Berthoud is a semirural town south of Loveland in both Larimer and Weld Counties. It started in the early 1860s as Little Thompson Station, a stagecoach stop near the Little Thompson River about halfway between Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Denver on the Cherokee and Overland Trails. Berthoud was incorporated in 1888, four years after the settlement moved a mile north of its original location along the Little Thompson River. On the fertile river bottom, Berthoud became a strong agricultural community. The Colorado Central Railroad played an integral role in the town’s relocation and growth, carrying agricultural products out of Berthoud and bringing in travelers, immigrants, and laborers. Since 1990 Berthoud has become attractive to Front Range residents looking for affordable housing between northern Colorado and the Denver metro area, and its population has grown by 140 percent, reaching about 9,000 in 2019.
Indigenous people—such as the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute peoples—lived in the Little Thompson Valley before white immigrants arrived; the Arapaho and Cheyenne occupied the plains, while the Ute lived in the neighboring mountains and foothills. Like other river valleys along the Front Range, the Little Thompson was an important wintering site for the Cheyenne and Arapaho. With an influx of whites to the region in the 1860s, these Indigenous peoples left the land either voluntarily or by force. Following the Colorado Gold Rush of 1858–59, the 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise created a reservation for the Cheyenne and Arapaho in eastern Colorado. By the late 1860s, whites had forced most of the Indigenous people on the plains out of what was then Colorado Territory and had made treaties with the Ute people that forced them to live west of the Continental Divide.
Beginning in the 1850s, white immigrants traveled through the Little Thompson Valley along the Cherokee and Overland Trails. Many of these travelers were miners on their way to the Front Range mining districts or California, where they hoped to cash in on mineral rushes. Others used the Overland Trail for cattle drives. Some, like Ben Holladay and his Overland Stage Company, arrived to serve the many travelers passing through the region. In 1862 Holladay established Little Thompson Station, where stagecoaches carrying travelers and mail could stop on their journey. With the station established, immigrants began claiming land near the Little Thompson River under the Homestead Act of 1862. In the 1870s, the Little Thompson settlement grew around the homestead claim that Lewis Cross staked in 1872 at the river bottom near the heavily trafficked wagon trail.
Water and the Railroad
Access to water and the railroad were the two main factors in Berthoud’s location, founding, and growth. In 1875 the Boulder and Larimer County Irrigating and Manufacturing Company built the valley’s first reservoir, Ish Lake, where water from the Little Thompson River was diverted for agricultural use. The Handy Ditch Company emerged in 1881 and helped construct the Handy Dam on the Big Thompson River, which brought water to the Little Thompson Valley via Handy Ditch.
In 1877 the Colorado Central Railroad laid tracks in the area, which opened the Little Thompson Valley to further development. Captain Edward L. Berthoud, a Swiss native, surveyed the land for the new tracks as the railroad’s chief engineer; railroad officials then renamed the community after Berthoud. In the winter of 1883–84, the settlement moved one mile north, where Peter Turner platted a new home site near the new train depot and switch the railroad was building. In 1888 the residents voted to incorporate the town, and Berthoud was officially born.
Agriculture and Migrant Labor
From the late 1800s, Berthoud’s farmers grew wheat, corn, alfalfa, potatoes, and various fruits on the fertile land near the Little and Big Thompson Rivers. After the Panic of 1893, when some crop prices crashed, Berthoud, like its neighbors to the north, saw the potential that sugar beets held for boosting the economy. In 1898 representatives of Colorado Agricultural College in Fort Collins (now Colorado State University) provided sugar beet seeds and growing instructions to Berthoud farmers. Starting in 1900, the Great Western Sugar Company began opening factories across the region, and sugar beets quickly became the most important crop in northern Colorado. Berthoud requested a factory, but instead the company decided to build in Loveland and Longmont, larger cities that were better prepared. This is arguably one of the reasons Berthoud remains the small town it is today, as a factory in Berthoud would have brought in more residents and business.
The valley’s farmers started planting sugar beets but quickly realized they lacked a sufficient workforce. Berthoud farmers began employing German Russian and Mexican workers in the 1910s. These two immigrant groups became a part of the town’s community and culture over the next several decades. During World War II, Berthoud farmers used German prisoners of war from the POW camp in Greeley to supplement their agricultural labor force.
The latter half of the twentieth century brought important developments to Berthoud. In 1950 workers on the Colorado–Big Thompson Project began construction of Carter Lake. The reservoir, about five miles from the town center, was part of a multidecade project to bring water from the mountains into northeast Colorado’s driest areas. During construction, many of the workers and planners lived in Berthoud, which brought increased income to the town. Construction finished in 1952, and by 1954 the reservoir was filled. Today Carter Lake not only provides a critical water supply to local towns and agriculture but is also a popular recreation area.
Berthoud has faced several challenges in recent decades. Since the 1920s, Berthoud’s Mountain Avenue was part of US Highway 287, which connects Longmont, Loveland, and Fort Collins. In 2007, however, the Colorado Department of Transportation rerouted Highway 287 to the north and west of town, bypassing downtown Berthoud. This change decreased auto traffic and thus visitors to Berthoud’s downtown businesses. Additionally, Berthoud suffered when heavy rains led to severe flooding throughout northern Colorado in 2013, and the Handy Dam was washed out (although it was quickly repaired).
While agriculture was historically important in Berthoud, by 2016 only 1.3 percent of local jobs were part of the agriculture, forestry, and fishing and hunting industries. Construction and manufacturing began to dominate Berthoud’s economy as building residential housing became more profitable than running farms. These affordable houses between the larger cities of Loveland and Longmont make Berthoud an ideal bedroom community.
Despite this growth, the natural environment remains a key part of the Berthoud community. The town currently boasts nine parks within its four-square-mile boundary and has also been home to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy’s headquarters since 2002. Tournament Players Club (TPC) Colorado, an 865-acre golf community nestled between three of the town’s reservoirs, opened in Berthoud in 2020, choosing the location for its abundance of land and easy access from the northern Front Range. This new course has already brought increased residential and commercial development to northwest Berthoud, and it will draw tourists interested in playing the course and watching future tournaments.