The county seat (1873, 4,984 feet), on the Cache la Poudre River, started in 1864 as an army post named for Lieutenant Colonel William O. Collins. The army left in 1867, but the town persisted, thanks to pioneers such as Elizabeth (“Auntie”) Stone, who opened her cabin as the first hotel and school. Fort Collins replaced Laporte as the Larimer County seat in 1868 and two years later was selected as the site of the state agricultural college. When the railroad arrived in 1877, it provided an outlet for local produce, live-stock, and quarried stone.
In the original plat, streets paralleled the Cache la Poudre River, but Franklin C. Avery platted the “new” town west of College Avenue and south of Mountain Avenue in 1873 using compass points. Avery laid out broad, tree-lined streets, explaining, “People need wide streets and land's cheap.” By the 1880s Fort Collins had become a progressive town with electric lights and a municipal waterworks. The city's first resident architect, Montezuma W. Fuller, arrived from Nova Scotia in 1880. Before his death in 1925, Fuller designed more than 300 local homes, schools, churches, and commercial buildings. His own home and some of his surviving work are among many local buildings landmarked by the city of Fort Collins.
Fort Collins grew from an agricultural and college town of 14,937 in 1950 to a city of 87,758 in 1990. The small agricultural college became Colorado State University (CSU) in 1957. Today, with more than 20,000 students, it is the second largest university in the state. Giant new regional industrial plants such as Hewlett-Packard and Anheuser-Busch have also made this one of Colorado's fastest-growing communities.
Despite its swelling population, Fort Collins has preserved much of its original commercial core and nineteenth-century neighborhoods. Its Landmark Preservation Commission (1969) and Historic Preservation Office have designated two dozen local landmarks and the Old Town Historic District. City Hall set an example for preservationists by converting the abandoned Great Western sugar beet plant, at Eastview Drive and North LeMay Avenue, to city offices. College Avenue, the main street, still has diagonal parking and at-grade railroad tracks, giving Fort Collins a small-town feeling.
Fort Collins became nationally noted as an example of how to manage rapid growth after its Land Development Guidance System (1981) required landscaping for parking lots, strict sign controls, and neighborhood hearings on new developments. Developers were encouraged to build neighborhoods mixing residential, retail, and industrial structures such as Scotch Pines (1980s), at Drake and LeMay.
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