Florence has a fascinating and colorful history that molded the town. People came to Eastern Fremont County for its wide open spaces for ranching and rich and fertile soil for farming, but the future town of Florence had so much more to offer.
In 1830, a French trader known as “Maurice” established the first trading post on Adobe Creek, seven miles south of the present town in the Florence Mountain Park area.
In 1838, a great battle was fought between the Sioux and Arapaho Indians and the settlers who hid in Maurice’s fort. A courier was sent for assistance from the local Utes and a victory was won by the settlers.
The first American settlement on Adobe Creek was established sometime between 1840 and 1846. Those who led the company were Governor Charles Bent, L.P. Lupton, Colonel Ceran St. Vrain, Charles Beaubien, L.V. Maxwell, and John C. Fremont, who is also known as “The Pathfinder.” There is a large park and a statue commemorating Mr. Fremont just west of the town on Highway 115- Pathfinder Park.
The first settlement of what is now Florence proper consisted of a few buildings in 1870. When James McCandless developed his holding and struck oil, he plotted his 160 acre farm into a town site. He asked others, such as Edwin Lobach, to join him and donate some land to make a real town.The engineer who was hired to survey the plat became well acquainted with the three year old daughter of McCandless; he suggested her name, Florence, as the name of the town. Florence was incorporated in 1887 and McCandless became the first Mayor and Postmaster. The entire McCandless family has a fascinating history, including involvement in the Presidential flag design and a Medal of Honor.
The Florence Oil Fields are the second oldest in the United States and home to the first oil well west of the Mississippi River. Discovered in 1862, this oil well is still pumping today. Florence is located on a bluff-protected bend of the Arkansas River as it breaks out of the Rocky Mountains of Central Colorado on its way to the Mississippi River. The river’s unique position and history have produced many rare natural, physical, and cultural resources enjoyed by Florence.
The oil, coal, fossils, and topography left behind by the Paleozoic seas have provided the natural resources for many cultures; from early Native American tribes, seeking wintering grounds and oil for medicinal and waterproofing, through the Spanish (1562), French (1682), Mexican (1821), and Texans (1836) settlers. In 1861, Colorado became a territory and later achieved statehood in 1876.
The site that later became Florence, on the southern bank of the Arkansas River, occupied natural access routes North and South along the Front Range and East to West from the Mississippi. These routes were used by many like Zebulon Pike (1806), LeDuc (1851), gold seekers (1859), and later William Jackson Palmer with the railroads (1872).
1894 saw the opening of the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad which opened the flow of Cripple Creek gold into Florence’s nine processing mills. With the many refining and reduction mills, the town flourished until the turn of the century. At that point, ore from the gold mines decreased and fires took their toll on many of the local mills.
WWI created a demand for oil and the Continental Oil Company closed sections of Florence to accommodate pipe lines and equipment. Florence prospered until an explosion in 1925 leveled East Main Street. Florence further declined during the Great Depression of 1929 and its farming suffered in the Dust Bowl of 1931.
Since then, Florence has become a destination for travelers and antique collectors, an ideal location for small business owners, the Antique Capitol of Colorado, and most importantly... the place 3,800 people call home. Citizens of Florence take pride in the rich history of the town and work hard to preserve the original splendor.
The various antique dealers in original Victorian buildings on Main Street seem to bring back to life the Florence of the 1880s when the town was in its prime. Art galleries are filling in the spaces as artists find room for studios and workshops. The people of Florence can walk to restaurants, shops, and parks while taking in scenes from a town preserved in time!