Before 1876 Crowley County was under the control of the Cheyenne Indians. Because of the mild climate the area was used for winter encampments. A favorite pastime of county residents is looking for Indian artifacts. Arrowheads and food preparation items are the most numerous items found.
When the State of Colorado was accepted into the Union in 1876 the area was known as Bent County. In 1889 the western section of Bent County broke away and became known as Otero County. Crowley County received state approval to form its own county government and was incorporated on August 5, 1911. The Town of Ordway became the county seat.
In the late 1880s numerous irrigation projects were happening throughout the state. Crowley County was the home to one of the more ambitious projects. In 1888 Mr. T.C. Henry began construction on a canal which was to run eighty-five miles. The project became known as the Colorado Canal Company and began delivering water to farms in 1891. The canal would eventually irrigate over 50,000 acres of land.
During this period the railroad began expanding into Crowley County. Olney Springs, Crowley, Ordway and Sugar City became incorporated towns and each flourished along side the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
By the early 1900s Crowley County was known as one of the prime agricultural areas in the state. Before the age of refrigeration and highways the county had many fine orchards, canning factories and even ice houses for shipping cantaloupes across the country by rail. The National Sugar Company built a sugar factory in Sugar City and processed beets for several decades.
The lure of prime new farm ground and opportunity attracted many different immigrant groups. German farmers familiar with the beet industry were attracted to the area in large numbers. Japanese and Hispanic laborers recruited to work in the fields and orchards settled here, bought farms and raised families. During this entire period the ranching industry north of the canal flourished on what seemed like an inexhaustible supply of grass for its cattle.
The years surrounding the First World War were boom times for Crowley County. The war destroyed agriculture in much of Europe resulting in relatively high commodity prices for most agricultural goods. Business prospered, the population grew, schools were built and the future looked bright.
It must be remembered that Crowley County's climate is characterized as semi-arid, or high desert. The average precipitation is approximately 11 inches per annum and temperatures can range from the nineties in the summer to the near zero in the winter. Beginning in the late 1920s the climate for the entire High Plains began to turn dryer. During the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, millions of acres of farm ground were destroyed by wind erosion. Crowley County was not spared the ravages of the Dust Bowl nor the Great Depression which accompanied it. For two years the Canal system didn't have any water to deliver to any of its farmers. Ranchers were forced to sell their herds and the entire economy of the region suffered.
The nation's economy slowly began to turn around with the Federal government's effort to re-arm the country in reaction to events in Europe and Asia. With America's entrance into World War II the whole economy was directed at the war effort. Pueblo's steel mills hired men and the Army opened the Pueblo Ordinance Depot which employed many county residents. With the draft taking many young men off the farms, harvesting America's crops became critical. German POWs were used by Crowley County farmers to help with beet harvest during the closing months of the war.
World War II also brought another wave of newcomers to Crowley County. War paranoia caused suspicion to fall on Japanese-Americans living in California. They were forced to relocate away from the coast. Many of these Japanese-Americans came to stay with relatives and friends who lived in Crowley County. There is a plaque at the Heritage Center in the Town of Crowley honoring Crowley County for providing a home to displaced Japanese-Americans during the war.
The years following the Second World War brought many changes to Crowley County. The nation's vegetable production concentrated in frost-free regions of southern California and Florida. With the introduction of sugar from Hawaii and Cuba domestic sugar production faced serious competition. Another protracted drought struck the area in the 1950s and many farmers relocated to Kansas and Nebraska.
For many years, overtures were made by municipal interests to purchase the water rights owned by the farmers under the Colorado Canal. In the 1960s a substantial portion of the trans-mountain water from the Twin Lakes system was sold to the cities of Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Aurora. As farming continued to suffer set backs, growing Front Range cities increased their ownership in the canal company. By the 1990s there were only a few thousand acres still in irrigated production.
Civic leaders realized with the decline in agriculture something else would have to replace it in the county's economy. They successfully lobbied the state legislature and won approval for the construction of a 900 bed medium security correctional facility to be built. In 1997 a privately owned 1000 bed correctional facility received local approval. Many county residents now work in these facilities and others make Crowley County their home, appreciating the rural lifestyle.
In 1993, a reorganized Crowley County Heritage Society was successful in having the 1914 Crowley grade school placed on the State Historical property list; the only building with that distinction in Crowley County. Soon afterward work began on the renovation and restoration of the building. Today the building functions as a community center, the Town of Crowley's town hall and a wonderful local museum. The museum houses artifacts from the County history: archives from the Twin Lakes Reservoir Company, abstracts from numerous farms and copies of the county's newspapers, The Ordway New Era and all the Sugar City Gazettes.