One of the things I enjoy about writing this blog is being a tourist in my own town. After living in Fort Collins for 3 ½ years, today I finally toured the Avery House on 328 West Mountain Avenue. And I’m so glad I did! But why did it take me so long? Well, I’ll be honest. I’m not a big fan of historic house museums. For one thing, it seems like every town has at least one and they are usually the Victorian-era homes of the upper class. And, being Victorian, they are usually chock full of furnishings and decorations and covered in wallpaper—kind of stifling. And there are the costumed tour guides. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not my thing.
Maybe you feel the same way, and so you have never been to the Avery House either. Well, I’m here to tell you to just get over it and go check it out. As a matter of fact, check it out on the 4th of July. That day the house will be open for tours and there will be Victorian games, music, activities, entertainment and refreshments on the lawn. It’s a great place to watch the parade go down Mountain Avenue and you can ride the Trolley up to City Park and stake out your spot for the evening’s fireworks.
As a young man, Franklin Avery came to Colorado from New York in 1870 to help establish and plat Union Colony in Greeley. Two years later, he was hired to plat the streets of Fort Collins. That year he was elected County Surveyor and in 1880 he founded First National Bank—located in the Avery Block on College and Mountain, it is the red sandstone façade facing Old Town Square. He was president of the Larimer County Ditch Company and served three terms on City Council. As you can see, Franklin Avery made a lot of contributions to Fort Collins.
In 1876, Franklin married Sarah Edson in New York and brought her to Fort Collins. Three years later, he built the Avery House and the couple raised their three children there, Edgar, Ethel, and Louise. I wonder what it must have been like for Sarah, coming to the West from New York for the first time? I imagine she decorated the new home, desiring to live in the high style to which she was accustomed.
So, let’s take a look inside the house. This is where our tour gets a little strange, because the docents won’t allow anyone to take photos of the artifacts. However, they did allow me to take some photos of the architectural details for this post. It was a bit of a challenge, so bear with me. As you will see, the design, light fixtures, wallpaper, and woodwork are all quite wonderful and worth enjoying, even if the house was empty.
The building has been lovingly restored, and the attention to detail is quite impressive. Descendents of Franklin and Sarah occupied the home until 1962, at which time it actually became a rental property. The City of Fort Collins purchased the home in 1974 for $79,000 and the Poudre Landmarks Foundation oversaw the restoration and interpretation of the home as a historic property. The entire property, including the carriage house, gazebo, and fountain, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
You’ll just have to take my word for it when I tell you that the attention to detail given to the furnishings, decorative pieces, and household items is just as impressive as the restoration. Well, don’t take my word for it—go see for yourself. Very few of the Avery family’s possessions were available, so the Foundation had to refurnish the house based on family photographs and oral history interviews. And they did a marvelous job. The tour guides do a great job of using the artifacts to tell stories about the Avery family and daily life at the end of the 19th century.
Another fun opportunity, if you go before the end of July, is the “Downton Abbey” display. Inspired by the television series, the museum staff has gathered period clothing reminiscent of that worn by the characters portrayed in the show (sorry I can’t show you any pictures). In each room of the house, there is a mannequin dressed like one of the characters, including the servants. Of course, you have to keep in mind that the Avery house is interpreted in the Victorian period, when Franklin and Sarah were raising their young children. Downton Abbey takes place in the Edwardian period in the early part of the 20th century. But don’t get hung up on that, just enjoy the chance to see these wonderful garments.
One of the interesting things about the house that I never noticed is that it was added on to over time as the family grew. The original part of the house is the west end. Franklin Avery added rooms over a 16 year period, the last section being the Queen Anne tower on the north east side of the building. Our tour guide showed us several areas in the house where you can see this, if you know what you are looking for. I have never seen a domestic structure so masterfully added on to, and certainly from the outside the house looks as if it was designed that way to begin with.
So go check it out. The Avery House is free and open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4PM, year round.