Huge herds of Texas longhorns began cropping the grass in Washington County in the early 1870s, and dry-land farmers arrived with the railroad in the 1880s. One of the biggest jokes among early farmers was the story of an emigrant who shipped a stump puller from his home in the East. This county, created from eastern Weld County in 1887, consists of rolling prairie broken by the passage of the South Platte River through the extreme northwestern corner. Irrigated farming and, since the 1950s, oil and natural gas have sustained the economy during tough times. The population dropped from a 1920 peak of 11,208 to 4,812 in 1990, with 1,599 in Akron, the county seat.
Typical of many small farm towns struggling to stay alive is Last Chance. It has never rated a post office but was put on the state highway map when the Last Chance Cafe and Gas Station opened in 1926 in an old one-room school hauled in from Anton. A Dairy King and two gas stations also found enough business along the main street, U.S. 36, until I-70 opened 40 miles to the south. A few years later I-76 was built 30 miles north. Bypassed by both freeways, Last Chance now has a single gas station left, and even its future seems dicey: the office is a mobile home.
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