History of Berthoud
by Mark French and Tom Vaughan
Canopies of cottonwoods and lush grass meadows lured the first white settlers to the Little Thompson valley in the early 1860s on the heels of the Colorado gold rush. Many hopefuls filed homestead claims, but most bellied up and left the valley to hardier souls who ranched and farmed the arid prairie that straddled the rich river bottom.
In 1872, a Central City miner-turned-rancher by the name of Lewis Cross set the stage for the valley’s first settlement when he staked a homestead claim where the Colorado Central railroad company planned to cross Little Thompson creek. When the tracks were laid through the valley in 1877, a depot, section house and water tank were installed at this strategic site and the tiny settlement once known as Little Thompson was renamed Berthoud in honor of civil engineer E.L. Berthoud who surveyed the rail route through the valley.
Over the next few years the settlement grew to include a handful of homes, blacksmith shop, mercantile store, small grain elevator, and log cabin that served as school and church for the community. Lewis Cross operated the post office in the front room of his home.
In the early 1880s, the Colorado Central Railroad recognized that Berthoud’s location on the river bottom caused their steam-powered locomotives to labor excessively to ascend the grade out of the valley. At their urging, during the frigid winter months of 1883-84, the buildings of the tiny burg were loaded on skids and pulled by teams of draft animals to the town’s present-day location on the bluff one mile north of the river.
On Peter Turner’s homestead, the relocated town sprang back to life. On September 29, 1883, the Fort Collins Courier reported, "Peter Turner, proprietor of the new town of Berthoud, which has just been laid out on the hill one mile north of the Little Thompson Creek, came over Tuesday to file a plot of the city. The town is principally on the west side of the railroad, and is filling up fast. Eleven building lots were sold on Monday last, and many others were contracted for, by persons who intended to build on them."
Agriculture in the Berthoud area flourished. Farmers diverted water from the Little and Big Thompson Rivers into a network of reservoirs and ditches that allowed the arid uplands to be irrigated. Harvests of alfalfa, sugar beets, wheat, corn and barley were sold on the open market or used to fatten pens of sheep and cattle. The town grew as merchants and shopkeepers set up businesses to serve farmers and ranchers from the nearby countryside.
In 1886, the Welch Addition doubled the size of the Berthoud as town boundaries extended south beyond present-day Mountain Avenue for the first time. A year later a hose company was hastily formed to protect the town from fire after the Davis & Hartford Mercantile store burned to the ground in a spectacular conflagration. In 1888 a town board was elected and within a short time they hired a marshal to keep the peace and light the street lamps.
By the early 1900s, Berthoud sported a bustling business district on Third Street and Massachusetts and Mountain avenues. Clapboard, native stone and red brick store fronts housed Bill Flora’s Berthoud Meat Market, A.G. Bimson’s blacksmith shop, and Peanut Thompson’s news stand. Dr. D.W. McCarty based his medical practice in the back of his drugstore while Andy Fairbairn ran a lumberyard and F.I. Davis managed a general store. Three hotels and two livery stables competed for the business of traveling salesmen who arrived on the train to hawk their wares in a territory that encompassed Berthoud, Johnstown and Mead.
The modern world came to Berthoud in the 1920s when Mountain Avenue became part of a paved state highway system that connected the larger towns of northern Colorado. As travel shifted from train to automobile, Berthoud was promoted as "The Garden Spot of Colorado" to call attention to its tree-lined residential areas nestled next to fragrant hay fields.
Berthoud retains its small town feel as it expands and grows in the 21st Century. Venerable business and residential districts inspire residents preserve historic structures while the Berthoud Historical Society promotes the heritage of the community.
View Berthoud’s Story on Video
For more information, please visit the Berthoud Historical Society web site and the Little Thompson
Valley Pioneer Museum.