Known as the Queen City of the Plains, Sterling is located in Logan County in the Northeastern corner of Colorado on Interstate 76. Having the largest population, estimated at approximately 13,900, of those communities in Colorado east of Pueblo, Sterling is the regional shopping hub for Northeast Colorado and Southwest Nebraska. The Logan County Chamber of Commerce has links to the local businesses in Sterling.
The City of Sterling relies upon various advisory boards for recommendations concerning City development. These boards include the Planning Commission, Public Works Board, Parks, Library and Recreation Board, Personnel Board, Sterling Urban Renewal Authority Board and Sterling Housing Authority (the final two being quasi-municipal boards).
Sterling was incorporated on December 13, 1884. The City of Sterling Charter was adopted on May 2, 1950 and became a Home Rule City on January 1, 1952.
The first inhabitants of the plains were the Indians – Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Blackfoot, Sioux, Kiowa and Pawnee. They survived and even thrived. The first non-Indians were French-Canadian trappers who passed through the area on their way to the beaver-rich foothills of the Rockies. They stayed only as long as there was a demand for the pelties, and then moved on. Explorers such as Stephen H. Long passed through what is now Logan County on June 26, 1820. He referred to this area as “The Great American Desert.”
Discovery of gold in California in 1849, and ten years later in the Colorado mountains made the Overland Trail (a branch of the Oregon Trail) the most heavily traveled road in the country. Between 1862-1868, thousands of brave and adventurous people pressed across the unmarked prairie in search of gold and silver in the snow-capped Rockies. Men like John Wesley Iliff recognized the wealth of the prairie and developed enormous ranching empires. Other enterprising men established freighting businesses, started newspapers, opened general stores, etc.
William Shaw Hadfield from Derbyshire England, arrived in the area in 1871 and established his home on an island in the South Platte River, a few miles south of present day Sterling. He named the island Sarinda. A post office was established there and newcomers to the area were made welcome on the island. Mr. Hadfield is credited with being the first permanent white settler in the area. Others came before him, but for various reasons, left the area.
The Civil War had left its mark on the South, so soon afterwards eyes turned to the West and the land of opportunity and freedom. These people first settled in the Union Colony (present day Greeley), but found the best farmland already taken, so came back east along the river and settled along its banks in an area about four miles north of the present town site. Here they built sod huts and dugouts along the treeless river valley. They built the first irrigation ditch in 1873.
In 1881 news reached the settlement that the Union Pacific Railroad was going to extend its line from Julesburg to LaSalle. The members of the Southern Colony at “old Sterling” knew that if a railroad came through this territory, a town would be established somewhere near their settlement. Pioneer leader Minos C. King, was elected to go to Omaha to meet with railroad officials to offer them 80 acres of land for a right-of-way if shops and a roundhouse were located there. The offer was accepted.
The land on which Sterling stands was pre-empted by John E. Boyd, who sold it to Mr. King for $400.00. The site for the new town was surveyed and platted by railroad surveyor David Leavitt, from Sterling, Illinois. While living in Sterling (Colorado) Mr. Leavitt was also Justice of the Peace, lawyer, civil engineer and the “general information bureau.” Mrs. Leavitt was a physician and rendered aid to the settlers in their times of need. She also became the first postmistress in the new town.
The new town consisted of 19 blocks. It was bordered on the east by what is now Front Street; on the south by Cedar Street; on the west by Fourth Street; and on the southwest by what is now Division Avenue from Fourth to Cedar. The northern boundary was a diagonal line extending a little north of the corner of what is now Chestnut and Front Streets – to about where the railroad tracks cross Main Street. The railroad tracks followed the diagonal of the South Platte River; hence, the old part of Sterling is on the diagonal. From Division Avenue westward the streets now run true north and south (and east and west). To encourage development of the town, Mr. King donated lots for a church, for schools, other public buildings, and for a cemetery – the old cemetery north of town now abandoned.
After laying out the new town, most of the settlers from the old Sterling settlement moved to the new locality. Mr. King and Mr. R.E. Smith entered into a business partnership and opened the first lumberyard and general store. As soon as the railroad went through in 1881, a section house and depot were built. It was not long before the Pacific Hotel near the depot was built.
Other businesses sprang up. With lumber now available, “stick” houses were built. The R.C. Perkins family built the first frame house near what is now the south edge of the city. It was destroyed by fire shortly after being built.
By 1884, the city had grown and articles of incorporation were completed. George Wilson was the first mayor. Other knowledge of the early history of Sterling is limited by the fact that there were no city records saved before 1887. The records were apparently lost en route from Weld County, which Sterling was part of at that time. In 1887, Sterling was made the county seat by then governor, Alva Adams.