A piece of early Fort Collins history

The Collamer/Malaby Store

One of the Oldest Frame Buildings in the City

The wood-frame commercial building at 313 N. Meldrum St. has a long and interesting history, one that dates to the early years of Fort Collins. However, it was not originally located on this property. From the early 1880s into the early 1900s, it stood on the east side of College Avenue, one-half block north of Mountain Avenue (146 N. College Ave. / lot 13 in block 18). The building was constructed in the late winter and spring of 1881 for George T. Wilkins, who used it for the next fifteen years as his photography studio. During that period, many members of the community visited the building to have their portraits taken. The front space held a reception and sales room for customers. Behind that was the photography studio, which was illuminated by a skylight mounted in the roof’s north-facing slope. The building also contained a sleeping room and kitchen, which the Wilkins family lived in for about a year. 

In the summer of 1896, Wilkins sold the property to Thomas Quinn for $1,000. A division foreman for the Colorado & Southern Railroad and long-serving city councilman, he invested in numerous Fort Collins properties and was reported to be wealthy. Quinn held onto the building for three years. In late 1899, Quinn sold the property to Benjamin T. Whedbee for $1,200. He was an early pioneer who became a widely-respected figure in the Fort Collins community. Whedbee was in the mercantile business and became a prominent civic leader, serving as the first county treasurer, a member of the Fort Collins city council, and as the city’s mayor. Throughout the Quinn and Whedbee ownership years, the building was occupied by a millinery shop. The sisters St. Claire, who ran a millinery in the building from 1901-1906 also lived in the back room of the store. 

Whedbee sold the property on College Avenue in the summer of 1906 for $6,500 to the Commercial Bank and Trust, netting him a sizable profit. The bank acquired it with the goal of clearing the site and erecting a new building for its operations. At the time of the sale, the Fort Collins Courier reported that the lot held “one of the oldest frame buildings in the city.” This was defined a bit more in a subsequent article that declared it “the only frame building in the triangle.” This referred to the Old Town commercial district bordered by College Avenue, Jefferson Street and Linden Street. In other words, the property acquired by the bank held the last wood-frame commercial building still standing in the original downtown district.

Rather than demolishing the building, it was sold to Frank Collamer, who prepared to move it to another location in August. Collamer was a Fort Collins pioneer who ran an express business and wood yard. He had also been buying and selling properties in the city for many years. According to his daughter Ruth, who was ten years old at the time, her father had the building placed onto horizontal logs and over a period of two weeks hauled it several blocks to the west with the aid of a horse. There the building was placed at 313 N. Meldrum St., where it remains today.

Collamer opened a neighborhood grocery store in the building, operating it on a cash and carry basis, meaning no credit was allowed. In 1916, an L-shaped, wood-frame addition was constructed to wrap around the north and west sides of the original building. This space had its own customer entrance facing Meldrum and was occupied by the family’s wood and coal sales business. In 1921, Frank Collamer gave the store to his daughter, Emma Malaby. She repainted the sign on the building, renaming it the Emma Malaby Grocery. While Emma managed the store, the adjacent wood and coal business was conducted by her brother Fred. She also ran a second-hand shop out of the addition. Emma remained in business until 1943.

 The building was then boarded closed and remained unused for many years. When Emma died in 1967, the property was transferred to her brother Arthur. He, in turn, passed it on to his sister, Ruth Dermody, in 1980. In 1986, Ruth gave it to her son, Art Burrill. The following year, Art transferred the property to his son, Jim Burrill, who continues to own it today. In 1989, Jim and his wife Carol reopened the building and gave it new life. They added updated electrical wiring and a furnace and operated an antique store there until 1992. Since that time, the building has been closed and used for family storage.

In May 2023, Jim Burrill donated the store to Historic Larimer County. HLC has applied to the State Historical Fund for a Historic Structure Assessment grant to have the building thoroughly examined and documented. A Preservation Plan will also be developed for the building with recommendations on next steps to rehabilitate the building and bring it up to code and ready for use by the organization. HLC looks forward to inviting the public into this wonderful building. 

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Fort Collins, CO 80522

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