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March 2024

The Mysterious Woman: Miss Stella M. Newell

By Stories

They say behind every good man is a woman, but in the case of the hundreds relying on the water of the North Poudre Irrigation Company it was just one woman—Miss Stella M. Newell.

Stella Newell, born in 1885, grew up near St. Louis, Missouri. After contracting tuberculosis, she moved to Fort Collins in 1914, a common move when clean air of the West was thought to cure ailing lungs. Less common, in 1914, was a young woman striking out on her own. For six years Stella worked a variety of jobs—even spending time as postmistress of Coalmont, a rural community near Walden, Colorado—but in 1920, she was offered a job that changed her life, secretary and treasurer of the North Poudre Irrigation Company.

1933 Audit, p.161. North Poudre Irrigation Company Records. Water Resources Archives, Fort Collins, Colorado.

The North Poudre Irrigation Company, made up of nineteen reservoirs, hundreds of miles of ditches, and hundreds of shareholders, was (and is) vital to farming in Northern Colorado. Shortly after farmers began settling here in the 1870s, they realized rainfall would not provide enough water to grow crops. As a solution, they began constructing a complex network of irrigation reservoirs and ditches, founding companies to build and maintain them, including North Poudre in 1901. Running such a company was no small task, so in 1920 they hired Stella.

Fort Collins Courier June 194, 1920. P.3. Accessed on

Stella managed day-to-day operations and finances, assisted with the purchase and sale of stock and shares, secured renters for farms and water rights, answered inquiries and legal questions, testified in water rights cases, and answered thousands of pages of correspondence. In an era before email, computers, or in some cases direct telephone lines, this was no small feat. In most cases, the correspondence is businesslike, Stella often signing simply as “secretary,” but upon occasion, especially when corresponding with fellow women, personal notes, political discussions, and friendly requests appear. Stella was the brains and heart behind the operation—in fact, a shareholder once wrote that when Stella was out sick none of her bosses knew enough to fill in!  In an era where a woman with a career was uncommon, Stella devoted her life to this work.

Stella was also very involved in the Fort Collins community. She organized the Delphian Society (think book club on steroids), was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star (women’s branch of the Masons), attended the First Presbyterian Church, and was an early and lifelong member of the Business and Professional Women’s Club. While Stella never married, she was loved by many, appearing frequently as an attendee in social gatherings, trips, and wedding parties! She rented a plethora of apartments around Fort Collins, even living in the Northern Hotel for years!

Sadly, the poor health that brought Stella west followed her all her life and in 1953, after thirty-three years in office she resigned from the irrigation company due to illness. She died in 1956 and is buried in Grandview Cemetery in Fort Collins.

You might be wondering, “Gee for such an important person, where’s her photo?” We’d like to know the answer to that too! Despite combing several archives and sources, Cache NHA staff and local archivists have been unable to find a photo of Stella! What we’ve discovered is that despite decades of critical work, her tenure is rarely mentioned or remembered and there is no known photograph of her. In a sad way, this is a bit poetic. A woman who was in many ways taken for granted remains in some ways invisible even to us. Stella offers us a small look at the often-hidden work women did to build industries and communities across the West.


This story was compiled from research conducted by Cache NHA staff including records at the Fort Collins Archives, Colorado State University Water Resource Archives–North Poudre Irrigation Company Records, on Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection/, and U.S. Census Records.


Image 1

1933 Audit, p.161. North Poudre Irrigation Company Records. Water Resources Archives, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Image 2

Annual Reports, 1941-1965, image 110. North Poudre Irrigation Company Records. Water Resources Archives, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Image 3

Annual Reports, 1909-1920, image 193. North Poudre Irrigation Company Records. Water Resources Archives, Fort Collins, Colorado.

Image 4

Correspondence. February 1935. WNPR Box 39, Cor. 1935 Jan-Mar. North Poudre Irrigation Company Records. Water Resource Archives, Fort Collins, CO.

Image 5

Fort Collins Courier June 194, 1920. P.3. Accessed on

The Cost of Water Poudre River Forum 2024

By Events, News, Uncategorized

On Friday, March 1 the Poudre River Forum, “The Cost of Water,” wrapped up at Aims Community College Welcome Center in Greeley. There was over 220 people in attendance.

“I found the varying views most impactful,” said one attendee. “It was obvious that not everyone in the room could agree on everything, but the common goal was the Cache la Poudre River’s best interests, and I loved that.”

The morning was dedicated to laying out the costs of water while the afternoon provided insights into the current solutions being explored and implemented in Northern Colorado.

The morning panel: Laying Out the Costs

Panelists: Adam Jokerst, Westwater Research; Dr. Chris Goemans, Colorado State University; Donnie Dustin, City of Fort Collins; Calar Chaussee, Town of Wellington Mayor; Moderator: Zach Thode, Roberts Ranch

The afternoon panel: Working toward Solutions

Panelists: Dena Egenhoff, City of Greeley; Karen Schlatter, Colorado Water Center; Christ Matkins, Ally Utility Consulting; Kate Ryan, Colorado Water Trust

The presentation slides are available here.

The videos are available on the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area’s YouTube channel.

“It was my first time attending, and I will absolutely be back. Great information the entire day and I really walked away with so much more knowledge than walking in.”


The 2024 Poudre Pioneer Award was presented to Randy Gustafson during a lunchtime speech from Katie Donahue, Director of Natural Areas with City of Fort Collins, and Kellen Dowdy, Water Resource Planning and Watershed Program Manager with City of Greeley.

The day wrapped up with hearty laughter and engaging conversation between Alex Hager, KUNC reporter, and keynote speaker, Robert Sakata.

“Without the farmer, you would be hungry, naked and sober,” said Sakata with a laugh as he pointed to his shirt with the saying.

A casual reception capped the day allowing attendees to connect over beverages crafted from Poudre River water.

Thank you to our local, state and US legislators in attendance for caring about water issues in Colorado and being a part of the solution.

Thank you to Horse & Dragon Brewing Company and Odell Brewing Company for providing refreshments. Our sincere gratitude to attendees, volunteers and sponsors who made the event possible, including the City of Greeley, Northern Water and Fort Collins Utilites. A huge thank you to the Aims Community College event staff.

We hope you join us for forum next year on March 7, 2024!