The Life of A Quonset Hut

On the edge of Fort Collins, Colorado lives a community of metallic creatures.

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Together, they spend their days like most Coloradoans.

They golf,

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they fish,

and they picnic.

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They have jobs…

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…and they have friends.

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Their homes are a collection of old structures that have been gathered together for the community. Like the creatures themselves, each has its own history. Their windows and doors, smiles and limbs have each lived other lives somewhere else.

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Here is one of those stories.

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During WWII, American troops were scattered across the world

Between ships and planes and trucks and boots, they were constantly moving to new places. Accompanying these movements were all sorts of necessary supplies, including temporary shelters.

Enter, the Quonset Hut.

Quonset Huts in Duxford, England
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These semicircular, prefabricated structures were perfect for accompanying troops on their travels.

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During WWI, the British used an earlier variation of Quonset Huts known as Nissen huts, named after their inventor, Peter Nissen.

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Over the course of his life, Peter called the United States, Canada, South Africa, and England home. As needed, he picked up and moved, much like the structures he designed.

By WWII, Nissen had passed away, and his huts had evolved. Hundreds of thousands of Quonset huts were produced on the Quonset Point peninsula in Davisville, Rhode Island.

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After construction, they were shipped to where they were needed and assembled using manuals:

 

After assembly, the military used them for all sorts of purposes, including…

Transmission Stations

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Machine Shops

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Chapels

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…and when the war ended, many were ready to be disassembled and shipped away for new purposes.

In the fall of 1945, President Roy Green of Colorado Agricultural and Mechanical College was in a pickle.

The troops who had spent the past few years trekking out across the world were now heading back to the United States. Thanks to the GI Bill, their sights were set on college. The incoming influx of students was beneficial to the land grant college, but it posed a problem for the administration: where would the students live?

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Complicating matters further, many of these returning troops were quickly getting married and starting families. Campus housing would not only have to accommodate the new students but their wives and children, too.

Meanwhile, the President Chandler Post of the Chamber of Commerce of the surrounding city of Fort Collins was encountering a similar problem.

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In the late 1800s, the tidy town had established its identity as a beet-producing, lamb-slaughtering northern Colorado staple. Its Old Town (upon which Disney’s Main Street, U.S.A. is based) was a cosy triangular district, and the wide residential streets were dotted mainly with quaint single family homes. In 1945, demand for housing was high, rent was surging, and construction couldn’t keep up.

To address their mutual problem, Presidents Green and Post formed a joint coalition. 

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“Tin tents,” “spam cans”—Quonset Huts were, as the men decided, the perfect solution.

The Bauhaus-inspired structure was simplistic, adaptable, and shippable—and by 1945, sold as a kit by Montgomery Ward. Plans were announced to gather and construct a community of Quonset Huts on the corner of Colorado A & M’s campus. Veteran’s Village, it would be called. Green and Post were chuffed.

Murmuring began in the surrounding streets. Fort Collins residents were used to late 19th Century sturdy, individualized homes, each with its own personality. There was no room in their community, according to many, for stark utilitarianism. 

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Many Fort Collins residents rejected the idea, but soon Veteran’s Village was built. 

Rubbing further salt in the wound, a few years later, a supplementary trailer park was added to the Village. 

Years passed. Veterans and their young families moved in and out of the Quonset Huts.

The university, which continued to grow, acquired the funds to build more “permanent” housing options for its students and Fort Collins expanded around the campus.

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Veteran’s Village was disbanded.

The Quonset Huts were sold off, most to residents of Fort Collins. What was meant to be a temporary housing solution continues to identify the city’s landscape. 

These days, there are several dozen Quonset Huts in Fort Collins that date from the post-war era.

Some of the more industrial structures were never part of the Veteran’s Village. They were bought from catalogs or directly from the military by local businesses and farmers. Those that were part of the Village are scattered across mostly private land, including in the Swetsville Zoo.

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Credit: Kerry Ulm, taken at the Swetsville Zoo