Greeley, the county seat (1870, 4,663 feet), began as the communitarian dream of Nathan C. Meeker, agricultural editor of the New York Tribune. Meeker and Tribuneeditor and one-time U.S. presidential candidate Horace Greeley helped make Greeley the West's second most celebrated colony (after Salt Lake City). Meeker, who admired the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier, had helped plant the Trumbull Phalanx, a utopian community near Warren, Ohio. For his Colorado experiment, which he called the Union Colony, he recruited sober-minded colonists of good character able to buy $155 memberships. The colony, Meeker declared, “will be for the benefit of all the people, not for schemers and speculators.” Each family would own a “comfortable, if not elegant home, surrounded by orchards and ornamental grounds.”
The site surrounding the confluence of the Cache la Poudre and South Platte rivers was purchased from the Denver Pacific Railway, which had already launched the neighboring town of Evans. The promised utopia disappointed some, including Anne M. Green, who wrote: “We pitched our tent, which was almost daily blown to the ground. [I] wept and prayed for a change [in my] wretched life.…” Another critic complained that the pioneer town looked like “dry goods boxes scattered across the Plains of the Almighty.”
Despite some desertions, Greeley within a year attracted some 1,500 settlers. They laid out 100-foot-wide streets and blocks 400 feet square with a 10-acre central square (Lincoln Park). Meeker initially named the north-south streets for trees and began planting each street with its namesake tree, but ran heavily into debt after failed experiments with magnolias, oaks, and other trees unhappy with the Colorado climate. Supposedly to pay his debts, Meeker became the Ute Indian agent in Rio Blanco County, where he was killed by Utes.
To water their patch of the Great American Desert the Greeley colonists built irrigation ditches. Although communal dreams were soon abandoned, the settlement remained a model of irrigated farming. In 1877 Greeley permanently replaced Evans as the county seat. In 1889 the town succeeded in capturing the state normal school for teacher education, which has evolved into the University of Northern Colorado, with some 11,000 students. Another key to the city's growth has been the Great Western Sugar Company plant (1902, The Dyer Company), at 13th Street and 1st Avenue, whose towering smokestacks and storage elevators make it the city's skyscraper.
Much of the nineteenth-century downtown has been lost, although close-in residential neighborhoods remain fairly intact. Glen Mere Park on the north edge of the university campus clings to a garden suburb plan of the 1930s formulated by the Greeley Garden Club. East Greeley, which has an industrial district along the railroad tracks, is heavily Hispanic. Broad, tree-lined streets of the original plat (1st to 14th avenues and 1st to 16th streets) survive, as does one of the 1870 ditches, Ditch No. 3, part of Meeker's dream for utopia on the South Platte.
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