Breckenridge History, a ski town with a historic past


The earliest days of Breckenridge

Today, downtown Breckenridge boasts one of Colorado’s largest historical districts with approximately 250 buildings listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district is about 12 square blocks and there are 171 buildings with points of historic interest. Information about the district is available at the Summit Historical Society which conducts walking tours that take you past many prominent structures, from simple log cabins to Victorians with lacy gingerbread trim.

The town of Breckenridge, Colorado was founded in 1859 by a small group of gold prospectors and General George E. Spencer. It was Spencer who proposed the name “Breckinridge”, after the Vice President at the time, in hopes of getting a post office. He was rewarded with the post office and the town of Breckinridge was born.

Two years later, as the Civil War broke out and the former Vice President sided with the Confederates, the residents of the town decided to change the spelling and the “i” was changed to an “e”. The town has been known as Breckenridge ever since.

During the period between the late 1850’s and the mid 1860’s prospectors came to Breckenridge in droves at the height of the Gold Rush era. Placer mining, the process of mining for gold in the stream and river beds, was the original method of mining in the area, but prospectors soon followed the gold to its source in larger veins in the mountains surrounding Breckenridge. As the gold supplies began to diminish, many miners and businesses moved on. By 1870 the population had dwindled to 51.

With the advent of hydraulic mining technologies and the discovery of silver and lead, Breckenridge saw its second boom era. In the late 1880’s the population grew to nearly 1700 inhabitants and the town was home to many saloons, dancehalls and hotels. In 1887 the largest gold nugget discovered to date in the state of Colorado was found by Tom Groves. Coined “Tom’s Baby” the 13 pound nugget again put Breckenridge on the map.

With the turn of the century came the gold dredging boats which scoured the creeks and riverbeds for gold. Employing fewer people than placer mining, the dredge boats eventually led to a waning population in Breckenridge once again. One of the longest standing traditions in historic Breckenridge, surviving booms and busts alike, is the Gold Pan Saloon on north Main Street. This saloon is the longest continuously operated bar west of the Mississippi River.

Start your very own Breckenridge history today! Book your Breckenridge vacation rental with Book Breck Lodging to see all the historic buildings in person. And if your visit brings you here during our fabulous winters, be sure to ask us about discount ski rentals and where to find discount lift tickets to the Breckenridge Ski Resort. We are your local resource for all things Breckenridge.

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