Water in Fort Collins was originally delivered by the “water wagon,” retrieved from wells, or dipped from a nearby irrigation canal. In 1882, Fort Collins' voters agreed to construct the Fort Collins Water Works. The $85,000 project included construction of a canal that diverted water from the Cache la Poudre River to a reservoir behind the pump house site and a four-mile wrought iron pipe to deliver water to town. The pump house had two horizontal water-driven turbines that powered two, four-cylinder pumps  that pressurized the water.

water works in 1904

Fort Collins Hose Team No. 1, ca. 1888–1898. The running team tradition continued even after adoption of horse-drawn equipment. The local men competed with similar Colorado fire-fighting teams, and this group received a ribbon for its July 4–5, 1898, performance. Courtesy, Fort Collins Public Library.

The town of Fort Collins was officially surveyed and platted in early 1873. In 1883, Fort Collins was bordered by Whitcomb Street to the west, Laurel Street to the South, Cowan Street to the East, and the Poudre River to the north. The Agricultural College of Colorado (now Colorado State University) consisted of two buildings. 

Water may have been delivered door-to-door in the 1880s with a wagon like this. Later, the outfit may have served as a sprinkler wagon to control dust on roads during construction. Courtesy, Fort Collins Public Library

Fort Collins residents recognized a need for a reliable water source because many buildings were made from wood and were vulnerable to fires. In those years, the fires were fought with water brigades, which were not very effective for  protecting three-story buildings. After several fires, including that of Jacob Welch’s first dry goods store (February 1880)  and the Keystone block (September 1882), voters finally approved the Water Works construction in 1882.

The Original Water Works was completed in June 1883, and by August 1883, 60 users had been supplied with water from the service. The average pressure on the pipes was 60 pounds per square inch and could be increased in the time of fire to 200 pounds. Streams of water could go to a height of 150 feet.

The city then had two fire companies, each supplied with a hose cart, 1000 feet of linen hose, nozzles, and ladders. Upon hearing the fire bell, the men ran with the hose cart to the hydrant nearest the fire, hooked up the hose, and put water on the blaze, while the remaining men brought the horse-drawn hook and ladder wagon with the other equipment. 

By February 1884, there were 132 water customers, and by February 1885 there were 230 customers.  By 1889, there were 45 fire hydrants, 23 water gates, 411 taps, and 462 stop boxes. 

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