The Origin of Colorado State University

By Coleman Cornelius and Mark Luebker

Abe Lincoln

July 2, 1862

Land-grant Act: President Abraham Lincoln signs the Morrill Act. It provides states with public lands whose use and sale will fund colleges of agriculture and the mechanical arts to educate “the industrial classes.”

Harris Stratton


College Envisioned: Local settler Harris Stratton, a territorial legislator, conceives of an agricultural college in Fort Collins.

Edward M. McCook


Official Founding: Territorial Gov. Edward M. McCook signs the act that formally establishes the State Agricultural College of Colorado in Fort Collins. On Feb. 11, 2020, Colorado State will mark its 150th anniversary; sesquicentennial celebrations run throughout the 2019-2020 academic year.

claim shanty


Claim Building: Locals construct a 16-by-24-foot brick structure at the corner of College Avenue and Laurel Street as evidence of good-faith plans to locate a college in Fort Collins. Five landowners and a Larimer County land company donated a total of 240 acres for use as the college site. (The donated land is different from acreage granted through the Morrill Act.)

Aug. 1, 1876

Statehood: Colorado becomes the 38th state. Now, it’s eligible to receive public lands to fund a college.

Old Main

July 27, 1878

Main Building: A cornerstone ceremony starts construction of the Main College Building near College Avenue and Laurel Street. It cost $8,800.
At first, it housed everything: classrooms, offices, and student and faculty rooms. Later called Old Main, the building was between Spruce Hall and the Glenn Morris Field House; it was destroyed by fire in 1970.


Sept. 1, 1879

Classes Start: The State Agricultural College of Colorado opens its doors, initially offering preparatory classes before students move into rigorous college studies. Just a few students enroll, but the number quickly expands to several dozen.

Libbie Coy

June 5, 1884

First Commencement: The first three students graduate with bachelor’s degrees: Libbie Coy, left, George H. Glover, and Leonidas “Lon” Loomis. They establish the University alumni association. Coy is hired as a college instructor and becomes a pillar of the campus and community; Glover establishes the college veterinary program and grows into a statewide veterinary leader; and Loomis becomes a successful area farmer.