, Birney Car 21 is Fort Collins’ historic trolley, and it turned 100 years old in 2019. The trolley was painstakingly restored by the society, which formed in 1980. Work on the car itself took seven years and line restoration took nearly five, and all restoration materials were donated by local railroads and businesses. Today, you can visit Birney Car 21 on summer weekends and holidays for a three-mile round trip between City Park and Howes Street in Downtown Fort Collins.
This beautiful home on West Oak Street once belonged to Frank and Mary Stover, two well-known residents in early Fort Collins. Frank owned City Drug for many years, and built this home in 1922, specifically choosing this location because it was overlooking City Park and just a block away from the trolley system, allowing easy access to downtown. Frank hired Marion Alice Parker, a talented female architect, to design the home, which has characteristics of the Tudor Revival style, including a steep shingle roof and multiple side and front gabling. Frank Stover died in 1924, just two years after the house was made, and it eventually passed into other hands.
The Armstrong Hotel is the last remaining historical hotel in downtown Fort Collins. It was founded in 1923 by Charles and Carolyn Mantz and named after Carolyn’s deceased father, Andrew Armstrong, whose house once stood on the property. At the time, the hotel was the tallest building in town, housing two elegant dining halls, 41 guest rooms, and a number of retail shops. It was advertised as the ideal home base for exploring the Poudre Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park. During World War II, the hotel was used as a barracks for the U.S. Army and held one of the first American Automobile Association chapters. The hotel went through a lot of changes over the years, including name changes and some periods of disrepair. But today, it is a flourishing hotel in the heart of it all. The property underwent an extensive remodel in 2019, creating a refined and luxurious atmosphere that still pays homage to its rich history.
The Bradley House on South College was originally owned by Harry and Maude Bradley, who arrived in Fort Collins in 1899. The couple operated an art studio, an art gallery, and eventually an automobile sales business in town. Built in 1924, the home is an English/Norman-style cottage with a false thatched roof, multiple front and side gables, and several windows with tracery. Harry died in 1939 and the home was purchased by Louis and Bertha Lear in 1940, before changing hands to Lloyd and Grace Hopwood 20 years later. Over the years, the property served as a fraternity, a real estate office, an apartment building, a property management firm, and most recently, a coffee shop. The Bradley House was home to Wild Boar Coffee before they closed their doors in 2019.
Just north of St. Joseph Church lies its accompanying school — a building that gets a lot less attention but is equally as notable, especially due to its unique architectural style. It was built in 1925 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, a rare look for Fort Collins. It features tan wire-cut rugged face brick, red stone trimming, and a red tile roof. The red stones were sourced from a local quarry and were originally used on the steps, but ended up being too soft, so they were replaced by a harder stone. The school underwent an extensive remodel in 1965 and another wing was added in 2000. The interior has evolved to match modern-day education but the architecture remains as a window to its past.
There are so many more historic sites in Fort Collins we didn’t quite get to. What are we missing from this list? Let us know in the comments below! Looking more history? Check out 15 Historic Landmarks You Can Visit in Northern Colorado.