Larimer County is the seventh most populous and the ninth most extensive of the 64 counties of the state of Colorado of the United States. The county is located at the northern end of the Front Range, at the edge of the Colorado Eastern Plains along the border with Wyoming. Larimer County was named for William Larimer, Jr. the founder of Denver who is believed to have never set foot in the county. As of the 2010 census, the county population was 299,630. The county seat and most populous city is Fort Collins. The Fort Collins-Loveland Metropolitan Statistical Area comprises Larimer County.
Larimer County was created in 1861 as one of seventeen original counties in the Colorado territory; however, its western boundary was disputed. Controversy existed as to whether Larimer County ended at the Medicine Bow Range or at the Continental Divide thirty miles farther west. An 1886 Colorado Supreme Court decision set the boundary at the Continental Divide, although the land between the Medicine Bow Range and the divide was made part of Jackson County in 1909.
Unlike that of much of Colorado, which was founded on the mining of gold and silver, the settlement of Larimer County was based almost entirely on agriculture, an industry that few thought possible in the region during the initial days of the Colorado Gold Rush. The mining boom almost entirely passed the county by. It would take the introduction of irrigation to the region in the 1860s to bring the first widespread settlement to the area.
Loveland is a Home Rule Municipality that is the second most populous city in Larimer County, Colorado, United States. Loveland is situated 46 miles (74 km) north of the Colorado state capital in Denver. Loveland is the 14th most populous city in Colorado. The United States Census Bureau estimated that in 2010 the population of the city of Loveland was 66,859. The city forms part of the Fort Collins-Loveland Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Front Range Urban Corridor. The city’s public schools are part of the Thompson R2-J School District.
The city was founded in 1877 along the newly-constructed line of the Colorado Central Railroad, near its crossing of the Big Thompson River. It was named in honor of William A.H. Loveland, the president of the Colorado Central Railroad. The city was founded one mile (1.6 km) upstream from the existing small settlement of St. Louis, the buildings of which were moved to the site of Loveland. For the first half of the 20th century the town was dependent on agriculture. The primary crops in the area were sugar beets and sour cherries. In 1901, the Great Western Sugar Company built a factory in Loveland, which remained as a source of employment until its closure in 1985. During the late 1920s the Spring Glade orchard was the largest cherry orchard west of the Mississippi River. At that time the cherry orchards produced more than 1 million worth of cherries per year. A series of droughts, attacks of blight and finally a killer freeze destroyed the industry. By 1960 cherries were no longer farmed. In the late 20th century, the economy diversified with the arrival of manufacturing facilities by A Hewlette Packard, Teledyne , and Hach, a water quality analysis equipment manufacturer. A new medical sector has added a substantial amount of employment in that sector as well.
The city is south of Fort Collins, its larger neighbor and the county seat. The two cities have been steadily growing towards each other over the last several decades and are considered to be a single metropolitan area by the U.S. government. The establishment of county-owned open space between the two communities in the 1990s was intended to create a permanent buffer to contiguous growth. Loveland has aggressively expanded its incorporated limits eastward to embrace the interchange of Interstate 25 and U.S. Highway 34, and is currently developing the area. In the last decade, the intersection has become a primary commercial hub of northern Colorado, with the construction of shopping centers and the Budweiser Events Center. A new medical center and mall have also been built on the Interstate 25 and U.S. Highway 34 interchange. This area is known as Centerra. The interchange is shared with its smaller neighbor Johnstown, of Weld County.
Fort Collins is a Home Rule Municipality situated on the Cache La Poudre River along the Colorado Front Range, and is the county seat and most populous city of Larimer County.. Fort Collins is located 57 miles (92 km) north of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. With a 2010 census population of 143,986, it is the fourth most populous city in Colorado. Fort Collins is a large college town, home to Colorado State University. It was named Money magazine’s Best Place to Live in the U.S. in 2006, #2 in 2008, and #6 in 2010.
Fort Collins was founded as a military outpost of the United States Army in 1864. It succeeded a previous encampment, known as Camp Collins, on the Cache La Poudre River, near what is known today as Laporte Camp Collins was erected during the Indian wars of the mid-1860s to protect the Overland mail route that had been recently relocated through the region. Travelers crossing the county on the Overland Trail would camp there, but a flood destroyed the camp in June 1864. Afterward, the commander of the fort wrote to the commandant of Fort Laramie in southeast Wyoming, Colonel William O. Collins, suggesting that a site several miles farther down the river would make a good location for the fort. The post was manned originally by two companies of the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry and never had walls.
Settlers began arriving in the vicinity of the fort nearly immediately. The fort was decommissioned in 1867. The original fort site is now adjacent to the present historic “Old Town” portion of the city. The first school and church opened in 1866, and the town was platted in 1867. The civilian population of Fort Collins, led by local businessman Joseph Mason, led an effort to relocate the county seat to Fort Collins from LaPorte, and they were successful in 1868.
The city’s first population boom came in 1872, with the establishment of an agricultural colony. Hundreds of settlers arrived, developing lots just south of the original Old Town. Tension between new settlers and earlier inhabitants led to political divisions in the new town, which was incorporated in 1873. Although the Colorado Agricultural College was founded in 1870, the first classes were held in 1879.
The 1880s saw the construction of a number of elegant homes and commercial buildings and the growth of a distinctive identity for Fort Collins. Stone quarrying, sugar-beet farming, and the slaughter of sheep were among the area’s earliest industries. Beet tops, an industry supported by the College and its associated agricultural experiment station, proved to be an excellent and abundant food for local sheep, and by the early 1900s the area was being referred to as the “Lamb feeding capital of the world.” In 1901 the Great Western sugar processing plant was built in the neighboring city of Loveland.
Although the city was affected by the great depression and simultaneous drought, it nevertheless experienced slow and steady growth throughout the early part of the twentieth century. During the decade following World War II, the population doubled and an era of economic prosperity occurred. Old buildings were razed to make way for new, modern structures. Along with revitalization came many changes, including the closing of the Great Western sugar factory in 1955, and a new city charter, adopting a council manager form of government in 1954. Similarly, Colorado State University’s enrollment doubled during the 1960s, making it the city’s primary economic force by the end of the century. Fort Collins gained a reputation as a very conservative city in the twentieth century, with a prohibition of alcoholic beverages, a contentious political issue in the town’s early decades, being retained from the late 1890s until student activism helped bring it to an end in 1969. During that same period, civil rights activism and anti-war disturbances heightened tensions in the city, including the burning of several buildings on the CSU campus.
During the late 20th century, Fort Collins expanded rapidly to the south, adding new development, including several regional malls. Management of city growth patterns became a political priority during the 1980s, as well as the revitalization of Fort Collins’ Old Town with the creation of a Downtown Development Authority. In late July 1997, the city experienced a flash flood after and during a 31-hour period when 10–14 in (250–360 mm) of rain fell. The rainfall was the heaviest on record for an urban area of Colorado. Five people were killed and $5 million in damages were dealt to the city. The waters flooded Colorado State University’s library and brought about $140 million in damages to the institution.
In 2006, Money ranked Fort Collins as the best place to live in America, proclaiming that “great schools, low crime, good jobs in a high-tech economy and a fantastic outdoor life make Fort Collins No. 1.” Fort Collins continues to grow in population at a measured pace, with competition from other development in northern Colorado, debate over future growth patterns and town and gown relations emerging as dominant local issues in the early 21st century. In 2012, the city was listed among the 10 best places to retire in the U.S. by CBS Money Watch.
For more information on local history see the Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center’s local historical archives.