Published: June 1, 2011 By

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CU Heritage Center

It started with a loud knock on Frank Tyler’s door in the dead of night in January 1874, as the story goes.

When the sleepy Boulder resident opened his door, he found an anxious David Nichols standing in the freezing rain. Nichols had ridden five hours from Denver to Boulder on horseback for one thing — a dream of building a university in Boulder. And he needed Tyler’s help.

If Boulder residents did not raise $15,000 quickly to match territorial legislature funds set aside to build a university, the pioneer town could lose the university to other eager communities. Tyler agreed to take responsibility for the fundraising drive, sending Nichols back into the cold night to share the plan with other prominent residents.

Before dawn Nichols had the support he needed, so he exchanged his tired horse for a fresh one and rode to Denver. He guaranteed the legislators that Boulder residents would contribute money to the university. And so was born the university’s first capital campaign.

Residents donated $15 to $1,000, sometimes borrowing money to contribute. Others offered land for the university. In many cases the gift placed a hardship on families struggling in the small pioneer town. But their great personal sacrifice transformed the community.

Old Main was built for $28,700 in 1876. Forty-four students enrolled that first year with two faculty members.

Today CU-Boulder is one of the nation’s leading public universities, offering 3,600 courses each year in approximately 150 areas of study. In April university leaders announced a $1.5 billion systemwide campaign, Creating Futures, to boost its four core areas of excellence — learning and teaching; discovery and innovation; community and culture and health and wellness.

When you remember your CU experience, think of the people who made CU possible for you and the thousands who have walked through Norlin Quad and beyond. Follow in their footsteps. Contribute and leave CU a stronger place.

Learn more and donate at

Note: In 1864, Nichols participated in the Sand Creek Massacre. In the words of Paul Danish (Hist’65), “In every human being there is a capacity for great good and evil. Choose carefully.”