The sound of fallen leaves crunching under students’ feet as they walk to class in October, the cheers of the fight song during athletic contests and the applause for receiving a treasured diploma are all associated with Colorado State University.
Fort Collins and the surrounding area have grown around the university; its impact on life in Larimer County and beyond is immense.
“The university is the driving force in the community and it has helped make Fort Collins what it is today,´ said Bob Everitt, a Fort Collins businessman who holds an honorary doctorate from Colorado State. “It is a great asset for Fort Collins because of the great deal of businesses that have come here because of CSU and its graduates.”
The university began from humble beginnings when Colorado Territorial Governor Edward McCook signed a bill authorizing the creation of a land-grant college in 1870. In 1874 a 16-foot -by-24-foot red brick building known as the “Claim Shanty” gave evidence of the possibility of locating a college in Fort Collins.
In 1877, a mill levy was created to raise money for the institution’s first main building – Old Main. The first five students to attend Colorado Agricultural College entered the halls of Old Main on Sept. 1, 1879.
In the early 1900s the university focused on agricultural teaching, research and extension efforts along with forestry and electrical engineering.
The school became the Colorado State College of Agricultural and Mechanic Arts, or Colorado A&M, in 1935.
Colorado A&M focused primarily on engineering, agriculture and the humanities through the 1940s and 1950s. President William Morgan felt students earning degrees from the college should hold them from a university rather than a school with a narrow focus, and on May 1, 1957, the Colorado General Assembly approved the new name of Colorado State University.
During the Vietnam years, students began a series of on-campus protests against the war. On May 8, 1970, days after the killings at Kent State University, activists held a war moratorium concert in the College Avenue Gym; in the aftermath, arsonists set Old Main ablaze and completely destroyed the 92-year-old campus cornerstone.
The campus also underwent renovation after the flood that swept through Fort Collins on July 28, 1997.
Today, some 25,000 full- and part-time students attend CSU. The school is the largest employer in Fort Collins and is responsible for attracting hundreds of more federal research jobs to the city.
The College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science is world renowned, the old Fort Collins High School is now CSU’s performing arts center, and plans are in the works for expansion of the Foothills campus on the west side of town.
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