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Brief History Of Breckenridge By Lisa Mercer

A Brief History of Breckenridge

Excerpt from Breckenridge: A Guide to the Sights and Slopes and Slopes of Summit County


by Lisa Marie Mercer


Why Breckenridge?


Of course, you’ve heard of Breckenridge, Colorado. Hasn’t everybody? Well, not exactly. Most people have heard of the Breckenridge Ski Resort. In fact, according to Frank Hall’s History of Colorado, the first documented use of skis in Colorado took place right here in Breckenridge. The idea started in the winter of 1859-60. Ten men were trapped in a snow-locked mining camp along the Blue River, near present-day Breckenridge. They constructed skis from pine or spruce trees and used them to transport provisions. These 25-pound skis ranged from 8-14 feet in length, and were usually 1/2 inch thick and about 4 inches wide. A single 8-10 feet long pole was used to steer and to brake. Since turning on these skis was impossible, skiers had to step around the poles in order to change directions.


Many historians believe that had it not been for skis, it would have taken the State of Colorado another decade to develop. If trains were stalled, telegraph lines down or avalanches created road travel dangers, the hearty skiers could be depended on to deliver the mail from town to town. So yes, there is an almost poetic symmetry in the fact that Breckenridge is considered to be a World Class Ski resort. However, it’s also a fascinating town, which few people take the time to explore.


This is unfortunate. Aside from its world-class skiing and snowboarding, Breckenridge is rich in history, arts and culture. It is also a vibrant community, which is often characterized by its unique sense of place. In his book, Blasted, Beloved Breckenridge, Mark Feister describes it best:


“If not born in Breckenridge, you didn’t belong until you had served an apprenticeship. Once you belonged, you belonged. Then came a loyalty that bound together. You didn’t really belong until you found your secret patch of wild raspberries, gooseberries, chokeberries or rare mushrooms-and heaven forbid, you didn’t expect anyone to reveal a favorite secret patch.”


Blasted, Beloved Breckenridge was published in 1973. Back then, skiing was still new to Breckenridge. Today one would substitute the words “secret powder stash” for secret patch of wild raspberries, gooseberries, chokeberries or rare mushrooms. While locals rarely give up these secrets, they are quite proud of the town, and will gladly reveal the best restaurants, gear shops or anything else you would like to know.


Locals are also fiercely opinionated, characterized by an almost Libertarian sense of independence. This seems to be a tradition dating back to the 1800s. Feister reports a newspaper commentary claiming that the laws of the State were “alright for musty Denver, but they couldn’t apply to Denver and couldn’t be enforced.”


This independent spirit has created a vital energy, which has inspired the formation of a town that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. If you’re looking for a place to bring your non-skiing significant other, come to Breckenridge. The shops, museums and art galleries will keep them occupied, as will the spas and fitness classes. Do you want to escape the summer heat? Come to Breckenridge and enjoy hiking, fishing and concerts by the Blue River. Attend the film festival, or a professional performance at the Backstage Theatre. There’s a whole lot more to Breckenridge than great skiing. However, to truly appreciate Breckenridge, one should learn a bit about its history.


A Nameless Town


Once upon a time, there was a town without a name. Perched majestically at 9,603 feet above sea level, this nameless town would one day be influenced by its people, its place and its products.  Today, we call it “Breckenridge,” and its primary products are skiing and snowboarding.  But back in the 1800s, its most coveted product was gold. Nowadays, the Breckenridge snow is considered to be the white gold of the millennium.  Ironically, as far as ski areas are concerned, Breckenridge was a bit late to the party.


America’s love affair with skiing began during World War II, with the establishment of the 10th Mountain Division. In 1942, the 87th Regiment of the 10th arrived in Camp Hale, which was located near Vail, Colorado.  Help with the recruitment process came from, of all places, Hollywood. Darryl Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox Studios, was an avid recreational skier. After producing Sun Valley Serenade, he decided to make a film about the latest techniques in ski instruction. Hoping that the film would give troops a paradigm to follow, the 87th allowed five of its best skiers to be in the film. Zanuck asked Otto Lang, one of the first ski instructors from St.Anton to come to the US, to direct the film.  Ski filmmaker John Jay assisted the production. For the action sequences, Lang put anoraks and caps on his 10 best instructors.  One of these was Fred Iselin, who would eventually become the director of the Ski Schools of Aspen.


The film was called The Basic Principles of Skiing, and featured Alan Ladd as a fictional 10th Mountain Division recruit. Although the film was not made for the sole purpose of recruitment, its glamour had that effect. The word was out. Skiing is sexy. As such, film crews flocked to Camp Hale to capitalize on the charisma of soldiers on skis. In 1944, Paulette Goddard and Sonny Tufts starred in I Love a Soldier, a film that examined the problems of wartime marriages. Paramount used members of the 10th for the action sequences of this film.


After the War, Peter Seibert, a former member of the 10th Mountain Division, founded Vail Ski resort. However, the idea of building the Breckenridge Ski Resort was not sparked until the late 1950s.  It was the brainchild of Bill Rounds of the Porter and Rounds Lumber Company. Inspired by Peter Seibert’s success in Vail, Rounds created an organization called the Summit County Development Corporation. At the time, Breckenridge had become a desolate area, with a population of 300. As such, land came cheap. The Summit County Development Corporation purchased 5,500 acres of land at $55 an acre .The initial plans included four ski lifts, a four passenger gondola, and an air strip for executives.


However, every cliché regarding the best laid plans proved to be true. First off, Peter Seibert attempted to oppose the new ski area, claiming that it would give Vail unfair competition. Then, a Labor Day storm slowed down the production process.


Fortunately, against all odds, the dream was realized on December 16, 1961. On this white letter day, the Peak 8 Ski Area opened with one double chair, a midway unloading station and one short T-bar. Rounds hired Aspen instructors Trygve Berge and Sigurd Rockne to run the ski school. Photos of these Norwegian ski pros can be seen on the second floor of the Breckenridge Welcome Center.


The following year brought a 375-foot double chair to the "Mach One" trail. Then, the 1962 season marked the first Ullr Dag festival.  This included a ski parade, competitions and aerial tricks demonstrated by the predominantly Norwegian ski school staff. Today, Ullr Fest is celebrated each January.


The Aspen Ski Area purchased Breckenridge in 1970. Then, in 1978, Aspen Skiing Company was sold to Twentieth Century Fox, who wanted to invest their vast profits from the hit movie Star Wars. The year 1993 brought an unusual buyer: the Ralston Purina pet food company. Perhaps this is why modern Breckenridge is one of the most dog-friendly towns in North America.


Nonetheless, to quote Jefferson Starship, “They’re always changing corporation names.” In 1996, Breckenridge was purchased by the Vail Resorts family. As such, many Breckenridge vacation packages, lift tickets and season passes feature a reciprocal arrangement with Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek, and Arapahoe Basin.


When the Eisenhower Tunnel was completed in 1973, the driving time from Denver to Breckenridge was reduced to an hour and a half. Due to its 11,013 elevation, it boasts the distinction of being the highest vehicular tunnel in the world. The Eisenhower is located within the Arapaho National Forest and is divided by two counties, Clear Creek County in the East and Summit County in the West. Needless to say, the building of the tunnel had a significant influence on the accessibility, and thus the popularity of the Breckenridge ski resort.  However, to truly appreciate the mountain, it behooves you to look at its ancient history.


The Utes


Long before the white men came in search of gold, and even longer before chairlifts and gondolas ascended its summits, this mountain region formed the summer hunting grounds of a nomadic tribe known as the Ute Native Americans. Their name, which means “Land of the Sun,” gave the State of Utah its name. This hunting and gathering society would move with the seasons, in order to search for the best places to hunt and gather. Legends tell us that before there was a National Weather Service, the Utes relied on the Sleeping Ute Mountain to advise them of the changing of the seasons. Apparently, Sleeping Ute Mountain was once a Great Warrior God, who came to assist the Utes in their battle against the Evil Ones. A war between the Great Warrior God and the Evil Ones ensued. As the opponents stepped upon the earth and braced themselves for battle, their feet pushed against the land, thereby forming mountains and valleys. 


Sadly, the Great Warrior God was hurt. His wound was so severe, that he needed to lie down and fall into a deep sleep. The Utes believe that the blood from his wound turned into water for all creatures to drink. When clouds settle over the Sleeping Ute Mountains, the Utes know that their God is changing his blankets for the four seasons.  The light green blanket over their God informs them that it is it is spring. The dark green blanket is an alert for summer, the yellow and red one signifies autumn, and the white one lets the Utes know that winter snowfall will soon arrive.


However, our story begins long before the Utes arrived.  Linda Kay Peterson, director of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, has a somewhat more scientific explanation of the formation of our magnificent mountains. She tells us that in order to understand the genesis of our mining town; we have to look at the Ten Mile Range, which began forming between 65 and 70 million years ago. The Ten Mile Range begins at Peak One in Frisco, Colorado, and ends just south of Breckenridge at Peak 10. It is actually a part of the second set of Rocky Mountains.


The Ancestral Rocky Mountains


The core of the Ten Mile Range was formed by the remnants of the first set, known as the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. These mountains were formed about six million years ago. At the time, the earth was an enormous sphere of molten material.  The cooling of the earth caused the formation of a crust. As the cooling continued, the crust thickened. In the meantime, the molten core began to shrink, which in turn caused the crust to crack, thereby creating mountains and crevasses. The geological upheavals that created these secondary Rocky Mountains had some dramatic consequences, which would one day be responsible for shaping the history of Breckenridge.


The gradual cooling of the crust caused certain materials, such as gold, silver, lead, zinc and iron to collect and solidify in the interior crevasses. As the four seasons came into being, erosion of the mountains began. The rain trickled into the cracks and crevasses, thereby breaking the mountains into particles. Then, the rain and snow formed streams that carried these particles, which were filled with fragments of gold, down the mountain.


What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. Since the slopes of the mountains were diminished as they approached the flatlands, the rushing streams slowed to the speed of a new skier on a bunny slope.  As such, they began dropping their burdensome solid particles into the stream. Since gold was the most dense, it was first to be released.  Eventually, the streams meandered, which in turn distributed the gold particles throughout the valley. Had this gold remained a secret, Breckenridge might have been a very different place.


But that was not to be.


There’s Gold Up in Them Thar Hills!


August 10, 1859 is an important date in Breckenridge history. This was the day that gold was discovered in the Blue River. A group of prospectors chose Ruben J. Spalding, a 32-year old Missouri man as their leader.  Spalding had perfected his mining skills in the California gold mines. While some accounts say that Spalding had a team of 30 men, others say that he had 29 men and one woman, which would have been atypical for that era.  That said, you will soon discover that Breckenridge was, and continues to be an atypical corner of the earth.


Because of his previous skills, Spalding was chosen to work the first pan of dirt. In 1891, Spalding wrote a personal account of this excursion. Apparently, his party proceeded down the Blue River to a point near the current Breckenridge Recreation Center. The party dug a three-foot deep pit in a bar in the river.  Spalding discovered 13 cents worth of gold.  The second pan earned him a whopping 27 cents, which was actually a respectable sum of money at the time.  In his book, History of Colorado, author Frank Hall describes Spalding’s reaction to his good fortune.


"Our little party now felt jubilant . . . and began to realize that here lay the fulfillment of their most ardent hopes."  Needless to say, Spalding was excited about the Blue River’s future prospects. He traded his mule for two sacks of stale flour and 175 feet of lumber to build long toms.  Then, he wrapped his feet in pieces of saddle blanket and worked in ankle-deep water.  On the first day, he earned $10 and caught himself a bad cold.


The members of Spalding’s group were encouraged. Excited about potential prospects, they began to stake their claims.  Spalding himself was entitled to a “discovery claim.” As their name suggests, discovery claims were granted to those who discovered gold in an otherwise virgin area. They carried with them a right that was twice as large as a standard claim. As such, Spalding was granted placer mining rights to 200 feet along the river, while the others in his party began to stake their standard 100 foot claims. Before the town came to be called Breckinridge, the location of the diggings was called Spalding’s Diggings, Independence, Independent, and Blue River Diggings.


Once established, Spalding’s group began to fear their safety. The imagined threat came from the Ute Indians. Later, they would discover that this threat was unsubstantiated.  In fact, one of the most astonishing characteristics of the Utes was their friendliness towards the white man. On June 9, 1860, prospector William A, Smith wrote in the Rocky Mountain News:


“Some five or six hundred Ute Indians visited us a few days ago; they manifested no ill will towards the whites.”  Journalist Samuel Bowles described the Utes in his 1869 book entitled Colorado: Its Parks and Mountains:


“Ute Indians were very neighborly.”


Nonetheless, Spaulding and company decided to build a small fort on the west side of the river. The fort began as a single blockhouse of logs with a sod roof.  Eventually, it grew into a series of similarly constructed buildings that faced inward towards a courtyard. It was named Fort Mayberry, in honor of Mary Bigelow, who was supposedly the first women to arrive in the area over the French Pass.


The Spalding party’s next step was to alter the course of the Blue River. Their ambitious goal was to facilitate the exposure of the gold bearing sands and gravel, which they believed were hidden beneath the river’s surface. As such, they built a dam across the Blue, and dug a canal whose head is located near the current Town of Breckenridge. By the autumn of 1859, the canal was an estimated two miles long. The Blue River had been diverted, and lo and behold, a placer mine was born.

In the meantime, William H. Iliff had been working across the river from Spalding. However, his findings were far more impressive. Iliff found $7,000 worth of gold in a 40 square foot patch. He couldn’t wait to tell his friends in Denver the news of his good fortune. As a result, two thousand men arrived in our yet to be named little town, which eventually developed a layout typical of western mining towns.


Places of business were located along Main Street, which runs parallel to the Blue River. These two-story buildings might have had a business on the first floor and professional offices on the second. In some cases, the owners of the business lived on the second floor. The opposite side of the river would be home to the railroad depot, freight warehouses and the red light district, which was home to the Soiled Doves, Ladies of the Night, or whatever you’d like to call them. When it was said that a lady “crossed the river,” it implied that you had found a form of employment that was more lucrative than the traditional roles of teacher or seamstress. Given that Breckenridge was primarily a male-dominated town; the services of the ladies were much needed by the hard-working miners.


Of course, the society ladies would not want to live anywhere near these “soiled doves.” As such, in typical western mining towns, the more elegant homes and hotels were located at a higher elevation. If you visit modern Breckenridge, you will notice the upscale and elegant homes, which are located on French and Harris Street. There were two reasons for this. First off, the homes closer to the river had a greater chance of flood damage. Additionally, people lived near the top of the hill could literally look down on the rest of the town. Given their findings, the members of Spalding’s group probably aspired to owning one of the homes near the top of the hill.


Placer Mining


In its early years, Breckenridge was primarily a placer mining district. However, as the placers ran out, the population began to dwindle. Although larger scale hydraulic mining temporarily sustained the industry until the late 1870's, hard-rock mining eventually took over. Then, between 1898 and 1942, nine dredge boats chewed at the gravels of the Blue River.


Dredge Mining


If you take a stroll along the Blue River in modern day Breckenridge, you will probably notice the massive piles of rocks along both sides of the stream. These rock piles are the result of the gigantic dredges, which were brought into Breckenridge at the turn of the century. Dredging was far more efficient than gold panning. Indeed, 40 men working a colossal machine are going to find more gold than one solitary miner with a humble pan.


However, dredging was not without its consequences. As the dredge boats chewed at the gravels of the Blue River, they destroyed many of our historic buildings, as well as some of our natural resources. Today, you can see a replica of a dredge boat at the Dredge Boat Restaurant. So what exactly is a dredge boat?


In his article in Mining Science (January 14, 1909) Arthur Lakes Junior describes the dredge as a “floating hull with a superstructure, a digging ladder, endless chains of digging buckets, screening apparatus, gold-saving devices, pumps and stacker. It could be described as a floating mill with the addition of apparatus for excavating and elevating the ore.”


Gold dredging was brought to Breckenridge by a man named Ben Stanley Revett.  This 300-pound man lived near Tiger-On-The-Swan. In her book entitled Colorado’s Colorful Characters, author Gladys R. Bueler tells that the doors of his home had to be widened to accommodate his size. Apparently, laborers who moonlighted as gravediggers would joke that they hoped when Revett died, he would be in close proximity to a graveyard. During World War II, the dredges were sold for their scrap metal.

The dredging destroyed many of our historic buildings, as well as some of our natural resources. Today, you can see a replica of a dredge boat at the Dredge Boat Restaurant.

In 1984, the Town of Breckenridge created the Blue River Reclamation Project. Over the next five years, the town restored the one-mile stretch between Valley Brook Road and Coyne Valley Road. Over 300,000 tons of rock and cobble were removed from this area.


Modern Breckenridge


Today, while the Town of Breckenridge is famous for its world-class ski resort, the Ute Indians now operate gambling casinos throughout Colorado. Perhaps this is a form of divine revenge for being displaced from their lands. Nonetheless, local battles continue. Fortunately, the conflicts are not racially or ethnically oriented. In most cases, they are battles of the old versus the new, and may include disputes about parking spaces, the gondola and lodging developments on parts of the mountain that locals view as their “secret stash.”


Yet unlike other ultra modernized ski towns, Breckenridge has remained true to its original history and character. As mentioned in the introduction, it is illegal to tear down any building that has a history, which might explain the dilapidated shacks you might see throughout the town. Additionally, new structures must be constructed in a style of architecture that mimics the typical buildings of the Victorian era. I began writing this book in the spring of 2008; one year prior to the Breckenridge 150th anniversary celebration. http://www.breck150.com


At the time, the town was doing its best to renovate their local museums, in order to show visitors and residents the history and heritage of this intriguing destination. For you see, every storefront along Main Street, as well as many of the stores and homes throughout the town, has a unique history. If you listen carefully, you might hear the whisperings of the ghosts of Breckenridge past.


Let’s start with the ghost of our namesake.


Tom or John: What’s in a Name?


If you visit our wonderful town, don’t be surprised if you hear conflicting stories about how we got our name. In fact, a good deal of our history is subject to interpretation, and often the cause for a lively debate. For example, take the story about General George E. Spencer. It’s not clear whether he was part of Spalding’s original group of prospectors. However, according to Rick Hague of the Summit Historical Society, Spencer was one of those men who made his fortune by “mining the miners.” In other words, rather than getting his hands dirty by actually mining, Spencer was one of the speculators who built towns by selling lots and building homes and storefront upon them. He soon became the proud owner of a 320-acre parcel.  Under the federal legislation, he was able to claim township rights by constructing what is known as a “first improvement.”  This was a log cabin that was a mere eight logs high.


Spencer is also the subject of one of the most controversial debates in our town, which involves the origins of our name. There are two stories. The first is that it was simply named after a local prospector, whose last name was Thomas E. Breckenridge. Here’s the “juicier” story.


Since the town had no name, it had no post office. George E. Spencer had the perfect solution. He proposed that we name our town after President James Buchanan’s Vice President, a man by the name of John Cabell Breckinridge. The flattery seemed to have worked.  On January 18, 1860, our town was given a name and a post office.


All was well until the outbreak of the Civil War. While Colorado was still an independent territory, many of the miners were from the north. Unfortunately, the once revered Mr. Breckinridge was a confirmed Confederate. In fact, he received a commission as a Confederate Brigadier General. Needless to say, many of the townspeople were outraged. What should be done? To rectify the situation, they decided to take out the “i” in Breckinridge and change it to an “e.”


So which is the true story? On April 24, 2008, a group of local historians gathered in Town Hall in what turned out to be a futile attempt at discovering the “truth.” Robin Theobald, a fifth-generation Breckenridge resident was one of the panelists. Theobald agrees with his grandmother, Ella Foote, who wrote a 1900s newspaper story arguing that the town had actually been named and then renamed three different times. According to Ella, the town was first named after Thomas Breckenridge, and then changed to “Breckinridge” when General George E. Spencer realized that taking the name of the vice president would enhance the possibility of getting a post office. It was renamed yet again when the residents took issue with their town being named after one of those “darn confederates.”


This theory led to an important question. Why would we name our town after a person as insignificant as Thomas E. Breckenridge? According to an article in the Summit Daily, Robin Theobald had a rather humorous response:


“The guy coulda bought a round for the house, and they decided to name the town after him,” he said. “It doesn’t mean he had to be the leader of the pack to have it named after him. Maybe he saved someone’s life and they wanted to honor him. Who knows?”


Although the town eventually got its name, it still suffered from “don’t get no respect” syndrome. In the 1880s, an inept cartographer created a map of Colorado, and neglected to insert the Town of Breckenridge. As such, people simply referred to it as “Colorado’s Kingdom.” The mistake was not corrected until 1936, when Governor Ed Johnson held a Summit County Courthouse flag-raising ceremony. It was then that Breckenridge lost its “no man’s land status,” and became an official part of the United States.


Since then, every year in mid June, the town celebrates Kingdom of Breckenridge Days. The event features living history performances, gun fights, gold panning and, would you believe, outhouse races. If you’re reading this in 2009, be prepared for the most exciting Kingdom Day celebration in years. This event will celebrate our 150th Birthday. While you should definitely try to attend, don’t worry if you need to miss it. The town has been renovating many of its fascinating museums. Any visit to Breckenridge is bound to be an enlightening experience.


A Town Develops


By the middle 1861, Breckenridge had a variety of stores, hotels, saloons, and of course, a post office. The town was established as the permanent county seat of Summit County, Colorado.  Unfortunately, by the mid-1860s, the Civil War, as well as the challenges of locating free, accessible gold resulted in a marked decrease in the Breckenridge population.   Businessmen and merchants, sensing an economic downfall, decided to move to other boomtowns.  While accurate population statistics for this period are not available, some Breckenridge historians believe that the population was less than 500 in 1866. Fortunately, this brief depression did not last very long.


Hydraulic Placer Mining


In the late-1860s, large-scale hydraulic placer mining was once introduced to the area. The mining boon was reborn!  Hydraulic mining took place in the Lomax, Iowa, Georgia, and other gulches.  This type of mining precipitated an interesting change in the character of the Breckenridge mining industry. As individual miners formed companies to consolidate their holdings, the archetype of the lone prospector became a thing of the past.


Thus, in 1879, Breckenridge became an esteemed hard-rock mining location and a prosperous supply center. To add to its good fortune, the nearby hills came alive with a new discovery of rich silver and lead carbonates. A second wave of ambitious and enthusiastic fortune hunters arrived. In 1880, the town was incorporated. Elegant and architecturally substantial buildings began to appear. In 1880, there were 18 saloons and three dance halls situated on Main Street. Ridge Street, which runs parallel to Main, boasted a grocery store, the Colorado House hotel, a post office, a dry goods store, bank, assay office, and a drug store.


By 1882, Breckenridge had secured a coveted depot site for the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad. As a result, the population peaked to 2000.  In this same year, Breckenridge added three newspapers and a cemetery. “Three” seems to be the number of charm. Breckenridge also had three fire departments. They were organized in 1882 to protect the mining district after three large fires almost destroyed the entire town. The Red was called the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company. The White was the Independent Hose Company, and the Blue was the Blue River House Company. The only thing that interrupted the town’s prosperity was, ironically, snow.


The Not So Skinny Winter


At 123 Main Street, there is a store called Skinny Winter. The balloon shaped structure of this store was quite popular during the mining era. These buildings could be quickly built and easily moved. In fact, after the sawmill was invented, this type of construction began to replace the log cabin.


When it was first built in 1880, this building housed the Bates, Key and Company Wholesale and Retail Liquor and Cigar Store. Then, in 1898, it became a Miner’s Home Saloon. In the 1920s, the building became a classy establishment. Agnes Springmeyer operated a millinery shop in the front. Come winter, Mr. Springmeyer brought his herd of goats to the back of the building, in order to keep them warm and cozy. Does the name Springmeyer sound familiar? Then you probably ski at Breckenridge. Springmeyer is the name of one of the runs.


Skinny Winter opened in the winter of 1980-1981. This was one of the driest seasons in Breckenridge history. Since profit margins were skinny due to lack of snowfall, the store was appropriately named, Skinny Winter.


The Winter of Our Discontent


There’s a bit of irony involved here. In 1980, business was disrupted due to lack of snowfall. But in the winter of 1898 to 1899, Breckenridge business was disrupted by one of the worst, or should I say prolific snowstorms in the town's history. Some people blame it on Boreas, the God of the North Wind.

Greek legends describe Boreas as being unpredictable. He would appear to be calm and playful, but then suddenly become boisterous and sadistic. One might experience this on the Breckenridge chairlifts, where the lifts may suddenly stop and swing back and forth. Perhaps this is why some people refer to Breckenridge as “Breckenwind.”


Those who believe in the Boreas myth also believe that he has a dwelling in the area in Breckenridge which bears his name; Boreas Pass. Sometimes, when he’s in a pleasant mood, he creates a gentle breeze that cools the summer mood. However, in the winter of 1898, his wrath almost destroyed the entire town.


It began as a gentle sprinkling on the evening of November 27, 1898. Perhaps the townspeople were enjoying Thanksgiving leftovers, or maybe the children were writing their letters to Santa Claus. When the children awoke the next morning, they discovered that the snow was still falling. You can almost imagine their delight as they went outside to build a snowman. By the next morning, four feet of snow lay on the ground! But as the snow continued to fall for three consecutive months, delight would soon turn to despair.


Snow tunnels were created so that people could walk through the town.  Those who went about on snowshoes found that their heads were level with three-story buildings! While this might bring joy to today's snow sport enthusiasts, it caused some serious problems for the townspeople. They were unable to receive their food, their supplies or their mail.


Mrs. Kaiser's Cow


If you visit Breckenridge, make sure to plan a meal at the Hearthstone Restaurant. Located on Ridge Street, this elegant restaurant was once the home of Christ Kaiser, the local butcher. The Kaiser's were wealthy, yet generous. They were one of the many local families that housed poor children from the neighboring towns, so that they might attend the local school. When Kaiser's oldest son got married, he purchased the yellow house next door. It was called an Aladdin House, and it was purchased through a Sears catalog. It's cost: About $479 plus $50 for shipping. At 1,000 square feet, imagine how much this home would cost today.


Ida Kaiser, who was Christ Kaiser's wife, had a favorite milk cow. Imagine her dismay when she woke up one morning and discovered that her dear, sweet cow had been slaughtered for food. However, since the snow blockades could not be passed, the town had to use the food sources that they already had.  The butchers at the Christ Kaiser Market explained that it was “done in the name of necessity.”


Party Time


Despite the hardships, the hearty people of Breckenridge decided to enjoy themselves.  Newspaper accounts tell us that there were four dances a week. The non-dancing population stayed home and played card games. Although was trying to destroy the town, he ended up creating a cooperative community. Looked at from a different perspective, this might have been what he was trying to do all along.


The Dauntless Men of Breckenridge


On March 1, 1899 a group of men volunteered their manly strength, and used it to shovel and clear the wagon road that ran from Boreas Pass to Como. This arduous task took ten days of merciless labor. Fortunately, it was not in vain.  Supplies and mail were now able to arrive by sled. On April 24, the townspeople cheered when rail service resumed. For six grueling weeks, the dedicate rail crews used a rotary snow plow to open Boreas Pass.  Happily, the famous Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad, with the help of its workers, was able to master the challenge.


However, when summer arrived, there was still snow on the mountains. Some stories say that when the PT Barnum Company arrived, they discovered much to their dismay, that their train was unable to make it up Boreas Pass to Breckenridge. As the lions roared with hunger, the company did the only logical thing, which was to make the elephants get out and push.


After the Storm: Dredge Mining


If you take a stroll along the Blue River in modern day Breckenridge, you will probably notice the massive piles of rocks along both sides of the stream. These rock piles are the result of the gigantic dredges, which were brought into Breckenridge at the turn of the century. Dredging was far more efficient than gold panning. Indeed, 40 men working a colossal machine are going to find more gold than one solitary miner with a humble pan.


However, dredging was not without its consequences. As the dredge boats chewed at the gravels of the Blue River, they destroyed many of our historic buildings, as well as some of our natural resources. Today, you can see a replica of a dredge boat at the Dredge Boat Restaurant. So what exactly is a dredge boat?


In his article in Mining Science (January 14, 1909) Arthur Lakes Junior describes the dredge as a “floating hull with a superstructure, a digging ladder, endless chains of digging buckets, screening apparatus, gold-saving devices, pumps and stacker. It could be described as a floating mill with the addition of apparatus for excavating and elevating the ore.”


Gold dredging was brought to Breckenridge by a man named Ben Stanley Revett.  This 300-pound man lived near Tiger-On-The-Swan. In her book entitled Colorado’s Colorful Characters, author Gladys R. Bueler tells that the doors of his home had to be widened to accommodate his size. Apparently, laborers who moonlighted as gravediggers would joke that they hoped when Revett died, he would be in close proximity to a graveyard. According to the Town of Breckenridge website:


“The two-story, pontoon boat supported an armature that carried a line of moving buckets that dug up placer mining ground to depths of 48 feet in the riverbed.  The dredge removed all vegetation and buildings in its path. The riverbed was literally turned upside-down.  Fine soils of the river bottom were either sent to the depths below or sent downstream as sediment. The riverbed and bedrock below were dredged up to the surface.”


Sadly, very few historic buildings survived on the west side of the river. Fewer buildings meant that there were fewer jobs and fewer homes. Thus, during World War II, the population of Breckenridge declined to 254 people. Scrap metal from the dredge boats was used for ammunition. Ironically, it took a war to stop the destruction of a town. With the opening of the ski area in 1961, the town began its Renaissance. Be sure to visit http://www.Breck150.com for more info about the Breck 150 event!



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EpicSki › Mountain Article › Brief History Of Breckenridge By Lisa Mercer