Breckenridge’s rich history is full of gold finds and mining, exploration and adventure, brothels and saloons, booms and busts. Founded in 1859 by a small group of prospectors, the town’s Gold Rush brought droves of settlers seeking their fortunes. Though not all found gold, each discovered the beauty of the Tenmile Range and the bounty of the landscape.
Breckenridge was inadvertently left off a U.S. map in the mid-1800s and became known as “Colorado’s Kingdom” until the mistake was discovered nearly a half a century later. Today, the community embraces this unique aspect of its past with Kingdom Days, a celebration of Breckenridge’s heritage. Those first settlers did more than erect a bustling town; they put their stamp on town history. And, as with Breckenridge townsfolk of today, the early settlers lived lives full of stories worth telling.
- Father John Lewis Dyer, an itinerant minister who embraced the mountain life, made his way to Breckenridge in the 1860s. Father Dyer regularly skied across the Continental Divide on 12-foot long wooden skis to deliver the Gospel, sacks of gold and mail to the mining population. In 1880, he founded a Methodist church that remains active today.
- Edwin Carter came to Colorado in search of gold, but when he saw the destruction that mining wreaked on wildlife, he embarked on a career as a naturalist. During his life, Carter assembled more than 3,000 specimens, many of which were used to launch the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Today, some of those original specimens can be seen at the Carter Museum.
- In 1879, Ford’s Chophouse opened – a seemingly small event, unless you consider the owner. Barney Ford became Breck’s first black businessman when the Chophouse opened, and he is considered Colorado’s first great leader of African American heritage. Highlights of Ford’s life story include his escape from slavery, work with the Underground Railroad and foundation of the state’s first adult education program.
- On July 23, 1887, the largest piece of gold ever found in Colorado was discovered in Breck. Tom Groves walked into town cradling the 13.5-pound, blanket-wrapped bundle that gained the name “Tom’s Baby.” Three days later, the nugget was put on a train to Denver and not seen for 85 years. In 1972, the Colorado History Museum examined gold specimens that were deposited in a Denver bank in 1926. Tom’s Baby was found, but over five pounds remain missing.
For more stories of Breckenridge’s past, visit the Breckenridge Welcome Center and Museum at 203 S. Main St (877.864.0868). Group and self-guided historical walking tours are available. The town also has one of the largest historic districts in the state of Colorado, with more than 200 structures on the National Register of Historic Places. For in-depth historical information, contact the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance at 970.453.9767 or visit BreckHeritage.com.
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