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Longmont History

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Cover Photo: Longmont Museum & Cultural Center Historical Archives

It all began in 1870 in the Windy City of Chicago when a group of prominent men decided to start a new community in Colorado.These men sold memberships to this new town called the Chicago-Colorado Colony, and by the summer of 1871, a small town had been built. The residents named it Longmont in honor of Longs Peak, the mountain formation seen throughout the town.

Longmont’s residents discovered early on that the air was dry, but the soil was rich and would produce excellent crops. Early settlers are credited with irrigating local rivers, bringing water to the fields. As Longmont grew, so did its agricultural industry. In 1872 the first flour mills were built. The Empson vegetable cannery was built in 1889, and what became the Great Western Sugar Company was built in 1903. Longmont became well-known for sugar beets, as did the majority of northeastern Colorado because of the growing climate and richness of the earth.

The town’s agriculture brought immigrants from Sweden, Germany, Mexico, and Japan, creating a heritage rich in diversity. By 1910 the population was 4,256 residents, having doubled every 10 years since 1870. Growth slowed through the early 20th century due to the world wars, the stock market crash of 1929, and a worldwide influenza epidemic. Women went to work in the fields and at the factories during World War II. Some Italian POWs and Japanese-Americans who were interred on the West Coast and brought to Longmont also worked in the fields. After the war ended, many of these workers stayed in the area.

During the 1950s Longmont relied heavily on agriculture, although the local economy began to shift towards technology. In 1962 the U.S. government built an air traffic control center in Longmont and three years later IBM built a large facility just west of the city. Longmont’s population exploded, doubling in size between 1960 and 1970, and doubling again by 1980.

In the 1970s Longmont saw a decline in agriculture; long-time businesses Kuner-Empson and the Great Western Sugar factory both closed. Recessions and cutbacks in the economy also slowed the city’s growth. This trend continued throughout the 1980s, but growth resumed at a rapid pace in the 1990s when high-technology companies popped up along the Front Range. The 2000 Census measured Longmont’s population at 71,093, an increase of nearly 20,000 in a decade.

This growth continues into the 21st century. Today, Longmont has roughly 95,000 residents and is home to many high-tech companies like Seagate, FAA and Xilinx. The craft beer movement has been picking up steam in Colorado for about 25 years, and two “local” Longmont breweries distribute nationwide: Oskar Blues and Left Hand Brewing Company. Despite the city’s growth, Longmont residents will tell you “we’re a small town.” We take pride in our agricultural roots, as well as our rich history that started on the shores of Lake Michigan.

When you wander into the shops, galleries, and restaurants in our quaint downtown district, relax in one of our parks, or view the grand homes in the Historic Westside and Eastside neighborhoods, you feel the pride and warmth of this community. It’s the greetings from locals, the laughter of children playing, the beautiful architecture, and the majestic mountain scenery. Longmont’s history is alive. Come explore it on your next getaway.


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