Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, popularized the phrase, “Go West young man, go West,” but it was his visionary agricultural editor, Nathan C. Meeker, who spearheaded one of the most successful colonization experiments ever attempted in the “Great American Desert.” When the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, a spur from Cheyenne to Denver was built, opening this part of the country for settlement. Meeker was inspired to create an agricultural utopia.
Where the railroad crossed the confluence of the Platte and Cache la Poudre rivers, the city of Greeley was born – an ideal location where both natural resources and transportation were abundant. Early in the settlement’s development, an irrigation canal became priority construction, turning the high desert into an agricultural oasis. Throughout its history, this area has been known for growing sugar beets, corn, and onion, among many other crops – all made possible on irrigated farmland.
“Go West young man, go West,”
Greeley’s founding principles included cooperation, education, and family. The community grew because its citizens collaborated on projects such as irrigation ditches to strengthen the young town. Community leaders convinced the state in 1889 to place its teacher-training college in Greeley – an institution that is now the University of Northern Colorado.
As the county seat for Weld County, Greeley became the business hub for northern Colorado, providing goods and services to people throughout the region.
Advances in agriculture meant advances for Greeley, notably in cattle feeding and meatpacking. Greeley became a “home town boom town” during the 1950s, as the community discovered the magic formula for success: Growth + industry = jobs. New businesses, industries, residential subdivisions, schools, churches, parks and shopping districts transformed the city’s economy and character.1 A new hospital opened, and the city expanded westward.
Westward growth continued throughout the rest of the 20th century, spurred by new industries and services. Aims Community College was founded in 1967, and the teachers’ college became a university. As the state celebrated its centennial in 1976, author James Michener, who studied and taught at the college in the 1940s, wrote his epic novel “Centennial.” The novel, based on the history of our region, was made into a television mini-series, which brought Hollywood stars here for filming.
Industries have come and gone in cyclical fashion, including computer giant Hewlett Packard. More recently, oil and gas development has supplied jobs and revenue to our area. As founder Nathan Meeker said in his first editorial for the Greeley Tribune, “Individuals may rise or fall, property may be lost or gained, but the Colony as a whole will prosper, and the spot on which we labor, shall, as long as the world stands, be the center of intelligence and activity.”