Breckenridge history is rich with tales of pioneer life and adventure. It is a town filled with Western culture, gold mining tales and residents keen on preserving their casual way of life. Breckenridge has grown from a prime Native American hunting ground to one of the most renowned recreational areas of Colorado.
Origins of Breckenridge
Breckenridge, originally spelled Breckinridge, developed as one of the many boomtowns during the rush to settle the West and mine for gold. When a Missouri man dug a hole in the ground in 1859 and uncovered 40 cents worth of gold, a few thousand miners flooded Breckenridge to stack their claims.
General George E. Spencer is known as the father of the town, since he developed the town site. The general named his new town "Breckinridge" after the then-current vice president of the United States. The government rewarded General Spencer for his patriotism by creating the first post office in the large stretch of land between Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Continental Divide.
But scandal quickly ensued - and Breckenridge history wouldn't be complete without it. At the advent of the Civil War, Vice President Breckinridge, the namesake of the town, joined the Confederate Army and was expelled from the federal government for treason. When this news reached the small mountain town, the embarrassed citizens of Breckinridge rapidly replaced the "i" with an "e," effectively changing the spelling of their town's name to "Breckenridge."
At the onset of the town's development in 1859, Breckenridge was divided into slats totaling 320 acres. Main Street ran parallel to the Blue River, and businesses sprang up quickly. Settlers built homes surrounding the commercial center of town. Across the Blue River, West Breckenridge was comprised of industries and a red light district, where soiled doves took care of lonely men. Breckenridge history shows that by the middle of 1861, the center of town contained stores, hotels, saloons and a post office.
At the peak of the gold rush, Breckenridge became a verifiable boomtown. Businesses supported by miners soon followed, and Breckenridge became the hub of activities in Summit County. Gents in three-piece suits escorted ladies carrying parasols down Main Street, while horse-drawn carriages and mine wagons rumbled down the dirt road. The town also housed major shipping and freight companies, which brought added life to the town.
As the gold supply diminished, miners and the businesses that followed them moved on. The town dried up until after the resolution of the Civil War, when another period of mining struck. However, unlike single prospectors seeking riches, this wave of mining involved hydraulic technology, which was widespread. Mining companies and individual miners organized and assisted in bringing a rail line to the town.
Breckenridge continued to grow. By 1882, saloons and dance halls lined Main Street, while Ridge Street held the grocery and dry goods stories and the bank and pharmacy. The townspeople also had built churches, newspaper offices and a school. Due to the simplicity and relative low cost of wood, structures in Breckenridge were almost entirely wooden. Since winters and high-altitude sun weathers the wood, it has been difficult to keep certain aspects of Breckenridge history intact.
Breckenridge Booms Again
The lowest population in Breckenridge history occurred during the Great Depression. With the end of the mining era and advent of World War II, Breckenridge's population diminished to about 250. In fact, in 1936, townspeople discovered that the government left Breckenridge off of the United States maps, and they declared Breckenridge free and clear of sovereign rule with a festival called "No Man's Land." Thus, the town became known as the Kingdom of Breckenridge. The festival is still held annually.
The biggest boom in Breckenridge history took place after the construction of the Eisenhower Tunnel, which workers completed in 1973. The tunnel shortened the travel time between Denver and Breckenridge because cars no longer had to travel over Loveland Pass. It helped make the town a desired location for its newest form of recreation: skiing. Extraordinary numbers of visitors pass through the tunnel every year on their way to the fine winter recreation Breckenridge offers. Breckenridge residents have made it a priority to plan for future Breckenridge real estate development in a smart way, in order to maintain the culture and easygoing way of life that has made the town what it is today.