In late June of 1871, Lorin Cassandre Mead and his wife, Elizabeth, stepped off the stage in front of the “Old Colony Building,” and surveyed the dusty main street of the recently established Chicago-Colorado Colony. Only a few months old, the colony, soon to be known as Longmont, already boasted four or perhaps five hundred citizens, “full of faith in the enterprise so auspiciously commenced.”
One of several colonies established in 1870s Colorado, Longmont was the direct result of several articles written by N. C. Meeker for the New York Tribune. Meeker, one of the newspaper’s editors, extolled the advantages to be derived by colonies. For instance, if people would settle in Colorado [in these colonies], and cultivate the sands of the Great American Desert by means of irrigation, they would receive health and happiness by “inhaling the tonic of its rare bracing atmosphere, bathing in its almost perpetual sunshine; [and] avoid the loneliness and inconvenience generally experienced by other settlers on the frontier.”
Inviting only people of good moral character and temperate habits, the fortunate chosen paid an admission fee of $5.00 per person to start and an additional fee of $150.00 for full voting rights in the 640-acre site laid out in town lots. This initially included one lot for a house and one lot for a business and later modified so that 350 members were allowed to also pre-empt or homestead 80 acres each.
Attracted by the idea of colonization and advised to move to a more healthful climate due to L. C.’s rapidly deteriorating health, (L. C. was suffering from tuberculosis), the Mead’s caught a train to Colorado. The closest they could get by train to either Greeley or The Chicago-Colorado Colony, was at Erie, a thriving coal-mining town located several miles southeast of the latter. Once in Erie, they boarded a stage, traveling across dusty, sometimes almost impassable roads to where they now found themselves standing in front of the Old Colony Building.
Before deciding on where to settle permanently, Lorin, and Elizabeth planned first to travel on to Greeley, an older and more established colony. A few fateful days later, they boarded Dave Baumert’s stagecoach, and headed out across the prairie. Several miles out of town, Lorin noticed, what he later described as a “singular, circular depression about 20 feet deep and 100 rods in diameter.” In the middle of this muddy buffalo wallow, a lone antelope lifted his head and calmly returned Lorin’s stare. Tucking this memory away in his mind, Lorin continued to pass the time watching the prairie landscape pass by.
Disappointed in the high land prices in Greeley, the Meads returned to the Chicago-Colorado Colony. Nevertheless, Lorin was unable to forget his memory of the shallow pool and the antelope standing on its bank. The following spring found him standing next to the natural spring-fed “prairie pot hole” staking his claim.
Naming the depression, “Highlandlake” after the body of water in his favorite author, Sir Walter Scott’s poem, The Lady of the Lake, Lorin, and his friend, F. P. Waite, quickly set to work plowing up 80 acres of land and planting wheat A few months later the C. A. Pound family joined them in their endeavors. That fall, the three families came together on Thanksgiving Day, in the Waite’s new home, bowing their heads and giving thanks to God for the blessings of new homes, friends, and bountiful crops.
The fledgling village quickly attracted additional families. Most, like the original three families, primarily came from the New England states. Most came to Colorado for their health, and nearly all of them were well-educated, religious, and civic-minded folks. Their new community amply reflected these values.
As an expression of these values, one of the earliest concerns after establishing their homes and farms was that of educating their children. In 1877, the citizens petitioned Weld County for their own school district. School District 33 was created soon after and Highlandlaker’s held their first classes that fall.
The first ten years also brought about the founding of the fourth Congregational church in Colorado with sixteen members. Although they would not have a permanent church building until 1896, they met in the schoolhouse, grateful not to have to travel the ten miles to The Chicago-Colorado Colony, now called Longmont, every Sabbath.
By the early 1880s, Highlandlake was becoming a well-established presence. It boasted its own news column in the Longmont Ledger, and William Henry Oviatt opened the first post office on November 8, 1883, in his home. Additionally, the community quickly formed a baseball team, called the Highlandlake Nine, and three local bands, the Independent Cornet Band, the Highlandlake Concert Band, and the Highlandlake String Band. For the women, there was the Woman’s Pleasure Club, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and a short-lived unnamed cooking club.
A singing school started in 1883, affording residents, another opportunity to expand their talents. In the fall of 1888, Mr. Hart commenced taxidermy classes on Saturday mornings, and in 1899, a tennis club formed with the members meeting at a court built on the grounds of the L. C. Mead home.
The young people had many opportunities for recreation too. Along with their own literary society, they had The Highland Helpers, a club for young men. Additionally, they enjoyed boating on the lake, bicycling, fishing, and hunting, ice-skating in the winter, dances, tennis, concerts, and after-school activities.
Croquet was a favorite game, played by all ages. Whittling balls out of pine knots, Highlandlake citizens played the game at every opportunity. Even winter did not deter these dedicated players. They simply packed the snow down on the playing field and proceeded with their game.
Debating and literary societies dominated the Highlandlake entertainment scene. In January 20, 1882, the Longmont Ledger highlighted these pursuits calling Highlandlake:
One of the brightest settlements intellectually to be found in the state. [. . . ] They have a literary society, which has been divided into three divisions, and each one is struggling to do the best. They even tackle Shakespearean plays, The Merchant of Venice being on the boards.
Despite all of these activities, the serious business of building a town was by far the most important. An 1883 Longmont Ledger column reports that residents were in the midst of a “mania” of building, rebuilding and decorating. A few examples of those listed states that, Lorin Mead added to the length of his house, built a veranda on the south side, and repainted; while F. B. Davis made an addition to his residence on the corner, and F. P. Waite doubled the size of his dwelling. In the month of May alone, E. C. Dunbar moved his house 75 yards to the west and foundations for three new homes (for L. D. Oviatt, F. B. Weston, and Dr. M. L. Mead), were laid.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Highlandlake was growing into a well-known spot for wealthy Denverites looking for a respitefrom city life. The Gateley’s hotel/boarding house was usually filled to capacity, and L.C. Mead was planning another larger, upscale hotel. This one would be located on the northeastern bank of the lake in the central business district and be, “Thoroughly modern in all its details.”Telephone service had also arrived in July of 1899 to the delight of almost everyone, and local residents were anticipating a gas line to provide street and home lighting soon.
Attracted by all the growth and activity in the area, businesses were springing up along Main Street. Interspersed between residents homes were two mercantiles, two blacksmith shops, a barbershop, confectionary, meat market, bank, fraternity hall/ dance hall, school, church, flour/feed mill, scales company, pool hall, and a post office.
Plans for a railroad were also being actively pursued. Railroad surveyors came through in 1887, driving stakes along the half-section line east of Main Street, but 14 years later, there were still no tracks laid. Desperate for action, the June 28, 1901 edition of the Longmont Ledger announced that a large number of Highlandlake farmers were planning to grow sugar beets that year, hoping that this would be a way of getting a railroad or trolley line. Paul Mead wrote and preformed a song, extolling the virtues of planting beets in order to bring the railroad and to encourage the farmers in their efforts. In 1903, excitement grew about the possibility of an electric railroad from Greeley coming. Surveyors came several times in 1904 and 1905 in preparation for the future railroad. The September, 18, 1905, Longmont Ledger proclaimed, “The Sugar Beet Railroad will soon be running.” With the railroad imminent, the community felt assured of its future.
However, disaster hit in 1906 when the promised railroad bypassed Highlandlake by nearly two miles to the east. On February 19th, 1906 a plat was filed for a new town to be located alongside the west side of the railroad tracks. Called Mead, after Paul Mead, L. C. Mead’s nephew, on whose land the new town was located; it did not take long for everyone in Highlandlake to realize that Highlandlake’s future had taken a turn for the worse. On March 17, 1908, the new town finally received its incorporation papers, making Mead an official town. Church and school bells pealed out the news in celebration of this important milestone, prompting Isabella Terry True, a Highlandlake resident, to record in her diary, “When I heard the bells ringing today for the new town of Mead, it was as if they were tolling the death knell of Highlandlake.”
By 1916, nearly all of the public buildings and most of the houses had been picked up and moved to the new town of Mead. Only the church, parsonage, and the schoolhouse remained on the once flourishing Main Street. In 1920, the parsonage was sold at auction to a Swedish immigrant family named Eckman. Shortly thereafter, the church’s congregation, no longer large enough to afford a pastor, closed the church’s doors. Christmas of 1921 the school shut down, with its former students now attending the new Consolidated School in Mead. From that point on, Highlandlake became only a small cluster of homes in unincorporated Weld County, Colorado.
This page was updated on: April 16, 2016
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