The Origin of Colorado State University
By Coleman Cornelius and Mark Luebker
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.”
College Envisioned: Local settler Harris Stratton, a territorial legislator, conceives of an agricultural college in Fort Collins.
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 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.
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.
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.