The future of Colorado State did not look promising during the nine years that passed from the signing of an act to establish an agricultural college in Fort Collins to the time the school enrolled its first five students.
On Feb. 11, 1870, Governor Edward McCook signed a territorial bill authorizing the creation of what today is called Colorado State University. McCook's authorization built on a piece of legislation called the Morrill Act, which Congress passed and President Abraham Lincoln signed in 1862 to provide grants of public land to establish colleges.
Before long, it appeared that the act of 1870 would become nothing more than good intentions. It authorized 12 trustees to "purchase and manage property, erect buildings, establish basic rules for governing the institutions and employ buildings." However, the trustees received no money to carry out their assignment.
In 1871, Robert Dazell deeded 30 acres of land for a college site, and in 1872 the Larimer County Land Improvement Company contributed another 80 acres. But the Territorial Legislative Assembly waited until 1874 to finally allocate $1,000 to aid in constructing college buildings. And even that sum required the college trustees to come up with a matching amount, which later came from local folks, businesses and organizations such as the Grange.
The Grange was responsible for showing serious commitment to establishing an agricultural college in Fort Collins. In spring 1874, Grange No. 7 held a picnic and planting event at the corner of College Avenue and West Laurel Street. The group plowed and seeded 20 acres of wheat and perhaps inspired further work toward a school for farmers' sons and daughters.
Several months later, a 16-foot-by-24-foot red brick building arose adjacent to the cultivated land. The "Claim Shanty" gave "evidence of the good faith on the part of those interested in locating a college at Fort Collins."
Colorado became a state in 1876, requiring legal rearrangement of the territorial law signed by McCook six years earlier. The new law, signed in 1877 created an eight-member State Board of Agriculture to govern the school and deal with several ensuing complications, including a railroad right-of-way on the college land and a mill levy to raise money for the institution's first main building.
The cornerstone for that building, Old Main, was set July 27, 1878. Within a year of its December 1878 completion, wall cracks, an improperly connected lightning rod and roof gutters that dropped water too close to the foundation threatened to ruin the structure. Repairs took time and money, but made the structure ready for the fall 1879 opening of the Colorado Agricultural College.
At last, on Sept. 1, 1879, President Elijah Evan Edwards welcomed the institution's first five students.
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