Archive for the ‘hometowns’ tag
Once again, I’ve been on the lookout for clues that can tell us more about the place where we live. The names of streets and buildings often turn out to reference people who have lived in Fort Collins or they tell the story of how we got to be here. For instance, do you know that Council Tree Avenue was named in honor of an actual tree that once stood in Fort Collins? The new street is in the Front Range Village shops where the new Poudre River Public Library District library opened its doors recently. Most cottonwood trees live approximately 30 years, but this particular tree stood in southeast Fort Collins, near the Cache la Poudre River off East Horsetooth Road for at least 120 years! In the latter part of the nineteenth century, settlers in the area easily recognized it as one of the few large trees near the river at that time (personal aside — after living in Fort Collins for a few weeks, I finally looked west and noticed the namesake of another street—Horsetooth Road! At first, and before I looked up, I really wondered why a road would be named after a horsemolar!).
The Poudre River Public Library District website explains that Arapahoe Chief Friday often held council beneath Council Tree. He was familiar with English, white settlers and their culture, and arbitrated relations between Native Americans and settlers in our area. Other Native Americans and settlers also used the landmark as a place to meet and negotiate.
“Yeah, I was born in that little town…Fort Collins, Colorado. My dad owned a newspaper there, the “Fort Collins Express Courier“, and I grew up there. It was a very prosperous town. We had banks that looked like banks, you know, and there was a Victorian city hall. I was born in 1911 and these buildings were around when I was a kid. When I started working on Main Street, I had photographs of Fort Collins taken. I showed them to Walt and he liked them very much. Disneyland’s City Hall was copied from Fort Collins…so was the Bank building and some of the others.” Harper Goff, in “The ‘E’ Ticket: Collecting Theme Park Memories“, Winter 1992-93.
Although people in Fort Collins tried to preserve Council Tree, in 1938 the farmer who owned the land it stood on tried to burn weeds and damaged it badly. It’s not certain how the tree was completely destroyed, but it is remembered to be standing through the 1940s and 1950s. In1976, the Fort Collins Historical Society planted a new cottonwood near the site of the original tree in its honor.
A few months ago, I was walking in Old Town, and I overheard a conversation about the fact that Disneyland’s Main Street USA was based on Old Town Fort Collins. The Fort Collins Local History Archive website provides research to show that this is true. Harper Goff, who helped create Disneyland’s Main Street USA, grew up in Fort Collins. In the 1950s, he came back to Fort Collins to research buildings for the Disney project. In1994, Richard Francaviglia while working on his book, Main Street Revisited, found an old, published interview where Goff explained that Fort Collins and Walt Disney’s hometown, Marceline, Missouri were the models for Main Street USA. Later, Goff’s wife confirmed thestory and the New York Times published an article with comparative photographs. You can read the article and more about the connections between Main Street USA and Fort Collins, at the Local History Archive website.
These two stories get me thinking about sense of place and how that relates to our sense of community in Fort Collins today. It would be easy to ignore the history of the clash between the cultures represented by the CouncilTree and Mainstreet USA’s utopian vision of the “perfect” hometown. However, with a deep understanding of the turmoil that westward expansion imposed on Native Americans, I like the fact that today we live in a city rooted in negotiation, barter, and the desire to imagine an idyllic home. Communities are created by establishing spaces for commerce,negotiation and dreaming, and Fort Collins has landmarks that can teach us about our history. We stand on the shoulders of generations of Northern Coloradoans who have worked to make this place home through discussion and imagination—it’s within that tension that we can find successes, both in the past and in the future!
There are a number of places to learn more about the complex story of our city. One fascinating website is the recently launched Fort Collins History Connection. This online collaboration between the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center and the Poudre River Public Library District, incorporates historical resources from the Library, the Museum artifact collection and the Fort Collins Local History Archive. You can also find clues at lostfortcollins.com.
If you keep on going you’ll always get somewhere!
Thanks for the photo of Main Street USA armadillo444!