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In 1870, a group of prominent citizens in Chicago decided to found a new settlement in Colorado. Inspired by the success of the Union Colony (what is now Greeley, CO), they set up an organization called the Chicago-Colorado Colony, and began to sell memberships to interested people in New York and Chicago. The colony idea allowed many people to pool their resources and complete large projects, such as irrigation ditches and community buildings, much faster than could be done through traditional town-building methods.

In January, 1871, the Colony sent out a locating committee to Colorado, who chose a spot on the St. Vrain river with a view of the Rocky Mountains and Longs Peak. The Colony purchased 55,000 acres of land in the area, and laid out a town just north of the St. Vrain, not far from the village of Burlington. Colony members were allowed to purchase a town lot, a farm lot, and additional lots if they desired. By April of 1871, colonists began arriving by train from Chicago, and quickly built a small town, which Colony officials named Longmont, in honor of Longs Peak. Soon the residents of Burlington also joined the new city, and moved many of their buildings up to it.

Longmont began as an agricultural community, and soon had several flour mills to process the large amounts of wheat grown in the area. In 1887, John Empson, with the help of other local businessmen, built a canning factory in Longmont, which became the largest pea cannery in the world by 1905. Kuner purchased the factory in 1920.

A second major industry opened in 1903, when the Longmont Sugar Factory began processing sugar beets. In 1905, it became a Great Western Sugar Company plant, and supported sugar beet farming for many miles around.

Farmers and farm workers came to Longmont from all over the world, including Japan, Mexico, along with Germans from Russia. These people help to make Longmont a diverse community today.

Longmont remained a small farming town until after World War II, when dramatic growth and economic change came to Longmont. In 1952, the Federal Aviation Administration picked Longmont as the site for a major air traffic control center. This brought many jobs and touched off explosive growth that did not slow until the 1980s. The economy got another boost when IBM built a large plant six miles from Longmont in 1965. Longmont's population doubled from 11,000 in 1960 to 23,000 in 1970, and nearly doubled again by 1980.

The agricultural industries that had been the backbone of Longmont for many years declined in the 1970s. The Kuner-Empson cannery closed in 1970 due to antiquated equipment and a lack of pollution control. The Great Western Sugar factory laid off employees several times, finally closing in 1977. Longmont continued to attract high-tech firms, and watched much of its productive farmland become housing subdivisions.

Longmont is now the second-largest city in Boulder county, with a population of 58,000. It continues to attract high technology businesses, and tries to balance growth with the preservation of its heritage and natural resources.

- Story courtesy of the Longmont Museum
Erik Mason


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