Facilities Master Plan

General History of Fort Lewis College

Military post, Indian school, rural high school, junior college, liberal arts college – Fort Lewis has played all those roles over the past 110 years. Isolated in southwestern Colorado, Fort Lewis was part of the army’s picket line of defense that separated two cultures, two peoples, who both sought to live in their own way in this beautiful land of soaring mountains, haunting mesas, fertile river valleys, and dry uplands.  Then came the day when the army was no longer needed – the larger, more technologically advanced American-European culture had emerged victorious.

 Fort Lewis evolved in 1891 into an Indian boarding school that served to direct the now reservation-bound people down the white man’s road.  For nearly twenty years young men and women, Indian and some Angelo and Chicano, attended school at the old post.  Swords were literally turned into plowshares.

Sacred Trust: The Birth and Development of
Fort Lewis College
, Duane A. Smith, 1991

Fort Lewis College seal - 1911From its origins in the American settlement of the Southwest, Fort Lewis College has, since 1962, operated as a wholly undergraduate, state-supported, liberal arts college, currently enrolling approximately 4,300 students.  Fort Lewis numbers among an even  smaller group of colleges in its mandate to enroll qualified Native American students tuition-free.  This provision, in place since 1911 when the property was deeded to the State of Colorado by the federal government, is based on Fort Lewis’s historic role in Indian education and in recognition of the College’s initial location in Hesperus, Colorado on land appropriated by the federal government from its original inhabitants.

A junior college A & M program was added to the existing high school curriculum in 1925.  The high school curriculum was discontinued in 1933, and the College offered two years of college work as a branch of Colorado State University.  In 1956, the College moved to its permanent campus overlooking Durango, received its first North Center accreditation as a junior college in 1958, and introduced the first seven majors of its new baccalaureate program in 1962.  Today, all that remains of the curriculum of the College’s roots as an A & M school is its two-year program in agriculture, which ably continues to serve students in the still heavily agricultural southwest.