About the Area
Fort Morgan, built above the South Platte River, was named after a frontier military fort in existence from 1864-1868. The town was later founded in 1884 by Abner S. Baker, an energetic Civil War veteran from Wisconsin who had moved to Union Colony Number One located in Greeley. While hunting buffalo near Beaver Creek, east of town, Baker recognized the potential of the land if it could be irrigated. Abner was previously involved in building several canals where he gained valuable experience.
In 1882, financed by the Earl of Airlie and his son Lord Ogilvy, Baker built a canal off the South Platte River. To speed the town’s development, Abner would deed every other city lot to the Lincoln (Nebraska) Land Company a subsidiary of the CB&Q Railroad. A depot would soon be moved to the south end of Main Street. The location of the Union Pacific Railroad, a mile north of the river, further anchored the town’s future success.
The first settlers came from Greeley and were Baker’s friends and family; others immigrated from Wisconsin, eastern states, and Canada. At first the town grew slowly, the dry treeless lots were unattractive and Baker was owed by many farmers who couldn’t pay for their water. He went bankrupt in the 1890’s, and his ditch company was repossessed by insurance companies. Despite the setback, a small but thriving business community had already clustered around the depot. A hotel was constructed, a weekly newspaper was published; a brass band, several sports teams, and drama group all flourished.
Also during the 1890’s, School District 3 was formed and the first high school class graduated in 1895. Property owners planted trees and shrubs on their lots using hand-pumped or drawn water. By 1900, Fort Morgan was thriving with nine churches, a Masonic Lodge, a Chautauqua lecture series was subscribed; a small dedicated band of active women first raised money to beautify the cemetery; after that goal was accomplished, they began to raise money for a library.
1900 – 1920 was a period of growth as Jackson Lake, completed in 1905, was the first reservoir finished, followed by others, additional canals were constructed, and the Great Western Sugar Company constructed a factory in 1906. Local farmers were encouraged by Main Street businessmen to grow sugar beets. During this period, the town developed City Park, built a water works, and an electric generation plant. The opera house, court house, City Hall, sewer system as well as the Carnegie Library were built. By 1920, Fort Morgan’s Main Street was a well-established retail and business center serving as the seat of Northeastern Colorado’s Morgan County.