Archive for April, 2009

What do we do when the flu comes to Larimer County?

In 1918 the Spanish flu arrived here, via WWI servicemen, with our first cases presenting at CSU (Colorado Agricultural College in those days).  Surprisingly, it wasn’t the elderly and sickly who died from it. Rather it was those with the strongest immune systems–teens to 30-year-olds.


"In the hospital," from CSU archives, 1917.

To keep the disease from spreading, we closed public schools, theaters, lodges, and halls from October through December of that year. To manage those who were already sick, a temporary hospital was set up in the engineering building at CSU.

Then we forbid loitering downtown.

By November, we required masks worn at public indoor gatherings.

By December,  “the number of customers in business houses was limited to eight or one each 100 square feet,” according to the Fort Collins Express. “Violators fined $300 plus costs.”

Finally, we enlisted the new infirmary over at the County Poor Farm to take our sick. (After the epidemic, the infirmary, on what’s now Lemay, went on to be our current hospital).

So how bad were we hit? In Loveland, which had a population of 5000 at the time, about 1.3% of the population died from the flu according to Larimer County Health.


From Larimer County Health

Strong immune systems were prone to overreact to the virus,  something the health community calls a “cytokine storm.”  With the current swine flu,  that same cytokine response worries some at the Centers for Disease Control most.

But before you get too worried, I think you and everybody else should download this 2005 powerpoint presentation from the Larimer County Health Department.

Written in more level-headed times, the presentation explains how the flu progressed in 1918. But more importantly, it explains what measures we had to fight it then, what measures we have now, and why we are in some ways less prepared now, but in most ways, more so.


Anna Abbott May as a small girl, died during influenza epidemic at 18.


Hospital photo: University Historic Photograph Collection, http://lib.colostate.edu/archives/historic_photos.html, Colorado State University, Archives and Special Collections

Anna May Abbott photo: Fort Collins Museum Archives. http://history.fcgov.com

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Jim Burrill just alerted me to the fact that the City keeps a list of approved names for future streets (pdf) in Fort Collins.  The list is a selection of 41 names of people who made some kind of impression in Fort Collins’ past.

Getting on or off the list takes a vote of City Council. That’s especially interesting for Jim since he has a relative on the list whose name  is misspelled.

It’s a long list, and some characters  are kind of hard to get excited about, at least as described in the document. Like J.A.C Kissock who “checked and audited city books” and was known as the “father of Fort Collins sewer system.” 

Other names seem more colorful, like Pappy Spencer:  “Prospector and burro wrangler who kept his burros at Elizabeth and Overland Trail.” 

But honestly, I prefer street names that mean something.

Lemay was once “Hospital Road.” That just makes sense.

The forgettable SummitView Road  used to be “3 Silos” because there were, you guessed it, 3 silos there.

And you know what became of the man who built the three silos? Franklin Pierce Rudolph? He’s now slated to have a street named after him.


For more street fun, go see Kip W’s Flickr page.  He’s got some great 1970s photos and some 1960s planning maps. Maybe you can find your street.

Fort Collins 1979, from Kip W

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If Hugh Everett was right, and I have parallel selves who fork every time I make a decision–somewhere, I hope one of me lives like Polly Brinkhoff.

I imagine a life with more sun, music, sweat, and trees than money. I imagine a life of self-reliance, feral family, and urgent inspiration. A difficult life, but one that never lets you forget you’re alive.

Polly was a mountain woman living in Skin Gulch, between Rist and Poudre Canyons. Without electricity or indoor plumbing from 1953 until her death in April 1999, she raised 4 kids, carved gun stocks, repaired the roof with cast off license plates, raced donkeys, chilled her food in a cave, harvested pine boughs to sell in town at Christmas, and played harmonica and guitar.

She also liked to paint, and for her everything was canvas.

“One day, she asked me to leave my door unlocked,” says Norm Cook, one of her neighbors. “When I came home, there was a landscape on the piano.”

You might have seen her work up Rist Canyon, beside a curve in the highway. There, she saw a sea creature where anyone else would have seen a cracked boulder:

Whale Rock

Whale Rock

The whale became a landmark, so that the bend in the highway and a nearby spur road are named for it. 

 Skin Gulch wasn’t far from the rock if you count miles like a mountain person. And that’s how Polly thought of herself, swearing that a remote life was the only way she could stand to live. 

from the Fort Collins Museum Archives

Brinkhoff house from the Fort Collins Museum Archives

Initially, she and her husband, Rattlesnake Jack, a WWI vet with a reputation in town, settled in the gulch as a mining claim. He died in 1970, and Polly stopped maintaining the claim. But it didn’t matter; the US Forest Service agreed not to notice, and Polly agreed  to return the land to its natural state when she moved on.

Brinkhoff painting on piano

Brinkhoff painting on piano

The Fort Collins History Archives can give you her particulars. But Norm can tell you stories and show you pictures.

Like about the time a cow broke into the house and ate dessert.

Or about her television, something she acquired late in life. It ran off a car battery, using a coat hanger for an antenna, and received one channel out of Cheyenne.

Or about how Polly died when her truck went off the edge of the Poudre Canyon, almost exactly 10 years ago. She ran off a road she must have driven for nearly 50 years.

Friends thought she was transporting a chicken that day. “But nobody ever found it,” Norm says. 

Still, it led to a hunch, and a relative checked her truck more closely the day after. He went to the impound, pulled the seat forward, and found a small shivering dog.

As for her house in Skin Gulch, to fulfill her obligation to the Forest Service, her children burned it to the ground and barricaded the access road with rocks and earth.

Polly Brinkhoff

Polly Brinkhoff carving gun stock

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Fort Collins adds one or two festivals to its calendar every year. Music, warm beer, sticky food.

But for beauty and grace, none match the May Fete at CSU in the 1920s–an annual display of “pristine femininity.” 


 “From the shrubbery, the fairies stole forth…Pan and his dancing nymphs, the four winds, moonbeams, and Neptune’s mermaids floated across the waves.”  

These next 3 photos all merit a click through to see larger views:








After hours of genteel dancing, “Chanticleer sent forth his cry and the fairies were banished by the coming of the Dawn.” –Rocky Mountain Collegian

3 Dianas with Horsetooth

3 Dianas with Horsetooth

All photos 1920s, used by permission:  University Historic Photograph Collection, http://lib.colostate.edu/archives/historic_photos.html, Colorado State University, Archives and Special Collections

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Uncle Norm

Many posts on Lost Fort Collins refer to Norm Cook. We became quick friends a few years ago over our shared love of Texas fiddle music. 

Now, we get together once a week or more to eat dinner. He tells me stories for the Lost Fort Collins blog, and I tell him about who’s been writing in or commenting.  More than a couple of you have got personal letters back  saying something like, “Norm thinks he knew your daddy ….”

Norm was born in June, 1939. He grew up on Oak Street in Fort Collins and lived much of his adult life in a rustic (read, no indoor plumbing) cabin in Poudre Park.  He worked as a farm hand and a shipping clerk. He knows a lot about building materials, weather, and driving draft horses. Among other things.

Now, he hosts Runaway Fiddle on KRFC 88.9 FM early Wednesday mornings.

I love this picture of him holding a friend’s child. It’s just like him to pick up a baby and have it fall asleep in his arms. Everyone calls him Uncle, my son likes him (which is saying a lot), and he’s even on my dog’s very short do-not-bite list.

Click for a broader view.


Norm Cook

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From the Fort Collins Museum archives.

In the comments section of an earlier post, Barefoot Meg asks, “where was Rockwood School?”

Funny you should ask. I made Norm drive me there last month because I wondered too.

Rockwood-Place (later renamed Barton) was built in 1908 near the beet factory and attended by migrant children– German Russian and Hispanic. It was the backdrop of many of Lewis Wickes Hine’s 1915 photos of working children in Fort Collins, part of a nation-wide endeavor to curb child labor.


Lewis Wickes Hine photo of Rockwood Place School, 1915


Henry, 14 years old

Lewis Wickes Hine photo taken in front of Rockwood School

It’s a vacant lot now … I marked it in red in the lower right of this photo. The red box at top is what’s left of the beet factory.

(Click for a larger view. Or google map: “9th street fort collins” for street and surrounding views.)


We lose a lot of cool old schools. Washington Elementary,  on Shields, will be the next to go.

And here’s something really, really interesting about Fort Collins’ schools (and CSU): They don’t have to abide by Fort Collins planning guidelines.  That is, if the city fails to approve a Poudre School District’s development proposal, PSD can get an override from the school board.

No kidding.

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In the old days, people would have you over to look at their vacation slides from the Grand Canyon on the big screen. Now they post montage YouTube videos. Even at 3 minutes, it still can seem interminable.

This is kind of like that. Random out-of-focus pictures, with some labels. Nothing smooth about it.

But the music! Music is by Bob Swerer, who owned a tropics-themed nightclub where our industrial section is today. He’s smooth. He’s the reason you want to press that play button.

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