Every generation grows up thinking that, for the most part, things behave today much like they always have. So when it comes to transportation issues, we can’t imagine life without a car because we’ve grown up in a world where automobiles are not only ubiquitous, but cities have been built in such a way that you really can’t get around very well without one. We take it for granted that sidewalks are for people and streets are for cars. And we know, without the shadow of a doubt, that when you’re driving down the street, you stay on the right hand side of the road (unless you’re in some silly country where they drive on the left — but hey, you’re still clear on the fact that of course there’s a specific side of the street where you should ride).
But once upon a time, none of these things were true. It was very easy to live without a car. Though people did tend to stick to sidewalks, it was more a matter of avoiding the dust or mud rather than because the street wasn’t safe. And there was no sense at all that there was a correct side to be traveling on. All of which is evidenced in the above postcard that was taken in the early 1900s of Linden Street (where Old Town Square is today).
The first thing you might notice is that there’s a streetcar line running down the center of the street and a car turning off of Linden on to E. Mountain. I suspect the goal of this postcard was to show how cutting edge little ‘ole Fort Collins was with a streetcar line and *gasp* an automobile!
But the tracks of the car show that it wasn’t traveling down the righthand side of the street before it made its turn, but had been in the center, where the streetcar tracks are. And while there’s a horse and buggy that’s “riding right” as it heads towards Mountain, there’s two other horse drawn buggies that are riding left going from Mountain towards Walnut. And there’s a horse rider that looks like he’s aiming straight for an oncoming buggy as well as the street car. In other words, everyone drove wherever the heck seemed right to them. There was no sense that there was a specific side of the street that you should stick to while you travel. (In fact, the City Council had to make a law about riding right in 1913.)
People also walked wherever they wanted. Most people stuck to the stone/cement walkways along the buildings, and there were some people crossing the street using the stone/cement crosswalks. But there were also a few people out in the middle of the street.
Transportation, just over a hundred years ago, was still a largely ungoverned activity where everyone did as they liked. And for the most part, it worked. As long as the horses didn’t get spooked and start running out of control, everyone traveled at a slow enough pace that it was easy to avoid obstacles. It was a sociable activity where you could say hi to people as you passed. And if you needed to stop for a moment in the middle of the street, no worries. Everyone else would just go around you.
If you’d like to read more about the buildings in this photo, check out today’s Forgotten Fort Collins post on the same postcard image entitled, Linden Street… Before the Square Was There.
And one last note: In this one shot we see an automobile, a streetcar, a horseback rider, and several horse-drawn buggies. But if you look at the building over to the right, you’ll also note a bicycle leaning up against the store.
I found this image on eBay. I suspect the local Archive also has a copy, but there are so many photographs of Linden Street in the online Fort Collins Archive directory that I gave up after scrolling through several pages of photos.