We don’t know for sure if Horace Greeley really coined the phrase “Go West, young man”, but we know for sure he wrote this:
“Washington [D.C.] is not a nice place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting, the mud is very deep, and the morals are deplorable. But on a farm in the West … dissatisfied young men could not only make money, and live decently, but also be of some use to the country.”
The year was 1867. The Eastern seaboard, like Europe before it, was overcrowded. The industrial advancements that would make the Manhattan of today possible were still a ways off. The country desperately needed more land.
It needed manifest destiny, and the people to fulfill it.
The improbably named Montezuma Fuller seemed to reach a similar conclusion to Greeley, that the West was where a man could still make himself. A carpenter, he left his home in Nova Scotia for Kingston, New York as a young man in 1879 , only to end up in Fort Collins, Colorado the very next year.
Montezuma Fuller’s house. Photo by Gribeco.
His life took a dramatic turn in 1883 when Colorado State University – where he’d also study – tasked him with turning a barn into a laboratory and classroom. Because, hey, you know carpentry and stuff, right?
Could you imagine him getting the same opportunity at Georgetown University in Washington? Somebody had to build the west, and Fuller was in the right place at the right time. Fort Collins had a population of about 1,300 in 1880, and had been officially surveyed just 7 years before that. There’d be over 8,000 people living there by 1910.
Many of the city’s finest homes, business blocks, and churches during that period would be built by Fuller. By the 1890s, this largely self-taught man had become a highly respected architect. The barn put his name out in the public, and he never looked back.
His work stands up against what I’ve seen in any historic big city neighborhood. Fuller’s style was a reflection of his enthusiastic nature, exploring a variety of Victorian styles.
Avery Block Building before a recent restoration. Above the green awning on the right, the transom windows are covered and the old cornice is gone. Luckily for architectural enthusiasts, the restoration more or less brought the building back to its original appearance. Photo by Charles Willgren.
Perhaps his most iconic building is the Avery Block Building at the corner of College and Mountain, two of the most prominent roads in Fort Collins. It’s more like three buildings in one. Built using brick and red sandstone, the two-story Avery Block is a brilliant collage of everything Fuller excelled at as an architect. Cornices, Romanesque arches, transom windows, a pediment, a Gothic pointed arch, and more red sandstone?
Why not? Yes, please.
Fort Collins would later serve as partial inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. Harper Goff, born in Fort Collins, used the city’s historic Old Town as a design reference for Main Street, with the Disneyland City Hall strongly resembling the former Fort Collins courthouse.
And while I can’t personally spot any obvious allusions to Fuller’s work in Disneyland, I’d like to think something of his spirit is in it somewhere.