Nov 092011
Authors: Erin Udell

With the last traces of warmer weather far behind, most Fort Collins residents won’t be making the drive up to Horsetooth Reservoir too much anymore. The surrounding areas are quiet and desolate, waiting once again for parking lots and shorelines to be filled with the excitement of another Colorado summer.

But, beneath the surface of one of the city’s most prized recreation spots, lies Stout, Colo., a little known town that, if you look just right, can be seen from the boats and beaches residents flock to.

Stout, which was evacuated and flooded in the late 1940s as a part of the Colorado-Big Thompson project, saw a boom in the late 19th century as a rock-mining town. And while most of its buildings have been submerged for more than 60 years, it’s history as a thriving quarry town and stop along the Union Pacific Railroad, is anything but underground.

Edith E. Bucco, who moved to Fort Collins in 1980 after 17 years in Stout, wrote various articles on the town’s history, including a piece in the 1974 fall edition of the Colorado Magazine.

“I was primarily interested in it (the history) because I could see it from my kitchen window,” Bucco said, adding that her view included structures left uncovered by the reservoir, like the old boarding house where Stout quarrymen and their families lived.

“For anybody who wants to know what went on before the population growth (in Fort Collins), I think anything like that is interesting,” Bucco said. “For those who are, Stout is an important part of local history.”

According to Bucco’s article, the story of Stout began in the 1870s when builders of Fort Collins found and began hauling ancient sandstone from the town’s western slopes near Spring Canyon. By the end of 1881, almost a dozen quarries were established in the area, providing stone for Fort Collins homes and sidewalks, as well as the kitchen floor of Denver’s Windsor Hotel and pieces of the Wyoming state capitol.

William Bachelder, a quarry man living in Spring Canyon by 1871, used his knowledge in business and politics to chair the local chapter of the national movement for inflated paper currency, later opening a store and post office named Petra.

Petra soon saw rapid construction, including a railroad depot, section house, water tank and boarding house, which was built by William H. B. Stout. By September 1882, the Stout post office had replaced Petra’s.

Most of the town’s operations were run by Stout and his family, who hired Swedish men to work in the quarries. In August 1883, after the death of his brother, a lack of profits and employee strikes earlier that year, Stout decided to move to Nebraska, leaving his name and his work behind.

The town soldiered on, however, and the years following Stout’s departure were marked by development and education.

According to Bucco, school enrollment increased along with debates, church services, reading clubs and lectures. Stout was also home to the area’s largest Fourth of July celebration, which brought Fort Collins residents in by train to enjoy food and entertainment in the town’s dance hall and a fireworks show outside. Almost 800 people attended annually.

The town’s prosperous days were numbered, however, after the Union Pacific Railway announced its interest in becoming a “common carrier.” As of the end of 1887, the railroad was no longer interested in transporting either coal or stone.

And while Stout was able to manage for a few years, hard times fell not only on the quarries, but also on the country as a whole. In the early 1890s, a series of bank failures took their toll on the economy and railway companies, setting in the Panic of 1893.

Railroads ceased service, mines were shut down and men were laid off, according to Bucco’s article. Eventually, many workers were forced to head east, bringing Stout’s population down from 200 in 1893 to 30 in the following year.

By 1896, population settled at almost 75 people and business resumed for the next couple years before the eventual demise of the stone industry.

Despite the post office being discontinued and other business closures, the Highland School, which sat on a hill in Spring Canyon for more than 60 years, functioned until 1946 when it was sold and later flooded by the reservoir.

Residents of the Stout area, like Bucco, who knew of the town’s history but never saw it, finally got a chance almost 10 years ago when the reservoir was drained to fix its dams.

“It was so interesting to see what was under there, especially the Stout school because it had meant so much to those people,” Bucco said. “They didn’t get to go to town a lot so many town events took place at the school.”

“People who lived up there had fond memories of the school,” Bucco added. “It was probably the most important thing to the people who moved when the water came.”

Margie Davis, who has lived in the area for the past 41 years with her husband Darrell, emphasized the importance of Stout’s little-known history.

“That’s why we’re here,” Davis said, adding that there would have been no town without the rock quarries.

Davis, like Bucco, got to see the foundation of the town during the draining, noting that the entire experience was fascinating.

“It was really neat,” Davis said. “Really muddy, but really neat.”

Sarah DeBonte, a senior food science major at CSU, grew up in Fort Collins and also recalls going to the reservoir while in grade school.

“When I was 10 or 11 my family and I took a trip up there for the day to see it,” DeBonte said. “You could see the spire that looked like a church and little mounds with building frames.”

DeBonte left that day with a greater understanding of some Colorado history and $55, which she found caked in mud.

“It was pretty cool as a kid to see it and to walk where water should have been,” DeBonte said. “They (Fort Collins residents) know about the town that’s there now, but not the history of what it was like before the reservoir.”

News Editor Erin Udell can be reached at

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