Breckenridge History Blog

Early Settlement and Mining

Long before white settlers from the east crossed the Continental Divide, the area that would become Breckenridge was part of the summer hunting grounds of the nomadic White River and Middle Park Ute Native Americans. Although there were a few white trappers, mountain men, and traders roaming the area as early as 1840, the establishment of a town was the result of America’s mid-nineteenth-century rush to settle the West. By 1859 the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush was on, and discovery of gold in the Breckenridge area brought miners and fortune seekers to the “Blue River Diggings.”

Intent upon locating in the Blue River Valley near Fort Mary B, General George E. Spencer’s prospecting company founded Breckenridge in November of 1859. By June of 1860, a U.S. post office had been granted, and a single row of log cabins, tents, and shanties lined the banks of the Blue River. A Denver, Bradford, and Blue River Wagon Road Company connection was secured in 1861, giving lifeblood to the infant community.  Breckenridge soon boasted several stores, hotels, and saloons and became the permanent county seat of Summit County, Colorado. A log cabin on the main street became the clerk and recorder’s office in 1862.

By 1862, the Civil War and increasing difficulty in locating free, accessible gold began to clear the camp of prospectors. Individual miners and mining companies consolidated their holdings. While there was some early hydraulic mining in the local gulches, including Lomax, Iowa, and Georgia, the mid-1860s saw a change in the character of the local mining industry. The days of the lone prospector were gone, and by 1870 the population of Breckenridge had plummeted to 51. Breckenridge was quiet and would remain so until large-scale hydraulic mining created a boom in the early 1870s.

In 1879, rich silver and lead carbonates were discovered, and fortune hunters once again invaded Breckenridge.  Miners, merchants, and professionals migrated to the mining camp for a different reason than in 1859. This time it was for silver rather than gold. Breckenridge became an important hard-rock mining location and a prominent supply center. There was plenty of “elbow room” to grow, and the community organized and incorporated a town government in 1880. An ambitious grid was laid out for the 320-acre town site. Breckenridge’s wide, main street easily allowed freight wagons to turn around, and soon it became the center of social and athletic activities. During this mining heyday, the downtown provided miners with a variety of attractions. Without diversions, life in the mining camp would have been an endless cycle of routine work.

Soon, more substantial architecture appeared. Comfortable homes and churches were built on the hillside east of Main Street. Saloons and other false-fronted commercial businesses were confined to the downtown area, and Main Street became a business hub. By July of 1880, Breckenridge’s population peaked to 1657 people, and the camp was home to two dancehalls, ten hotels, and eighteen saloons. In addition, Ridge Street, which paralleled Main Street, boasted a grocery store, hotel, post office, dry goods store, bank, assay office, drug store, and newspaper office.

In 1882, a depot site for the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad was secured, bringing rail service to the community. Breckenridge’s success doomed other rival mining camps, including Swan City, Preston, and Lincoln City. The railroad route over 11,481-foot Boreas Pass was a particularly difficult segment, and  keeping the tracks clear of snow was necessary to reach the remote Breckenridge. location. The winter of 1898-99 proved particularly challenging when a record heavy snow fell. Using a rotary snowplow and multiple engines, the track was finally cleared on April 24, and service resumed after a 78-day snow blockade. In town, residents tunneled through the snow to get from one business to another during that heavy snow year.

By 1882, the town had added three newspapers, a schoolhouse, and a cemetery. Breckenridge reigned as queen of the Summit County mining towns. The townspeople had also managed to organize three fire companies to protect the very vulnerable wooden structures. Nevertheless, a major fire in 1884 destroyed a number of buildings along Main Street and Ridge Street. Despite the fire danger, local carpenters continued to build with wood because of the availability of materials and the reduced time, effort, and cost of construction. Few masonry buildings ever appeared in Breckenridge. The town’s architecture consisted primarily of Victorian-era log houses, frame cottages, and simple clapboard, false-fronted buildings. In 1887 the largest piece of gold found in the State of Colorado at that time was discovered near Breckenridge. Hard-rock miner Tom Groves walked into town cradling a 13-pound troy bundle that was appropriately named Tom’s baby, and, once again, Breckenridge was the place to be.

The region was home to one of the most famous Methodist ministers in Colorado history—Reverend John Lewis Dyer.  Known as the “Snowshoe Itinerant,” John Dyer walked and skied his way through the mountains, bringing the gospel to those who might not otherwise hear it.  Carrying heavy canvas sacks of mail over the snow-packed mountain passes, Father Dyer earned enough money to pursue his missionary work in Breckenridge. In 1880, he built Breckenridge’s first church, now located on Wellington Road.
Dredge Mining and the early 1900s

By the turn of the century the earlier mining booms were over but gold dredging boats, which employed relatively few people, began operating in 1898. They worked the valley floor’s creeks and riverbeds for over twenty years. Town officials believed the Tiger Placers Company would provide jobs during the national depression and allowed the Tiger #1 gold dredge to chew its way through downtown Breckenridge, from the northern town limits to the south end of Main Street. The two-story pontoon boat supported an armature that carried a line of moving buckets that was capable of digging to depths of 70 feet to access gold in the riverbed. The process left rock piles as high as two stories along the Blue River. The dredge also removed all vegetation and displaced any buildings in its path. The riverbed was literally turned upside-down, and much of the landscape was permanently altered. Few of the town’s earliest buildings on the west side of the Blue River survived. World War II finally silenced the dredge on October 15, 1942, and the population in Breckenridge declined to approximately 296 individuals in 1950.

Post War to the Skiing Era

A number of Breckenridge’s historic buildings were also lost during the “postwar” period for a variety of reasons. Some property owners demolished their structures to reduce their tax burden. Other buildings were lost to accidental fires, and some were purposely burned in practice exercises for volunteer fire crews. Some buildings were even torn down for firewood. While economic activity and population declined with the cessation of mining, Breckenridge never became a ghost town. Instead, it remained home to a few hardy, resilient residents.

Skiing, Recreation, and the Eisenhower Tunnel

A decade later, on December 16, 1961, Rounds and Porter, a Wichita, Kansas lumber company, opened the Breckenridge Ski Area, and a new boom era began.  Transportation improvements fueled a new Breckenridge recreation “rush.”  The Eisenhower Tunnel, on Interstate 70, was completed in 1973 and reduced the drive time from Denver to Breckenridge to an hour and a half.  As a result of the relatively easy access from the Denver metro area, the high country’s recreational activities became increasingly popular. For more on Breckenridge’s “modern” history, please reference the Modern Breckenridge Interpretive Plan.

Historic Breckenridge: The Town of Breckenridge is committed to its historic heritage and to the early pioneers who first settled here. Upon arriving in Breckenridge, visitors will note the unique, mining-related architecture that reflects each of the town’s historic phases of development. The Settlement Phase, Camp Phase, and Town Phase are all represented in extant historic buildings. The town’s local period of significance spans from its settlement in 1859 to the shutdown of the last gold dredging operation in 1942.
While there were some elaborately detailed buildings, Breckenridge was a “rough and ready” town, built for function, not for elegance. This sense of a rustic western mining town is evident in the surviving buildings today.

In 1980, the Secretary of the Interior designated the greatest concentration of the town’s historic structures as a Local National Register Historic District.  Historic structures are protected through development and design standards.

written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on An Overview History of Breckenridge

Categories: Breckenridge History

Who were the women who came to Breckenridge in the 1880s?  Where did they come from?  Did they willingly make the trek to Breckenridge?  What did they find when they arrived?  Census data and diaries tell the story.

Push and pull factors influenced the decision to come west:  poverty, the promise of prosperity, climate, marriage, free land, and the severe depression of 1857,  all pushed people from “home” and pulled them to Colorado.  In a family, the husband usually made the first overture to head west.  Women reacted with a variety of reactions:  agreement, disagreement; reluctance, eagerness; fear, enthusiasm; happiness, sadness; hopefulness, resignation; and often complete surprise.

For most women, though, leaving family and friends proved quite difficult.  Whether they headed west willingly or not, most women never stopped looking back to those left behind.

The majority of the women coming to Summit County in the 1880s had lived in four states:  Pennsylvania, where the depression of 1857 hit particularly hard, Ohio, New York and Illinois.  Of those born outside of the United States, the largest number by far immigrated from Wales, Cornwall, England, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and the German states.  Other countries represented included Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, France, Denmark, Holland, Austria, Russia, and Italy.

One women of Chinese heritage lived in Breckenridge in 1885.  As a rule, Chinese men did not bring their families.  The vast majority of Chinese women had been brought to the United States, sometimes as early as their infancy, to serve the men as prostitutes.  Because Chinese men would not marry non-Chinese women, many of the prostitutes became wives of much older Chinese men.  The one Chinese woman living in Breckenridge, Lee Cum, age 25, had married Lee Chin, age 52.  Both worked in a laundry.  Had she been a prostitute forced to marry the much older man?

Men greatly outnumbered women in Breckenridge.

  • 1870:  Males 139, Females 26
  • 1880:  Males 1371, Females 287
  • 1885:  Males 622, Females 335

But In the male-dominated society, women had an influence far beyond what might be expected from so few.  When women arrived in greater numbers, they targeted drinking, gambling, and sexual activities for reform.  To overcome the lure of these activities, women founded churches, libraries, schools, social cubs, and hospitals.  They gave parties and arranged dinners and balls.

Although the women worked hard to influence the town, they never really had a major impact on gambling, drinking and prostitution.  Led by clergy, they generally embraced the temperance movement of the mid-1880s; but the Victorian values espoused by the women clashed with an economic enterprise that provided a stable tax base and employed numerous people.

Enthusiastic audiences attended the temperance meetings held in the Grand Army of the Republic Hall and in churches.  The newspaper editor expressed sympathy for the movement but reminded readers that saloon keepers and proprietors bought licenses to operate, paid taxes, and supported civic projects.  Saloon employees spent their wages at local businesses.  Saloon keepers and proprietors had been elected school superintendent, sheriff, town treasurer, and mayor.

Women faced limited employment opportunities, although women’s “work” was in high demand.  They cooked, cleaned, sewed, washed, ironed and took in boarders.  They could perform these services for husband and family or they could be part of the action–perhaps owning a boarding house or other business with women employees.  Some owned stores and shops:  stationery store, millinery shop, dress making shop, general merchandise store.   Others worked as clerks in stores or offices.  Some maintained professional careers.  Numerous women in Breckenridge taught children how to play the piano and other musical instruments.  This was a time when mothers felt that their daughters needed to play the piano in order to find a “suitable” husband.  When Scott McClarren, proprietor of the Cabinet Saloon, died, his wife converted the business into the highly successful Metropolitan Dining Room.  Minnie Bruch opened a candy and fruit store next door to her husband’s barber shop.  She advertised the finest candy and fruit and largest selection of Valentines in the county.  Katherine Sisler Nolan ran her husband’s huge placer mining enterprise in French Gulch after his death.  The newspaper editor recognized her as an astute businesswoman:  “the only lady mine owner in Breckenridge district who personally superintends the operations of the property.”

Few women entered the medical profession, but on August 1, 1899, the newspaper advertised that newly arrived Miss Kate De P. Moville, a “trained dentist,” was “prepared and competent to do everything in the dental line.”  She located her office in the Remine House, owned and operated by Fannie Remine.

Women generally could find employment as teachers–especially single women–and often immediately after graduation from high school, as did Annie Sisler and Fannie Remine.  People felt that teaching suited women as it was a natural extension of their role as mother.  In addition, women would not be deterred by low wages.  Generally the unmarried teachers boarded with a family rather than live in a place of their own and sometimes had to perform household chores a part of their employment.  Area residents watched them constantly for improper behavior. To become a teacher, one simply took the teacher’s exam offered four times a year by the school superintendent.  The newspaper editor announced the results.

For those widowed or divorced and supporting children, opportunities for employment might be limited.  The census recorded cook, laundress, “water” [waiter] in a hotel and washer woman. For some women with children, the enumerator listed no means of support.

Because of the dearth of social agencies to help those facing poverty, widowhood, divorce, neglect, and depression, women organized their own solutions.  Whether informally or through organizations such as the Women of Woodcraft or Rebekahs, they actively helped where they could.

Those with financial means, tried to make their homes meet the domestic standards of the day.  They covered walls and ceilings with newspapers to retain heat and added wallpaper if finances permitted.   Old rags might become rugs; scraps of fabric could be made into quilts.

As a way to stay connected with other women, they established informal clubs:  kitchen club, literary club, sewing club, debating club, taffy club, glee cub, even a club for those coming from Pennsylvania–just to name a few.  They joined formal organizations such as the Order of the Eastern Star, the Rebekah Lodge, Women of Woodcraft, and the Degree of Pocahontas.

Etiquette ruled the lives of those in the middle and upper classes.  They exchanged ornate calling cards during formal visits; they served tea and invited special guests; they walked slowly no matter what the weather might be or how snowy, icy or muddy the sidewalk.  Dinner parties occurred weekly in lavishly decorated homes.  Books prescribed proper etiquette for almost every situation.  Those with a bit of leisure time learned the language of flowers, how to send messages with a fan and what the placement of stamps on an envelope told the recipient.

Just as the women established their homes and social networks, they had to contend with pregnancy, childbirth, illnesses, and infant deaths.  Childbirth presented grave dangers.  The newspaper sadly announced the deaths of infants and mothers.  But the editor rejoiced at “baby brigades,” noting the “bright, chubby and interesting babies in town.”

Early boosters bragged about the absence of doctors, stressing that “none were needed, thank you.”  But diseases claimed young and old.  Undiagnosed deaths were attributed to a “general breaking up of the system.”  Unsanitary conditions prevailed–garbage piles and backyard privies contaminated water supplies.  Diphtheria, influenza, smallpox, and pneumonia took their yearly toll.

Some women thrived in Breckenridge.  They established families and contributed to the development of the town.  They endured long, cold, snowy winters and learned how to adjust recipes for high altitude.  The struggle for others never stopped.  Their longing for the family left “back home” weighed heavily.    While some returned “home” after the death of a spouse, marriage meant that still others had no choice but to remain.   One woman in the mid-1880s wrote in her diary after a three-day snow storm, “If I have to live my whole life in Breckenridge, I hope it is a short one!”

written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on The Women of Breckenridge

Categories: Breckenridge History

How did Breckenridge get its name?  Historians have debated this for decades.  Researchers have studied documents looking for the truth.  Two stories emerge–both have elements of truth.  Some think that John Cabell Breckinridge, who served as vice-president under James Buchanan before retiring to the U.S. Senate representing Kentucky after his term as vice-president ended, is the namesake.  Others say the name came from Thomas E. Breckenridge, a member of the 1845 and 1848 Fremont expeditions.  Bill Fountain studied the documents and put the pieces of the puzzle together.

The story begins in 1845 when John C. Fremont and 60 men, including Kit Carson, left Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas River, in Kansas Territory, on a topographical expedition.   Thomas E. Breckenridge, age 20, joined the group at St. Louis in May, 1845.   By the end of August, the expedition entered South Park; by September 4, they had scaled the Snowy Range and made camp before descending into Middle Park.  At that point Breckenridge noticed that one of his pack animals had disappeared.  Each member of the expedition had received three burros; one to ride and two to carry supplies.  Breckenridge thought it would take only a few hours to find the wayward animal and return to the party.  After two days Breckenridge had not returned.  Fremont sent Kit Carson and another man to find him.   When they finally returned unharmed, a much-relieved Fremont scolded Breckenridge.  Because of the incident, Fremont named the pass Breckenridge Pass in “honor” of Thomas and the lost burro.  (Thanks to the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad, Breckenridge Pass became Boreas Pass when the railroad constructed its Boreas Station there.  Look for that story elsewhere.)

The memoirs of Thomas E. Breckenridge cover the Fremont expeditions of 1845 and 1848.  In addition to relating the story of the naming of the pass, Breckenridge stated that the town of Breckenridge had been named for him.  Born March, 15, 1825, in St. Louis County, Missouri, Thomas died on April 23, 1897, in Hannibal, Missouri.  His obituary also stated that Breckenridge had been named for him.

Therefore from the beginning, it appears that the town’s name was spelled Breckenridge.  Newspaper accounts through approximately June, 1860, and a map drawn as early as 1859 spelled the name with an “e.”  But the spelling changed after that.    Why?

According to Fountain:  At the end of August, 1859, after hearing of the gold discovery in the Blue River Country (Breckenridge), George E. Spencer, backed by Denver capitalists, led a party to the area to plot a town with the intention of selling lots.  Spencer named the town for the nearby pass where Breckenridge had spent two days retrieving his lost burro in 1845.  When Spencer wanted to assure that the new town would be granted its much-desired post office,  he wrote on the application “Breckinridge” (spelled with an “i”) to honor Vice-President John Cabell Breckinridge.  The fact that government officials granted the post office on January 18, 1860, indicates that Spencer had well-developed political ties.  (He would go on to serve as a senator from Alabama in the Reconstruction Period.)  George Spencer became the first post master in Breckenridge.  When the town’s residences learned that Breckinridge had offered his services to the Confederacy in September, 1861; had accepted an appointment as brigadier general in the Army of the confederacy in October, 1861; and then was officially expelled from the Senate on December 4, 1861, they changed the spelling from Breckinridge to the original Breckenridge.  The population, generally from northern non-slave states, wanted to voice their displeasure at this avowed believer in slavery.

An interesting footnote to this story involves James Buchanan, the president under whom John C. Breckinridge served.  Neither Buchanan nor Breckinridge knew the other until becoming president and vice-president.  After the election, they did not get along very well.  Who was Buchanan’s opponent for the presidency on the Republican ticket?  None other than John C. Fremont, who led the 1845 expedition that Thomas E. Breckenridge joined.

written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on The Naming of Breckenridge

Categories: Breckenridge History

For thousands of years, the nomadic Northern Utes and their ancestors traveled through what is today’s Breckenridge in search of food. They followed bison between summer grazing land on the Blue River and winter quarters at lower elevation (Lower Blue). The passes used by Utes became early wagon roads and present day highway routes. The Utes burned the valley floor each year to encourage the growth of grasses that bison preferred. This tradition changed the vegetative landscape, encouraging the growth of species like the lodgepole pine, whose cones open up after being exposed to heat.

The Utes migrated with the seasons. Men spent summers in the high country hunting elk, bison, antelope and mountain sheep. The Utes acquired horses from the Spanish, which meant a wider hunting area. Women gathered herbs, berries and roots. Rather than carry all their food with them, women stored food in caches along migratory paths.

In summer, the Utes built shelters called wickiups made of brush and willow over a wood frame. Abundant summer food supplies dwindled in the fall so the Utes moved to lower elevations where food remained more abundant on a year-round basis. There were no permanent Ute villages in the Breckenridge area.
The Utes treasured their children, with both men and women sharing responsibility for them. Children spent much of their first year in a cradleboard carried by their mother or a sister.

Men and women wore highly decorated clothing made of hides tanned by women, who then added quills, beads and earth tone paints and fringes to the softened hides. Making and decorating clothing was just one of the roles assumed by women on a daily basis.

written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on The Mountain Utes

Categories: Breckenridge History

How did the individual prospector roaming the hillsides with his burro, pan, and pick know if he had found economically valuable ore?  How did a mining company know if the ore produced could earn a profit for the company? They both depended on chemical assays. Every prospector knew how to do a “field assay” to determine the worth of his ore.  Mining companies employed an assayer working in a well-equipped assay office to complete the task.

The field assay could be dangerous.  The prospector washed the materials in his pan down to the finest gravels and (he hoped) flakes of gold.  He added liquid mercury already impregnated with gold to his pan.  Mercury can absorb as much as 50 percent of its weight in gold.  When the mercury became solid and crusty, he knew it could absorb no more gold.  He put the amalgam of mercury and gold on a shovel and held it over a fire, evaporating the mercury.  Of course, he had to be sure not to breathe the deadly mercury fumes.  Some prospectors knew a way to prevent the mercury from escaping into the air.  They placed the amalgam in a hollowed-out baking potato, wired the halves together and tossed the potato into the fire.  The potato absorbed the evaporating mercury, leaving the gold.  We can only hope that the prospector knew not to eat the potato no matter how hungry he might be.

All of the large mine complexes had a well-equipped assay office.  Independent assayers in towns might serve small mining operations or individuals.  Each assay office generally had three parts:  a front office with desk, cupboards and shelves for reference books, specimens and supplies; a laboratory with furnace, work tables, glassware, crucibles, cupels (kuh pells’) and other equipment such as funnels, filters, pokers, scrapers and tongs; and a back room with crushing and screening apparatus, brass molds to make the cupels, and lots of rock dust.  A dust-free area housed delicate scales and balances.

Highly respected and well-trained assayers with an extensive background in chemistry and chemical processes staffed the offices at the mines and in towns.  The assayers followed a very precise and complicated process in determining the worth of the ore.

Assayers often hired a strong, young apprentice to complete the first step of the process:  using a variety of heavy equipment to crush the ore to sand size.  The assayer then divided the crushed ore into samples weighing exactly 29.167 grams, called an “assay ton.”  Since there are 29,167 ounces in one ton, the amount of gold left in an assay ton would be used to judge the amount of gold in a ton of the ore from which the sample had been taken.

The assayer mixed one sample in a crucible with chemical reagents such as litharge (lead oxide), borax (used in place of salt), powdered argol (a salt from which cream of tartar is made), wheat flour, charcoal, saltpeter and silver.  Reagents served as fluxes, combining with other chemicals to draw them out of the mixture; as solvents, dissolving certain minerals; as reducing agents, subtracting oxygen from some chemicals; and as oxidizing agents, adding oxygen to other chemicals.  Some served two functions.   The assayer knew exactly how much of each reagent to add.

The assayer placed the crucible on the lower deck of a furnace fueled by gas or either coke, coal or charcoal.  Here, carbon monoxide, helped by the wheat flour, drew off the oxygen from the lead oxide.  With the furnace door closed, temperatures reached over 2,700 degrees F.  After about 30 minutes, liquefied drops of metallic lead descended through the mixture, collecting gold and other metals. The assayer poured the “melt” into conical molds and allowed it to cool and solidify.  With the knock of a hammer, he removed the cone from the mold.

Most of the cone contained worthless slag but the tip contained the valuable minerals.  The assayer hammered the tip into a cube and placed it in a cupel, made of horse or sheep bone mixed with wood ash and potassium carbonate for strength, on the upper or oxidizing deck of the furnace.   With a closed furnace door, temperatures in this step reached only 1,652 degrees F. (not hot enough to melt gold or silver).  As the cube changed to a button shape, the assayer opened the door to add oxygen, needed to complete the process.  The oxygen vaporized the lead; the cupel absorbed any lead not vaporized.  When all of the lead had been released the button solidified and producing a flash of light.  If the assayer wanted to watch, he looked through a board with a tiny slit in it.

Next the assayer washed, cleaned and weighed the button, now called a doré (doe ray’) bead. A bath for ten minutes in boiling nitric acid removed any silver remaining in the bead.   After giving the gold a final bath in hot distilled water, the assayer weighed the gold and recorded the weight on a certificate.  The costs of mining required four to five ounces of gold per sample for the ore to be considered profitable.  The assayer followed the same procedure with all but one of the samples, which he saved in case someone questioned his honesty.

Although details might vary, assayers used this general process throughout the American West.written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on The Assay Process

Categories: Breckenridge History

Prior to the creation of Colorado Territory, the land that became Colorado was divided among the territories of Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico and Utah.  Land west of the Continental Divide, including what became Summit County, belonged to Utah Territory.  Colorado’s First Legislative Assembly approved legislation entitled ”An act to define county boundaries and to locate county seats in Colorado Territory,” on November 1, 1861.  The act established the boundaries of Summit County as the Continental Divide on the east, Lake County on the south and, on the north and west, the territorial boundaries.  Thus the original Summit County in 1861 included about one-sixth of Colorado Territory.

Since then seven counties have been formed from the original and what is now Summit County became the smallest of the seven.

In 1874, the legislature divided Summit County into Summit and Grand counties.  In 1877, Summit County’s boundaries remained the same while the Legislature divided Grand County into Grand and Routt counties.  In 1883, Routt and Grand counties remained the same but the Legislature cut Garfield and Eagle counties from Summit County giving Summit its present boundaries.  In 1899, the Legislature divided Garfield County into Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.  In 1911, Routt was divided and Moffet County created.  Hence the original Summit County became seven counties:  Moffat Routt, Grand, Rio Blanco, Garfield, Eagle and Summit.

The legislature chose Park City, near the mouth of Georgia Gulch, as the first county seat.  The “city” of an estimated several thousand, enjoyed the honor until January, 1862 when the county commissioners decided to move the county seat to Breckenridge.  The move occurred gradually.  County minutes note that the commissioners met in both Parkville and Breckenridge from April, 1862 until June, 1864.  After that, the commissioners met in Breckenridge.

The location of the county seat became a question again in 1882 as both Dillon and Frisco attempted to take the designation away from Breckenridge. Based on its geographic location at the center of the county and the coming of both railroads, some Frisco residents felt that their town should be the county seat.  Frisco’s location placed it near the mines of the Ten Mile and Upper Ten Mile.

Breckenridge countered, noting the town’s location near the center of the county’s population, its size and the fact that the town already had the county buildings.  It had excellent accommodations for those doing business with county courts and offices and qualified people to serve on juries.  Moving the county offices would require the unnecessary construction of new buildings.  When Dillon promised to erect the necessary county buildings at a cost of less than $800, Breckenridge reminded Dillon it had no railroad yet; the railroad could always change its plans.

Dillon received 1011 votes; Breckenridge 832; and Frisco, 285.  Because Dillon did not receive the required two-thirds vote necessary for the move to occur, Breckenridge retained the county offices.  The editor of the Montezuma Millrun predicted the demise of Breckenridge after the election; “the county seat would be lost in four years and real estate values would drop.  No one would settle in Breckenridge and those remaining would wish that they had let the county seat go.”

written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on Summit County Boundaries

Categories: Breckenridge History

Not long after prospectors found gold in what is now Summit County, mining camps blossomed along the waterways and gulches.  Similar in appearance, they showed little planning or organization.  Selecting a spot near wood and water, they placed their tents and crude log cabins haphazardly on or near claims.  Only later, when claims had to be surveyed, did any semblance of order or organization develop.  A main street, nothing more than a pathway through stumps and boulders lined with tents and rectangular buildings sporting false fronts advertising food, clothing, drink or supplies, appeared.

Land speculators, who planned to make their fortunes offering building lots for sale, brought the first true organization of streets and alleys to their newly created towns.  George E. Spencer and others under the company name of Spencer, Humphreys, McDougal and Wagstaff laid out the town of Breckenridge just a few weeks after the first recorded discovery of gold in the Blue River.  Early maps show that town lots overlaid claims such as the Bartlett & Shock, Snyder, Abbett, Silverthorn, Fanny, and Maggie placers.

The grid system for streets prevailed, in the same manner as it did in other mining towns.  Whether working on flat or steeply sloping land, speculators and surveyors preferred it because it was easy to place rectangles on a map; its regularity reduced the number of surveying errors; it provided a variety of individual lot arrangements within a single block; and the land division could be done without being on site.

Businesses and residences lined Main Street, the original major street, which paralleled the Blue River.  Bayard Taylor in 1866 described the street as having “log houses and signs of boarding,” like the Miner’s Home and Saloon.  William Brewer, three years later, wrote that Breckenridge had “a single street of one-story cabins covered with dirt rather than shingles.”  He noted primitive accommodations in divided tents advertised as boarding houses.  Rankins Hotel had a single sleeping room.   Other businesses could be found on Main Street:  restaurants, livery stables, assay offices, blacksmiths, and stores selling mining supplies, food, and liquid refreshments.

Wealthier families in a mining town tended to live one block away from the major street at a higher elevation overlooking the rest of the town.  By the early 1880s, this was Ridge Street.  The newspaper commented that Ridge Street occupied “the highest ground in the place, and views of the mountain scenery and Blue river valley are remarkably fine.”  The editor also explained:  “The street occupies a central position in the town and is one of the finest drives, as well as a superior location for residences.  A large amount of work was done on it during the last season in grading, removing rocks and stumps……”  But not only residences lined Ridge Street.  He added:  “Already one of the leading hotels, a bank, newspaper office, post office, several saloons and business houses have located on it, with the prospect that more will follow.”

As the town grew to the east, a problem arose as a result of surveying building lots on already existing placers.  In 1882, F.P. YIngling and P.D. Mickels, owners of the Bonanza placer, extending just north of Lincoln to slightly south of Adams on the east side of Harris and running five blocks east beyond what was then the edge of town, subdivided the placer and notified those on the lots that they must buy, rent, or vacate their home sites.  People had bought their lots and built on them not knowing they held invalid deeds.  The prices set by Yingling and Mickels seemed exorbitant at a time of generally low real estate prices.  Those occupying the land expressed willingness to pay the cost of the lot without improvements.  Yingling and Mickels felt that as the true owners, they could set the price.  If those living on the land did not want to pay the price, they could leave.  Unfortunately, the newspaper did not report the resolution of the two opposing points of view.

When the railroad arrived in Breckenridge in September, 1883, “west” Breckenridge became important.  The trains entered the town on what is now Boreas Pass Road, crossed Main Street to Park Avenue and headed north to Dillon.   The railroad built a passenger and freight depot on the west side of the tracks as well as a coaling station.  Other enterprises located along the tracks took advantage of the railroad:  the electric light plant, a concentrating mill, and a red light district.

By the early- to mid-1880s, the major streets in Breckenridge reflected the true prosperity of the town.  Establishments on Main, Ridge and the intersecting cross streets included not only the usual hotels, boarding houses, saloons, general merchandise stores, livery stables, newspaper offices, banks, blacksmith shops, assay offices and transportation depots but specialty stores and shops:  the bath house, barber shop, drugstore, confectionary, stationery store, hardware store, bakery, dressmaker and tailor, boot and shoe dealer, contractors and builders, music hall, furniture store, photographer, painter, museum, laundries and law offices, even though lawyers were generally unwanted and considered quite unnecessary.

The grid system still identifies the original streets of the Historic District of Breckenridge.  Main Street retains its primary business role; Ridge Street offers magnificent views of the Ten Mile Range.  Much has changed along those streets, though.  The businesses reflecting the mining economy have been replaced by businesses based on the recreational economy dependent on white gold (snow).  And the streets themselves that surround the original grid?  They now respond to topographic features rather than march across the land in the regular intervals of the grid pattern.

written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on Street Layout of Breckenridge

Categories: Breckenridge History

Probably no business establishment on the mining frontier played a more important role than the saloon.  Whiskey, the primary refreshment sold in the saloons, arrived in what became Summit County during the reign of the mountain men (1820-1850).  Each autumn, trappers and traders gathered at predesignated rendezvous spots, such as LaBonte’s Hole at the confluence of the Blue River, Snake River and Ten Mile Creek, to exchange their pelts for items needed for the coming winter such as gun powder, lead for bullets, rifles, knives, coffee, sugar, blankets and tobacco.    A large part of what the traders brought was whiskey and lots of it.

The first recorded gold strike on the Blue River occurred August 10, 1859.  Just six months later, the Rocky Mountain News noted that wagons and tents, as well as “stores, dwellings, shops, and saloons,” lined the Blue River.   Bayard Taylor, in 1866, told of enjoying a hearty meal complete with a barrel of beer on tap in Breckenridge.

The very first saloons might have been wagons with “saloon” or “whiskey” written on them.  Empty kegs with a board on top might have been the first “bar.”  Some saloons operated out of tents, a step above dispensing whiskey from wagons.  Perhaps the structure had wooden sides with a canvas roof on top.  Ornate, hand-carved bars appeared first in saloons located in log and wooden frame buildings, sometimes with a false front that provided space to advertise the business.    From these humble beginnings, the saloon rapidly became an ornate establishment complete with diamond dust mirror and real whiskey.

Why so many saloons?  Primarily, saloons bolstered the male ego.  They emphasized all the masculine traits of the mainly male population.  They also filled a need.  In them, men found comfort, a refuge from loneliness.  Patrons preferred becoming part of the crowd at a saloon to spending an evening in a lonely log cabin.  Saloons provided a place to eat, drink, sleep or simply relax.  Men could gamble, dance, exchange news and gossip, discuss local and national topics, perhaps get a haircut, attend to civic duties, vote in elections, file claims, attend religious services, weddings, or funerals, or receive rudimentary medical attention from visiting doctors or dentists.  In some establishments, men could find female companionship.

Saloons often functioned as the first courtrooms with the barkeeper serving as a judge.  Common sense prevailed.  All of this changed with the involvement of ever-present lawyers in the proceedings.  Elections for town officers might be held in a saloon.  Since courthouses were one of the first civic buildings constructed in a town, saloons filled this need for only a short time.  Some saloons provided mail boxes to rent, while others posted employment and other notices.  Before hospitals, those suffering from medical emergencies might be brought to a saloon for treatment.  Whiskey served as an anesthetic.  Because men showed reluctance to leave the gambling tables, ministers took their message to them–in the saloons.  After the service, the men passed the hat to get “a little something for the preacher.”  Father Dyer lamented that men preferred to go to the bar to drink and play cards–even on the Sabbath.  Some saloons, such as the Engle Brothers saloon on the northeast corner of Lincoln Avenue and Ridge Street, provided a fireproof safe for its patrons to use.   When it came to honesty, many preferred saloonkeepers to bankers.

Some saloons doubled as hotels, although accommodations and food could be rather poor.  When “real” hotels opened, the hotel/saloon became a saloon only.

Although the centrality and importance of saloons diminished as courthouses, doctor’s offices, banks, churches, lodges, a post office, hotels and restaurants opened, towns bragged about the number of saloons serving their residents.  A large number indicated the prosperity of the town.  In 1880, Minnie Roby, wife of merchant, John Roby, counted 18 saloons.  She listed some of them:  Weinberger and Brothers, liquors and cigars; Norris and Thornton Club Rooms; the Mammoth Circus Tent Club Rooms, Hodges and Staff; A. Cline and Company, wholesale liquor dealers.  Hotels also sold liquors:  Fisk’s Hotel, Carbonate House, the National Hotel, the Arlington Hotel, the Denver Hotel and the Grand Central Hotel.

To attract customers, saloonkeepers decorated their walls with artwork.  While drinking, the men might gaze at a portrait of a nude woman, with the shape of a base violin, hanging above the bar.  Or it might be posters advertising a specific brand of beer or a boxing champion.  Or the heads of animals taken during a hunt.  Or witty signs:  drink and leave quietly.

Advertisements filled the newspapers:

  • “For a schooner of grand beer go to Hammerschlag’s to-night.
  • To-night and to-morrow there will be a good time at Hammerschlag’s Denver saloon on South Main street.  George keeps the best beer to be had and everything connected with his place is first class.
  • Billiards, oh yes!  If you want an hours amusement in that line drop in at the Grand Central saloon, you can find food tables, a quiet place, a gentleman partner, good cigars and choice liquors.
  • Beer!  Beer!  Beer!
  • Table wines, I also have a fine line of celebrated Kelly Island Catawba wines for sale now to the trade; or in quantity for table use–at the bar of the Palace Saloon.
  • Fancy Cocktail and other Mixed Drinks Equal to The Best in the Land”

Saloons often catered to particular cultural groups.  The Palace Saloon hosted the Teutonia Leiderkranz, a German singing society.

The success of a saloon rested on the shoulders of the barkeeper.  P.S. Daigle, the bartender at the Denver Hotel enjoyed a fine reputation for keeping the “neatest and best bar in the city.”  He had “the best Kentucky Whiskey and his cigars cannot be beat.   Daigle is one of the few men who know just how to run a bar.”  Residents held the barkeepers in high regard and included them in the same social group as doctors, bankers, and newspaper editors.  A barkeeper’s clothing evolved through the years, from the rough and ready attire of the 1860s and 1870s to clean white shirts, vests, and jewelry.

Saloonkeepers used many “tricks” to draw customers and to increase the number of drinks poured.  The first drink after a miner’s long shift might be free; sometimes the first drink of the day came free.  Of course, some made the rounds of several saloons, getting that “first” free drink.  Bartenders encouraged “treating.” Not only did it enhance camaraderie, it greatly increased sales.

Saloons had an assayer’s scale to measure gold dust, the medium of exchange.  “How much can you raise in a pinch?” came from the mining frontier.  A pinch of gold dust between thumb and first finger equaled twenty-five cents.  Many other expressions still in use today came from the mining era.  One such expression is “to bite the dust.”  Sawdust covered the floors of many saloons, which made cleaning easier.   The sawdust could be panned for any gold that fell from pockets or fingers.  When a person imbibed too freely and fell to the floor, he “bit the (saw)dust.”

Saloons began offering food–free lunches in some; holiday feasts in others.  With the coming of the railroad in the early 1880s, saloonkeepers could offer fresh fruits, vegetables and meats transported by refrigerated cars.

The Gold Rooms on Main Street showed the complete transition to an establishment catering to businessmen.  One room had elegant gold wallpaper with “all the surroundings to match.”  The newspaper advertised another room intended for the “private use of gentlemen patrons, furnished with writing materials, stationery, etc.”

Weaver Brothers Corner Saloon at the intersection of Main Street and Lincoln Avenue noted that its drinks were “seductive but seldom intoxicating.”

Over time, the atmosphere in mining towns such Breckenridge changed.  The rugged individualism of independent prospectors and placer (plă’ ser) miners disappeared.  Large companies bought out individuals; it was better economically to consolidate claims.  Now the miners worked for others–seven days a week, ten-hour shifts–rather than for themselves.  The saloon no longer functioned as the domain of the hearty miner hoping for a lucky strike.  Rip-roaring days receded into memory.  Lodges, fraternal organizations, political parties, literary societies and reading rooms drew customers from the saloons, replacing drinking and gambling with more sedate activities.  More and more, customers included company men discussing world economics, mining practices, new machinery and labor problems.

Large companies enjoyed the advantage of investor funding–although the investing might not have been done wisely.  Residents and merchants preferred this new respectability that would lead to prosperity–everyone’s ultimate goal.

written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on Saloons in Breckenridge

Categories: Breckenridge History

Men, women, and children in Breckenridge faced lives of hard work and danger.  Long hours laboring in mines or hauling freight over muddy, rutty roads–cooking, cleaning, sewing, or managing boarding houses–helping fathers on a farm or in a store or mothers with housework–all left little time for recreation but “recreate” they did–summer and winter, indoors and out, individually or with others.  Skiing, ice skating, hunting, cycling, fishing, card games, dancing, singing in choral groups, participating in club activities, hosting dinner parties and other social events–all provided respite from daily life.  White glove social events like concerts and lectures entertained residents, as did costume balls.   As an added benefit, wholesome recreational endeavors occupied youthful minds and attempted to keep young men out of saloons and bordellos.

The long, cold winter months meant that many brave souls enjoyed ice skating.  A 60-foot tent over the frozen Blue River provided sheltered skating in 1883.  Skates that clipped onto shoes and were held in place by straps arrived from Denver.  These “first class” skates could be rented “for low prices” by the hour.  Local musical groups played nightly.  The newspaper editor followed the events at the rink:

“The Skating Rink is all filled up for the reception of Jack Frost.  If a good cold night occurs to night, skating will be in order tomorrow.”

“The skating rink affords lots of fun as well as ample opportunity for exercise to those who enjoy the gliding art.  Some of the performances are anything but graceful and occasionally the acute angles of the human machine do not feel as free from pain after as before skating; but it all affords lots of sport for the crowed (sic).  The county Coroner last evening exhibited his dexterity in that line, but rather likes skating but not the coming down part of it, he thinks if he had a feather bed handy every time he had to set down it would be much more agreeable.”

“Last night at the skating rink there was a jolly crowd enjoying themselves.  It is believed that Johnny Klinefelter can fall down and get up oftener in a minute than any man in town.”

“The proprietors of the Skating Rink are at work sewing together the strips of what was the big tent, they hope to get it up for business to night.”

By the time prospectors discovered gold in Summit County in 1859, skiing had proven itself to be the most efficient mode of personal transportation in mountainous terrain.  In the mid-1800s, men referred to their skis as snowshoes.  What we call snowshoes, they called Indian feet or webs.

Men used their snowshoes (skis) and their webs to deliver the mail, check trap lines, and travel between mining towns and camps in heavy snow.  They used their webs to climb steep hills while carrying their skis (snowshoes) on their backs; they switched to glide down the hill.   Skis generally measured 10 to 12 feet in length.  People carried one sturdy pole that they dragged behind them to steer, like a rudder on a boat.   To stop, skiers placed the pole between their legs and sat down on it.

Eli Fletcher of Breckenridge made skis for his friends using native spruce or pine, ash, oak or Texas pine.  He and his friends preferred Texas pine skis as they were the fastest skis and required no waxing.

Skiing evolved into a recreational activity enjoyed by men and many women, who faced an extra challenge steering and stopping because of their long skirts.

Ski jumping became the rage after the turn of the century.  Peter Prestrud, a Norwegian living in Frisco, introduced ski jumping to the county in 1910.  The thin atmosphere at 9,000 feet helped the “flyers” achieve great distances on their jumps.  On the Dillon ski jump, the largest in the county, Anders Haugen, another Norwegian, set a world record in 1919 with a distance of 213 feet.  A year later, he broke his own record with a jump of 214 feet.  People traveled for miles to see the competitions.  Many smaller jumps appeared around Breckenridge, providing hours of entertainment for young and some not-so-young men.

Men and women enjoyed fishing trips and participated in hunting excursions.  Ernest Conrad, George Watson, and Daniel Wesley Fall traveled beyond Steamboat Springs where they said the hunting was “immense.”  They shared “a generous slice of their visible supply of deer and elk meat” with the newspaper editor when they returned.

Sam Blair, the first marshal of Breckenridge, found fishing more important on occasion than his official duties.  A man accused of high grading (stealing gold) had been released from jail with the understanding that he would appear the following Saturday to face a jury.  At the appointed hour, Sam Blair did not appear.  Neither did the prosecuting attorney or his deputy.  Court officials explained that Blair found the call of the fish too strong to “fool away his time conducting court.”

Excursions on foot and by carriage enjoyed popularity summer and winter.  “A pleasant party of ladies and gentlemen of this city yesterday went up Kokomo trail to top of Ten Mile range and then went to top of peak No. 8 where Kokomo, Robinson, Recen, and Wheeler and Mount of Holly (sic) Cross could be seen . . . A game at snow ball was enjoyed on top of the mountain.”

Sometimes excursions ended disastrously:  Mrs. Maggie Blair and some women companions went on a huckleberry-picking trip to the Swan River.  She and another friend, thrown from the wagon, fell into a narrow rocky ditch and sustained severe injuries.

Cycling clubs sponsored excursions for men, women, and children.  The groups rode throughout the country, sometimes stopping to enjoy a picnic along the way.  At holidays, groups and individuals decorated their bicycles to celebrate the event.

After the turn of the century, baseball commanded the interest of many in the county, soon becoming the most popular summertime sport.  “The attention of all interested in the formation of a base ball (sic) club is called to the fact that there will be a practice at the game grounds in Illinois Park to-morrow evening, everybody is invited to attend.”

Teams from Dillon, Montezuma, Breckenridge, Slate Creek, and Frisco traveled throughout the county and across county lines to Alma for games.  The newspaper reported in great detail–pitch by pitch, inning by inning.  Large crowds cheered for their favorite team while the Breckenridge Band entertained the spectators.  At least one member of the band played on the Breckenridge baseball team.

Like most mining camps, Montezuma had its quota of “soiled doves.”  Dixie, who operated a prosperous establishment in town, loved baseball.  According to Elizabeth Rice Roller, “When the team from a neighboring town met the home nine on the rough diamond near the schoolhouse, no one objected when she attended in her colorful finery and, keeping to herself at one end of the rough board grand stand, she rooted heartily for the home team. “

Despite all the enthusiasm for sports and recreation, not everyone appreciated the attempts to “recreate” in the streets of town.  The newspaper editor noted that football in the streets “was all the rage.”  A day later, he wrote:  “Pitching quoits and playing foot-ball in the streets is objected to by some of the more staid citizens; correct.”

Those “staid citizens” preferred other methods of recreation.  Social clubs played an important role in their lives.  The list of clubs covered all interests:  a Shakespeare, history, kitchen, women’s, bridge, thimble, and even a taffy club.  The newspaper included stories about the taffy club’s activities:  “The renowned, and great, and only Breckenridge Taffy club was pleasantly entertained Monday evening at the home of Mrs. Lena Filger, her bright and interesting daughters, the Misses Irma and Ilma Filger, dispensing lavish hospitality and sweetness to the members.”  In September, 1903, Lillie King hosted an “old fashioned taffy-pull” for her brother.

Members of the kitchen club could master the art of baking at high altitude while those in the thimble club improved their sewing skills.

Games played at card clubs included Euchre or whist–a forerunner of bridge.  Poker had its devotees.  Ernest Conrad, a Breckenridge marshal in 1887-1888, and his family belonged to the upper social class in Breckenridge.  On a Thursday evening in 1888, the Conrads joined friends for a social evening that included progressive high five, interspersed with music furnished by Miss Lillie Eberlein and Miss Audrey Ferris.  “Dainty refreshments followed the game of cards.”

Younger residents planned and hosted birthday parties.  “Last evening a party consisting of about a score of young misses late school mates of Miss Addie MIckel, suprised (sic) that young lady by an unexpected birthday call . . . the event was an enjoyable one for all present, the evening was spent in appropriate past-times, games, dancing, singing, etc.”

Glee clubs entertained guests. Not only women participated.  The Breckenridge Männerchor (Men’s Choir) organized in 1881 with Henry Yust as conductor.  Peter Engle, the principal tenor, co-owned with his brother the Engle Brothers saloon.  In 1886, the newspaper editor noted that the Teutonia Leiderkranz (the word means wreath in German) “is making creditable headway and soon will be able to rank as one of the best singing societies in the state.”

In 1883, the many Pennsylvanians living in the areaformed a social cub.  “The Pennsylvanians of Breckenridge and Vicinity are respectfully invited to meet at the Grand Central Hotel on Saturday next for the purpose of organizing a social club.”  The Pioneers Club included men and women who had arrived in town prior to 1860.

With the arrival of women in the early 1880s, dancing became a popular activity.   “Proper” women attended dances at lodges and clubs with only invited guests; they never attended those held in saloons.

Probably some of the most important social events held in Breckenridge each year were the balls sponsored by various social and fraternal organizations.  It didn’t take much to decide to hold one.  The group found a room, hired the musicians, and prepared the food.  While many welcomed the diversion, some ministers considered the balls to be one of the devil’s favorite ways of ruining their efforts to bring religion to a camp.

At a costume ball in 1887, the reporter listed 48 attendees and their costumes.  Among them were a sailor girl, queen, several characters from Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, gypsy queen, tambourine girl, Goddess of Liberty, clown, Henry IV, Spanish cavalier, and George Washington.

One of the costumes particularly interested the reporter:  “The only local hit made in the characters taken was that in which the Daily Journal was personated by our charming townslady Mrs. Robert Hamilton.  Her dress and head covering was (sic) made entirely of copies of the little Daily . . . As an original idea the character was the most successful in the ball, and for the compliment the Daily Journal desires to return to its fair representative its most heartfelt thanks.”

Even with all the recreational opportunities available, men could still choose to “recreate” at their favorite saloon.  They didn’t have to walk far from one saloon to another to enjoy a wide variety of drinks, gambling, and fellowship.

written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on Recreation in Early Breckenridge

Categories: Breckenridge History

The population of Summit County and its towns rose and fell with the fortunes of mining.

From an initial estimate of “hundreds” in the county in 1860 during the first gold rush, the number dropped to 258 by 1870.  With the second boom in 1880, the number of residents grew to 5459, only to drop to 1906 by 1890 because of the looming national silver crisis.  Dredging operations and a revival of placer mining at the turn of the century brought the number to 2744 in the 1900 census.

Census date for Breckenridge show the same growth and decline pattern:  a total of 51 in 1870; an increase in 1880 to 1657; a decline to 714 in 1890; and by 1900, a rise to 976.

Some in Breckenridge claimed northern European ancestry, but most were native-born.  Of those residing in Breckenridge in 1870, 37 were born in the United States; 14 on foreign soil.

In Summit County in 1870, the native-born population arrived mainly from Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.  These same three states plus Illinois led the list in 1880.  In 1885, those born in Colorado now outnumbered those born in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

The foreign-born in Colorado in 1860 came from, in descending order, Canada, Ireland, the German states, England and Scotland.  By the 1870 census, not much had changed.  The Irish, escaping the potato famine, now ranked first; then the Germans, the English, and in fourth place, the Canadians.   In 1880, the English took first place; then the Irish, Germans and Canadians in descending order.  The German Empire by that time had united the German states, principalities and kingdoms.  If Wales, Cornwall and England are considered as one along with Canada and Ireland, then these areas sent the greatest number of immigrants to Colorado in 1860, 1870 and 1880.

Breckenridge and Summit County followed national trends.  Foreign-born residents in the county arrived mainly from northern Europe.  The 1870 census listed 11 from British America (Canada), 28 from England and Wales; 14 from Ireland; three from Scotland; 27 from Germany; three from Norway and Sweden and two from Denmark.

Gold fever hit London hard, resulting in a large migration to Colorado.  One writer called Colorado “England beyond the Missouri.”

In Cornwall, poor working conditions, starvation, low wages, poor management of the mines and growing unemployment pushed the Cornish miner to the US.  First settling in the eastern states, the Cornish eventually brought their skills and expertise to Colorado and Summit County.  The presence of certain social organizations and religious institutions tells of the Cornish who lived in Summit County:  the Masons, Knight of Pythias, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and, of course, the Methodist Church.

A substantial number of immigrants claimed Germany as “home.”  Many arrived in Summit County with no plans to work in the mines.  They felt that finding a stable economic future rested in applying a trade in places other than the mines.  They became carpenters, saloon keepers, merchants or boardinghouse proprietors.  So many Germans lived in Colorado that for 12 years (1877-1899), the state printed its laws in German as well as in English and Spanish.  They did not abstain from card playing, dancing or drinking, even on Sundays–restrictions strictly observed by the Cornish Methodists.

Many residents perceived the Chinese as a threat to miners and merchants as well as to the general economic environment of the area.  Thus they did not welcome the “Celestials.”  The newspaper editor wrote that they would “drive out white labor, empty the schools, cause merchants to carry little variety and cheap goods, and make the efforts of the last 20-plus years meaningless.  It would be better to let the placers lie idle than bring the Chinese to work them.”  He editorialized, “Let those here stay but let no one else in.”

Chinese workers engaged in placer mining in French Gulch; on Barney Ford Hill at the head of Mayo and Illinois gulches, and south of Breckenridge, along the Blue River.  In 1888, when Chinese arrived to work some placers near Lincoln, the newspaper editor commented that “Chinese were not required and none would be tolerated.”

Despite the animosity directed toward the Chinese, the Journal editor wrote about the Chinese New Year in very friendly terms, mentioning that Choy, who worked at the laundry, gave candies and nuts to the children in town.

No Chinese were counted in the Colorado census of 1860; the number grew to 7 in 1870.   None lived in Summit County.  By 1880, 601 lived in the state.  All 19 in Summit County worked in laundries.  Five years later, the number had grown to 21 in the county; 17 worked in placer mines; two worked as dishwashers and two worked in laundries.

As a rule, Chinese did not bring their families.  Because Chinese women would not willing leave their homeland, researchers estimate that as many as 90 percent of the Chinese women in the United States were prostitutes.  Many had been kidnapped or sold as indentured servants, sometimes even when still babies.  Once in a mining town or camp, a Chinese woman had little opportunity to mix with other women in the community.  Subject to the wishes of her husband, she spent her days doing laundry or sewing or ironing.  Because Chinese men would not marry non-Chinese women, many prostitutes became wives to older Chinese men.  In the 1880 Breckenridge census, one Chinese woman appears:  Lee Cum, age 25, the wife of Lee Chun, age 52.  Both worked in a laundry.  Was she a prostitute who later became the wife of the much older man?

Those of Italian origin were no more welcome than the Chinese.  The headlines screamed “Dealing in Dagoes — the Importation of 100 Organ Grinders Created Considerable Excitement” when the Pence-Miller Placer Company on the Blue River hired Italians to dig a ditch.  Even after the turn of the century, some formal correspondence from county officials referred to Italians as “dagoes.”

Very few African-Americans lived in Summit County.  The newspaper editor noted that so many “Darkies” worked placer mines in 1860 in Utah Gulch, one mile east of Breckenridge in French Gulch, that the gulch had been renamed for them.  In 1885, the census counted five free African-Americans out of 258 county residents.

As would be expected of early mining towns with few amenities, young, unmarried males dominated.   Those less bound by family and finances could more easily head west. Only later, as the towns grew, did females and children make up a larger portion of the population.  In Summit County, between 1860 and 1885, unmarried single men composed the largest part of the population.  Married men quite often came without their spouse or family.  Generally, though, merchants and professionals brought their families.  They expected to remain and build the town and economy rather than find their fortune and return “home.”

written by Sandra F. Mather, PhD

Date posted: April 8, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on Population of Summit County

Categories: Breckenridge History