Breckenridge History Blog

Softly undulating along Breckenridge’s western horizon, the Ten Mile Range marks the boundary of the Upper Blue River Valley. Towering above the town of Breckenridge, iconic Peak 8 is as immediately recognizable as the Matterhorn is to Zermatt or Mount Rainier is to Seattle. Recently protected as a National Monument by President Joe Biden, much of the Ten Mile Range will continue to appear as it did in the mining heyday. Read on to explore the significance and background of Summit County’s Ten Mile Range.

In the early days of Western exploration, map-making was big business. Pioneers seeking an overland route along the Oregon Trail in the 1830s needed guidance. Soon, explorers ventured beyond the established trail to probe further into the western interior

One of the first private citizens to explore and map the area that became Summit County and Breckenridge was writer and mountain man, Rufus Sage. Following in the footsteps of J.C. Fremont’s topographical engineers, in 1844 Sage traveled from Old Park (today’s North Park), over Muddy Pass to the Colorado River and followed a southern tributary, today’s Blue River. Sage gave us the name and location of a mountain man rendezvous point, “La Bonte’s-hole,” at the confluence of the not-yet-named Blue, Snake and Ten Mile Rivers. Yet, like Fremont, he did not record the names of the rivers nor the ranges. What lay west beyond the Ten Mile Range remained a mystery.

The Pikes Peak or Bust gold rush of 1859-60 created demand for more specific maps of the gold regions. In February 1860, the Western Mountaineer, a fledgling newspaper based in Golden, Jefferson County, published one of the earliest guides to identify Breckenridge. A simple hand-drawn map, laid out with west at the top – just as a prospector arriving from the eastern plains would see it – showed a prominent trail. Leading from today’s Colorado Springs through South Park (known then as Bayou Salade), the trail coursed by Tarryall (eastern side of today’s Boreas Pass), to Fort Jones and Breckenridge. At the top of the map, to Breckenridge’s west, stood an imposing mountain range. Beyond that, the great unknown

Regional historians find great value in this map not for just for what it lacks, but for what it contains. Fort Jones was another moniker for Breckenridge’s Fort Mary B. and the identification of Breckenridge is notable for its spelling.

Searching for gold, prospectors soon ventured beyond the boundaries of the Upper Blue River Valley. By 1862, a map of the Colorado Territory Central Gold Region displaying the name of the first territorial governor William Gilpin, showed “Tenmiles Creek” on the other side of the range from Breckenridge. Likely named because it is about 10 miles from the confluence to the head of the waterway.

The name “Tenmiles Creek” repeated on Frederick J. Ebert’s Colorado Map of 1865 and again in 1866 on a Colorado General Land Office map.

In 1873, the U.S. Geological Survey printed a map identifying Ten Mile Creek and the Ten Mile Peaks, along with Mt. Quandary.

Peak 10’s first appearance on a known map came in 1882.

Historic newspaper accounts tell of the range’s iconic peaks. An article in the Summit County Journal of March 1892 mentions Peak Ten and mining activity in the Ten Mile District. In July 1895, a group of guests from Oklahoma and Missouri climbed Peak Ten “and greatly enjoyed the experience and scenery as viewed from the top.”

Several years later, in August 1903, a large party of ladies and gentlemen climbed Peak 10, each carrying a “lunch box and a Kodak.” (We wish we could see those photos!) In 1906, two couples married on Peak 10 in a tent erected near timberline.

Climbing Peak 8 also became a popular leisure-time activity. In 1903, a party of young people ascended Peak 8 and “had the usual interesting mountain climbers’ time.” In 1906, observers noted 5,000 sheep grazing on Peak 8.

Also in 1906, the local newspaper acknowledged Peak 7. A Decoration Day remembrance (today’s Memorial Day) took place at Valley Brook Cemetery, “a beautifully sequestered spot at the foot of snow-capped Peak 7.”

While Peak 10 featured prominently on maps of the late-19th Century, none of the other peaks received names on known maps until after the turn of the century. In 1904, Thomas A. Brown, Breckenridge area miner and map maker, included Peaks 1, 2 and 3 on the north end of the range. On the south, Peak 8 can be found on the bottom edge of the map. Just as we find the lack of distinction between Peaks 4 through 7 confusing today, so did Brown. He declined to identify them by name.

Lacking mineral resources, very few mining claims exist along the eastern face of the Ten Mile Range. With the exception of the Breckenridge Ski Area, the Ten Mile Range looks much as it did during the mining era and Breckenridge’s early history

Because of the historic and natural resources along the mountain peaks, much of the Ten Mile Range is now protected as a National Monument, along with the Camp Hale area where members of the 10th Mountain Division trained during World War II.  In October 2022, President Biden established the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument. Setting aside the area and eliminating potential future impacts from mining or extractive industries, Biden cited the following attributes of the areas’ importance:

  • Cultural and spiritual significance to Native people, especially the Ute tribe
  • Native American artifacts
  • Historical remnants relating to mining, transportation and railroads 
  • Training grounds of the 10th Mountain Division
  • Geographic significance of the Continental Divide
  • Natural resources including rare plants, abundant water ways, rugged mountains and stunningly beautiful scenery.

Future plans for the area will be determined by a management plan to be established by the US Forest Service with public input.

Date posted: March 24, 2023 | Author: | Comments Off on The Ten Mile Range and the Camp Hale-Continental Divide National Monument

Categories: Historic Sites and Museums

The community of Breckenridge began in 1859-60 as a collection of rustic log cabins and a protective fort when a group of hearty prospectors and one woman over-wintered along the Blue River. The fort became known as Fort Mary B. in honor of that intrepid female. Who was Mary B. and where was the fort located? Follow Breckenridge History as we explore the earliest days of Breckenridge town and the mysteries of Fort Mary B.

August 10, 1859, marks the start of Breckenridge as we know it today. Prospectors birthed a community along with their gold discoveries. Searchers found gold in the Blue River by spring of 1859, but it wasn’t until that August day, when Ruben J. Spaulding found enough gold in his pan to stake a claim, that settlement began. Spaulding’s discovery prompted the formation of the first mining district along the Blue River. With a mining district in place, the community began its growth that continues today, over 160 years later

Needing a governing structure for the development of their mining district, the prospectors established the Spaulding District and wrote the “Journal of Procedeings In and for the Spaulding Diggings.”

That district journal, assumed to be long lost, was found by historian Bill Fountain in 2008 in a private collection.

From the journal, we learn that the prospectors intended to stay in the area. Those first miners immediately set out to erect a fort to protect themselves from the native Ute people. According to Fountain, the men built the fort in about seven weeks, beginning in mid-August, and completed in late-September

The Spaulding Diggings Journal recorded the name of the stockade on September 30, 1859. A Mr. Ogden resolved “…that this fort be called Fort Mary B in honor of the first lady who visited the same.” Spaulding’s group agreed, adopting the name and preserving it in writing for future generations.

Memory fades, names are forgotten, and reminiscences become fuzzy. Thirty-five years after the founding of Fort Mary B., Spaulding (sometimes spelled ‘Spalding’) shared his memories with Frank Hall for Hall’s History of the State of Colorado. Spaulding recalled that the fort was named “Fort Maybery, in honor of the first white woman who crossed the range to French Gulch.”

Recognizing the conflict, Hall wrote: “Mr. John Shock reminds me that this block house (fort) was named for a Mr. Mabery from Cleveland, Ohio, one of the miners who assisted in building it. Others assert that it was called Fort Mary B. in honor of Mary Bigelow, the first woman who quartered there.”

Even in 1859-60, not everyone agreed on the name of the fort. In October 1859, Dr. E.H. Boyd wrote from Fort Independence, requesting merchants to bring food and supplies. The next month, a correspondent using the initials LEW stated that 25 persons wintered at Jones Fort.

By spring 1860, a Mr. Carlile arrived in the Blue River Valley and first camped at the place he called Fort Mary B.

No matter the name, life at the fort went on. Sufficient description of the structure survives in the historic record to fill out a picture of the stockade.  John D Young passed through the Blue River Diggings in May 1860 and shared his story in his book: John D Young and the Colorado Gold Rush.

Young wrote: “There was a fort built on this gulch… The fort was a very strong looking building being made of large pine logs about ten feet high, inclosing about one acre and loopholed on every side for musketry.”

In 1861, William Byers, editor of the Rocky Mountain News, traveled to Breckenridge and described the fort at length for the Miners Record: 

Less than a mile below Breckinridge, is Fort Mary B. built for, and occupied as winter quarters in the winter of ’59 and ’60 by the few settlers who were on the Blue then.  They were uncertain as to the feelings of their Indian neighbors, and to provide against contingencies, very wisely prepared themselves for defense.  A number of block houses, sufficient to accommodate all, were planned and built in a hollow square—all facing inward.  The walls were of green logs and the roofs of earth, so that while almost impregnable to arms from without; they could not easily be fired.  Two openings to the court, or enclosure, were easily guarded, and they were really well situated for defense.  On one side is the old channel, and on the other, the new one, of Blue River.  All the buildings are now deserted and falling to ruin.”

Note that Byers uses the alternative spelling of “Breckinridge.”

That first winter, prospectors spent their time sawing logs into boards for sluice boxes. What they wouldn’t use themselves, they planned to sell for a large profit to the throngs of incoming prospectors expected the following spring.

While hungry for decent food, saying “flour and bacon is scarce,” they managed on wild game and “the finest fish I ever saw.” 

The accommodations also lacked comfort. Though safe from attack, the block cabins had to be drafty, leaky and cold. If the housing at Fort Mary B. was anything like the first abodes of the residents of Denver City and Auraria in 1858 and 1859, they were without floors and window glass. Henry Villard in his The Past and Present of the Pike’s Peak Gold Regions, described Denver’s first cabins: “Mud representing the only ‘roofing’ then to be had, the rain and snow experienced little difficulty in reaching the interior of the cabins, much to the discomfort and inconvenience of their inhabitants.”

Most of the fort’s occupants remain unknown. One famous resident, George E. Spencer, resided at the fort that winter. Known as the man who secured Breckenridge’s post office in January 1860 by changing the spelling of the town’s name to “Breckinridge,” Spencer went on to become a senator in Alabama after the Civil War. Learn more about the naming of Breckenridge in this article.

M.B. Ogen spent the season keeping weather records. August was rainy. Fall passed pleasantly. The first snows began in earnest in November and the total snowfall for the winter amounted to 154 ½ inches. Like a booster promoting the area’s accessibility, Ogen reported: “there never was more than three feet, eight inches at any one time, on the ground near the fort.”

The winter of 1859-60 appears to have been milder than usual. A delightful fall lulled the prospectors into staying in the high country. People came and went from Fort Mary B. all season long, carrying news, supplies and mail on their backs over the snowy range. Today Breckenridge averages around 300” of snowfall per season, almost double the total recorded at Fort Mary B. that first winter of occupation.

Perhaps stir crazy, by February, several men ventured out in search of gold. Norwegians in the group, led by Balce Weaver, crafted “snowshoes” (skis) and discovered a bonanza of gold in Gold Run near today’s Breckenridge Golf Course.  These pioneers receive credit for the first skiing in Breckenridge.

The fort’s population varied over the winter. William A. Smith reported that twenty men, one woman and four children occupied the fort in March 1860. In May 1860, ‘Sea Pea’ wrote of only “one lady living in Breckenridge.” Yet by July, Smith noted many women and children.

Breckenridge boomed in the spring of 1860. The expected prospectors flocked to the Blue River Diggings. The fort offered sanctuary through mud season, and when June arrived, the area’s population exploded. ‘Sea Pea’ wrote in June 1860 that “one month ago you could scarcely see a human being away from the fort.” Apparently, that wasn’t the case come June.

Once the snow cleared, merchants arrived with goods. Smith wrote in May 1860 that “We have three store houses under way, two in Breckenridge, and one in Fort Mary B., which will be stocked…soon.”  And a month later, the Rocky Mountain News reported that miners can buy provisions or clothing “either at the Fort or in Breckenridge. Mssrs. Iddings & Co are now selling in Fort Mary B.” 

We know from Byers’ report of 1861 that the fort was abandoned and falling into decay by then.  Breckenridge drew the commerce and the feared Ute people offered little threat. 

Over the following decades, Fort Mary B. disappeared in all but memory. Old timers knew it was located by the Jones Mill. Newcomers in the ski town era had no knowledge of the former Jones Mill because it was lost under dredge rock piles. Historian Ed Auge wrote in 1937 that while the stack or tower of the Wilson-Jones Smelter remained as a reminder of the “one-time prosperous days,” in 1923 it was “blown down…by the Tonopah Company in charge of Joseph Hopkins to allow No. 1 dredge to work the ground.”

Using an old photograph containing an incidental image of the Wilson-Jones Smelter, historians Bill Fountain and Maureen Nicholls located the site of Fort Mary B. in 2008, pinpointing it to the southern end of today’s City Market shopping plaza. 

And who was Mary B.

No primary source, eye-witness accounts exist for the naming of Fort Mary B. for a “Mary Bigelow.”  The first written mention of the name Bigelow comes from Frank Hall’s History of the State of Colorado, which was published in 1894 and is quoted above.

Young Ella Foote repeats the “Mary Bigelow” story in 1900 when the Summit County Journal published her history of Breckenridge. A sixth-grader, Miss Foote expands on the Mary Bigelow legend with the statement: “There remained here for the winter 29 men and one woman. They erected a fort near the Jones mill and called it Fort Mary Bigelow…. Mary Bigelow, after whom the fort was named, did the cooking for the 29 men.”

Miss Foote interviewed Charles Runyon for her story. Runyon first came through the area in 1845 on expedition with Fremont, returned for the gold rush, and resided in Breckenridge in 1900.

In 1937, Ed Auge reiterated the Mary Bigelow story: “It was called Fort Mary B. and sometimes Fort Maberry in honor of Mary Bigelow who was supposed to be the first white woman to come to Summit County.”

Bill Fountain found a reference to a Mr. Bigelow in Denver’s 1861 unclaimed mail, indicating he may be prospecting in the mountains. Yet there is no definitive connection of that Bigelow to Breckenridge.

Like so much of Breckenridge history passed down to us, details become murky over time. Mary Bigelow is part of the collective memory of Breckenridge old-timers, but no evidence exists for the presence of a Mary Bigelow in Breckenridge or at the Fort.

Others believe that Mary B. could be a derivation of Marbery or Marksbury. When Jeannette Marksbury Eberlein died in Breckenridge in 1918, her obituary shared the story of her coming to Breckenridge as a baby. Her father, James Marksbury brought his wife, toddler child and infant daughter (Jeannette) to the Blue River Diggings in 1859, making Mrs. Marksbury the first woman to cross the Snowy Range.  But the 1860 census, taken in June of that year, shows little Jeannette in Jackson Township, Shelby County, Missouri, over 150 miles east of St. Joseph where she was born in April 1859. While it is possible that the Marksbury family could have hastened back to Missouri after a winter in Breckenridge in time to be enumerated in the census, it appears unlikely that Jeannette and her mother, Sarah Jane Pierce Marksbury, ever made it to Colorado for the 1859-60 season. The Marksbury family does appear in Breckenridge mining claim records in 1864, according to Fountain’s research.

Mary Ellen Gilliland in her book Breckenridge: 150 Years of Golden History, identified another potential candidate, a Mary B. Bunker who crossed the range in 1859. Mrs. Bunker’s obituary also credits her with being the first.

Given the date and primary recording of the Spaulding Diggings Journal, the most likely candidate for the namesake fort was a woman named “Mary B” who visited there. Whether she stayed long or not is unknown.

Fort Mary B. played a crucial role in the development of Breckenridge as a community. People stayed the winter, settled in the valley, and never left. While we know a lot about Fort Mary B., we may never know who was Mary B. herself. The name origin of the fort remains another Breckenridge mystery.

Sourcing for this article

Newspaper articles

Spaulding District Log Book

Bill Fountain’s drive of historic research

Blasted, Beloved, Breckenridge by Mark Fiester

Breckenridge: 150 Years of Golden History by Mary Ellen Gilliland

Date posted: March 23, 2023 | Author: | Comments Off on The Mysteries of Fort Mary B.

Categories: Uncategorized

Breckenridge’s Airport Road remains the sole legacy of the history of airplanes and wished-for airport development in town.  From the beginning of Breckenridge as a ski town, airplanes played an important role in the community’s growth. And while many residents hoped that a bona fide airport would cover the rockpiles in the valley, it never came to fruition. In this second article on Breckenridge’s airport, learn more about the legacy of Airport Road.

In Breckenridge’s Airport Legacy: Part 1, Breckenridge History shared the link between airplanes and our town’s development as a ski destination.  As early as 1960, the first investors, the Rounds family, flew into Breckenridge, landing at a rough strip north of Tiger Road. With the construction of a longer landing strip in the valley floor, private pilots flew into Breckenridge for many years.  Even the purchase of the ski area by Aspen Ski Corporation in 1970 connects to air flight into the valley. Still today, residents remember a 1977 plane crash carrying members of a band who had just played at Shamus O’Toole’s Roadhouse Saloon.

Talk of Commercial Airport Buzzed Around Town

By the late 1970s, talk of a commercial airport in Breckenridge buzzed around town. A headline in the Summit County Journal in January 1976 asked: “Summit International Airport?” After initial intentions to develop an airport for private and charter flights, the conversation soon shifted to a full-service airport with regularly scheduled passenger aircraft

Breckenridge Lands, Inc. (BLI), the successor entity to the Rounds’ family business ventures, wanted to donate the land for the airport development. John Rahm, then head of the Breckenridge Ski Corporation, supported the effort, saying “there will be an airport in Summit County, in the future.”

By spring, the Town appointed an airport study group comprised of Win Lockwood, Jeff Paffrath, Jerry Cooney, and Bob Maynard, CEO of Keystone.  Spring is also election season for Breckenridge Town Council and the “Bullish on Breckenridge” candidates, a pro-airport and pro-development slate, prevailed in the polls.

The study group kept their work quiet for several years until local residents were surprised in November 1978 with the headline: “Commercial Air Service Set to Begin in November 1979.” This time, Summit County Government took the lead, reaching a tentative agreement with Rocky Mountain Airways and the Breckenridge Economic Development Commission (BEDC) to construct and maintain a STOLport (short take-off and landing). DeHaviland Twin Otters holding 19 passengers and Dash-7s carrying up to 49 passengers would be the aircraft of choice.

The agreement covered construction and paving of an 8000’ runway, maintenance, a microwave landing system, runway lights, terminal building and ground transportation. To meet FAA requirements for aviation, a 261’ tall tower would be erected.

Anticipating opposition, Win Lockwood of the BEDC said that the DeHaviland STOLcrafts were “among the safest planes today.” Within a few years after completion, Lockwood anticipated that the airport would see 10 flights a day utilizing the Twin Otters, and during peak ski season, twenty flights a day with the Dash-7s.

More Influential Visitors

Lockwood and other proponents of the airport touted it as an economic benefit. The group’s summary stated: “Establishment of airline service will serve to make Summit County more competitive with other resort areas and will attract more influential visitors to the area.”

Within weeks, the opposition organized. Surprised by the sudden announcement of a coming airport, a group calling themselves CARE (Committee for Airport Review and Evaluation) raised concerns about noise, impacts on neighborhoods near the STOLport, additional burdens on the Rescue Group for downed aircraft, and impacts from uncontrolled growth. They also questioned the validity and need for air service.

Then-County Commissioner Scott Gould was in favor of the airport and pushed for its development. As a private citizen, he worked on the feasibility study. When over 800 people signed a petition asking that the airport be put to public vote, the County Commissioners slowly backed away. In April of 1979, the County first announced it would not pursue the citizens’ vote. Then in February 1980, the BOCC voted 2-1 to return the land to BLI with hopes that Breckenridge would develop the airport, saying: “public sentiment was such that the County could not spend any of its funds on the airport.”

BLI had no interest in developing an airport either, so they donated the property to Breckenridge Christian Ministries, who in turn sold it to Lockwood’s group, Sawmill Station Associates. Lockwood promised the airport would be operational by the arrival of winter 1981. 

Sawmill Station Associates also ended the tradition of allowing private aircraft to use the Breckenridge landing strip, posting a notice: “No aircraft is permitted to take off or land without express written consent of the owners, S&C Partners.”  The “S” being the Sawmill Station Associates and the “C” belonging to Cal-Colorado, an investment group headed by Nick Marsch, who then owned Breckenridge’s Bell Tower Mall. 

S&C Partners worked through 1980 lining up Rocky Mountain Airways, permits and dollars.  The Town expected to see a request for annexation in October 1980, even though Ken Adams, Community Development Director was skeptical: “I question how many people will use it, especially being this close to Denver.”

The CARE group continued to raise concerns about the airline path directly over town, safety, fire, weather, noise and environmental issues.

A noise study conducted in the valley in November 1980 concluded that a Cessna landing created 70 decibels and a Dash-7 made 71 decibels of noise, less than truck traffic on Highway 9 which came in at 72-74 decibels. 

At the time, no one knew what a game-changer the 1980-81 ski season would be. A major drought shut down the flow of moisture. Just before the holiday, the Breckenridge Ski Area laid off 200 workers because of lack of snow. The ski area operated for only three days over Christmas and didn’t reopen until February 1981. The County and Town slashed budgets due to declining tax revenue. Breckenridge installed snowmaking the following season.

Summer tourism became the community’s new focus. Summer 1981 saw the beginnings of the Breckenridge Music Festival (today’s BreckCreate), the Breckenridge Film, and the first negotiations for the Jack Niklaus-designed Golf Course.

As summer 1981 stirred, Win Lockwood published an editorial in the Summit County Journal praising the benefits of the coming airport and the positive financial and economic impact. Emphasizing summer tourism, he said the airport would “balance the year-round economy and improve convention business.”

In May 1981, the long-anticipated annexation petition drew crowds to a Town Council meeting. Now organized as AIM (Airport Initiative Movement), the opposition raised past concerns and brought in new issues, visual impact and regulation of pilots and aircraft among them.

Would you spend your vacation in a flight path?

“Would you spend your vacation in a flight path?” AIM asked.  Spokesman Wayne Brown requested that opponents of the airport be allowed to make their case. Developers were spending thousands of dollars to persuade the public. AIM wanted the community to know that incoming flights would approach the runway by flying directly over downtown Breckenridge, cruising just 500-700’ above Ski Hill Road. 

Then the mud-slinging began. In one of Breckenridge’s more rancorous public debates, people drew hard sides. One letter to the editor debating Brown’s statement accused AIM of spreading false information because the aircraft would be a full 800’ above Ski Hill Road, not 500-700.’ Another claimed superiority in his sentiments because he had been in Breckenridge longer (a dozen years) than some of the airport opponents.

Things got nasty in town. Airport proponents boycotted John Warner’s dental practice.  Rick Bly of The Drug Store lost customers over his stance.

By summer 1981, AIM began a petition drive to block the airport through a vote of the citizens. Faced with growing opposition, the pro-airport contingent bought a series of ads in the weekly Summit County Journal. Each week, the list of supporters grew.

Former resident Joyce Giger remembered that some people whose names appeared on the propaganda never approved of the airport and did not give permission for their names to be published.

In June, the annexation agreement was reached. Meanwhile, AIM gathered enough signatures to petition the Council to put it to a vote. By July 1981, the race was on. The citizens of Breckenridge would decide on the fate of the airport.

A Vote Yes Meant No Airport

AIM made a tactical error in their campaign. The petition proposed a law that would prohibit the landing and take-off of fixed-wing aircraft in the town of Breckenridge. As a result, a ‘yes’ vote meant: “Yes, no fixed-wing aircraft will be permitted in the town.”  A “no” vote indicated support for the airport.

Joyce Giger commented that voters were confused. “I still have to wonder how many voters did not understand they needed to vote YES if they didn’t want the airport,” she said. 

Leading up to the vote on September 1, 1981, the local newspapers were filled with articles, advertisements and letters to the editor about the airport, both for and against.

Mayor Bernie McMenamy published an editorial in support of the airport. The Summit County Journal encouraged a vote for the airport saying: “The ‘pro-airport’ people have simply done a better job in presenting their case. They have saturated town meetings, BRA get-togethers, news media, etc. … and made an excellent case.” 

And the airport proponents won by garnering 22 more “no” votes than those who voted “yes” in favor of prohibiting fixed-wing aircraft.

Pro-Airport Vote Wins

But Breckenridge lacks an airport to this day. What happened? 

Follow the money. In 1982, interest rates soared. The Bank of Breckenridge offered 25% interest on new money market deposits. Investment cash was harder to come by. Aspen Ski Corporation pulled their financial support. Rocky Mountain Airways’ spotty safety record, compounded with money woes, made Breckenridge a less attractive destination. Housing for local workers was as challenging then as today. The Town of Breckenridge enacted strict housing requirements on new development, including on the airport proposal.

“Airport Grounded Indefinitely” the Summit County Journal headlined in January 1983. The paper reported that negotiations between the town and the developer “broke off on a sour note.” Lockwood claimed “the town has not been negotiating with Sawmill for the last nine months in good faith.” Continuing, he said: the town “refused to give us recognition for the investment we had made…and were to make in the future.” Sawmill Associates had already “sunk $750,000” into the $3 million project.

According to the Journal, Town Manager Doug Delano took “extremely strong exception” to Lockwood’s claim that the town had not negotiated in good faith. Sawmill’s last proposal to the town was “in effect an ‘ultimatum’ and too rigid to leave bargaining room.” 

A month later, Sawmill Associated officially bowed out of the airport. The headline stated: “Developer to Wash Hands of Project.”

An airstrip continued in the valley floor for many years after. Battles over condemnation and value of the land carried on for decades. The last plane to land at the bumpy Breckenridge air strip took advantage of the field in an emergency in 2005.

Airport Road was constructed to serve the commercial properties zoned along the edges of the proposed runway. The name persists to this day, the only remaining legacy of Breckenridge’s long history with air travel in the mountains. 

Date posted: March 22, 2023 | Author: | Comments Off on Breckenridge’s Airport Legacy: Part 2

Categories: Uncategorized

Breckenridge has an Airport Road, but no airport. Curious residents and visitors often ask Breckenridge History about the legacy of Airport Road. Learn more about the long and convoluted history of airplanes and airports in the Upper Blue River Valley in this two-part series explaining the origins of Breckenridge’s Airport Road.

Breckenridge’s life as a ski town is inextricably linked to airplanes. From the first investors, to the purchase by Aspen Ski Corporation, to the battle for market share, airplanes played a critical role in the early development of Breckenridge as a ski resort.

Breckenridge’s original investors, the Rounds family of Wichita-based Rounds & Porter Lumber Company, embraced the flying lifestyle. With their vast holdings in forest properties, ranches, and lumber yards, family patriarch Ralph Rounds flew across the west to tend to his many investments.  His son Bill piloted aircraft in World War II and continued to fly with a private license on his return to civilian life.

Sigurd Rockne, a co-founder of the Breckenridge Ski Area, remembered pushing out the area’s first airstrip so the Rounds family could stop off in Breckenridge. In addition to visiting Aspen or hunting at their ranch outside of Gunnison, Rounds Senior and his sons Doc and Bill came to Breckenridge to check out their business interests in real estate and ski area development.

Breckenridge’s first air strip was located north of Tiger Road. Early softball teams played there when it was called High Tor. Today, Tiger Run RV Park and the Highlands Green development sit on the old landing strip.

Needing a longer take-off and landing area, Rounds & Porter soon commissioned a new runway on old dredge placer ground in the Breckenridge valley floor. Extending from today’s Upper Blue Elementary School northward to Colorado Mountain College, the bumpy, dirt landing strip served private pilots and the Rounds family for many years

Breckenridge’s fortunes changed in the early 1960s when Ralph Rounds died of a heart attack while on a plane flying from Breckenridge to Gunnison.  His son Bill — who had been Breckenridge’s biggest booster and beloved benefactor to many new business owners in town — lost Breckenridge and the other eastern assets when the brothers split the family holdings.  “Bill cried when that happened,” Sigurd Rockne recalled.

By the late 1960s, private pilots frequently took advantage of the Breckenridge air strip. Long-time resident Jim Beck shared stories of flying into Breckenridge in his Oral History recording.

The Breckenridge landing strip would soon play another pivotal role in Breckenridge’s ski town development.  Aspen’s purchase of the Breckenridge Ski Corporation in 1970 is well familiar today. But it almost didn’t happen.

In 1969, the Breckenridge Ski Area was quietly up for sale. Rounds and Porter, now under the direction of Doc Rounds, wanted to focus on real estate, not ski area operations. Aspen Ski Corp’s D.R.C. “Darcy” Brown heard that an investor group from Chicago pursued Breckenridge acquisition

According to Win Lockwood, eventual airport proponent, Brown needed to beat the Chicago people to Breckenridge to finalize Aspen’s purchase. Said Lockwood: “DRC got in his twin engine plane in Aspen, asked Jim Nicholls to plow the Breckenridge air strip, which was bordered by four-story tall rock piles. Somehow Jim got it plowed, DRC lands and leaves the plane on the runway. But no one picked him up. So he hiked in his cowboy boots over snow to Highway 9, thumbed a ride to the base of Peak 8. He arrived with a $100,000 cashier’s check and signed the purchase contract.  An hour later, the black limousine arrives from the Denver airport with the Chicago guys. They weren’t happy.”

Brown may have flown in and out of Breckenridge safely, but in 1977 the air strip witnessed a crash that would be remembered for decades.

After playing at O’Toole’s Roadhouse Saloon, the Yukon Gold Railroad Company needed a ride to Breckenridge’s air strip to fly to their next gig. Shamus O’Toole drove the band and stayed to watch the plane take off.

The chartered Beechcraft Bonanza twin engine airplane, over-loaded with band members and their instruments, was under-powered for the thin air. The pilot made another error when attempting to take off on the slight uphill grade heading south.

Paul Hamilton, who lived in nearby Little B Trailer Court, remembered that he “heard a sickening thud when gravity took over and, looking out my bathroom window, saw the fuselage pointing toward the sky, the engine and prop on the ground.”

“I watched the crash happen!” O’Toole reminisced. Members of Ski Patrol helped rescue the passengers. No one was killed and one band member broke his leg. “The Sheriff came out to investigate for drugs. He was sure they were smuggling,” O’Toole recalled.

By 1976, the community was having serious conversations about developing a true airport. In January of that year, the Summit County Journal shared a headline: “Summit International Airport?” A group of airport developers from Colorado Springs lobbied the community for charter and private flights, requesting an extension of the runway, paving and maintenance. By April, the conversation turned to a commercial airport requiring FAA approval, a control tower and additional amenities.

Immediately, questions of safety came up. An article in the Summit Sentinel stated: “The site itself has its own assets and liabilities. The runway can be lengthened to about 8,000 feet, which is long enough to handle most types of aircraft, but hilly terrain makes a ‘dogleg’ approach to the runway necessary.

People who did fly in and out of the Breckenridge air strip described it as “a little hairy” and “it was near death-defying when a cross wind was blowing out of Coyne Gulch.”

The ski business was booming in the late-1970s, with growing competition from long-established ski areas like Aspen, and up-starts like Copper Mountain and Keystone. And while the ski business was humming, summers were very quiet. To grab a greater share of the year-round tourism market, many of Breckenridge’s movers-and-shakers felt that a commercial airport was necessary.

The late 1970s through the early 1980s saw increasing momentum for an airport, along with growing opposition. The next few years would see turmoil in Breckenridge around the airport and the growth it would bring. Learn more about the legacy of the Breckenridge Airport in Part 2.

Date posted: March 22, 2023 | Author: | Comments Off on Breckenridge’s Airport Legacy: Part 1

Categories: Uncategorized

scan of book cover

I would call this little book “small but mighty”! This compilation of mini-biographies of pioneer Summit County women was a project of our local Summit County chapter of P.E.O. (P.E.O. is a philanthropic and educational organization interested in bringing increased educational opportunities to women.) The book was first published in 1976 and has had six printings since then.
The women in this book were true pioneers of their era. These women brought to this rough, forbidding land, their strengths and courage that have helped it survive and thrive. Most of these ladies were born in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth and came here as children from elsewhere. Through learning about their tears and triumphs you will also learn so much about our colorful, local history.

Mining, ranching and agriculture, our schools, churches, local government, commerce and society all become apparent, as you read these inspiring stories. Oftentimes written in the colloquial language of the day, the stories become even more alive. Life in this county certainly wasn’t easy for both old and young, so many of these women accepted these conditions as a part of life. Their devotion to family, concern for their neighbors, and a sense of duty to their town, helped to build the West. Learning about their lives is certainly inspirational and some of you might even remember hearing about or even knowing some of them. Enjoy!

Book Review Written by: Sherrie Calderini

Date posted: March 22, 2023 | Author: | Comments Off on Women as Tall as Our Mountains: Biographical Sketches by Local Women

Categories: Book Reviews Making History Happen

People frequently ask Breckenridge History for information on their family or friends who were part of historic Breckenridge. A recent acquisition by the Breckenridge History Archives of a c. 1900 photo album by Otto Westerman provides an instructive opportunity to share research tips and how-to’s. Pre-eminent local historian Bill Fountain’s pursuit of information on the album’s owner inspired this primer for historic research in the Breckenridge area that can be used by any family.

When the Breckenridge History Archives (BHA) received the donation of a leather-covered album of card-mounted photographs, chock full of historic pictures of Breckenridge, it presented a mystery. Who was J. Frank Willis, owner of the album?  Many images were well known from the camera of popular Breckenridge photographer Otto Westerman. Some had never been seen before. BHA asked Bill Fountain if he could find out more about Willis.

Bill Fountain has been researching and writing about Breckenridge history for over 30 years. His interest in local history began in 1988 when he and his wife Jeanne moved to Denver after Bill took a new position with Big O Tires. Exploring Summit County via jeep and motorcycle, Bill became fascinated with the mining structures and artifacts he observed throughout the backcountry, fueling a life-long passion for mining and Breckenridge history.  After a devastating injury from a dirt bike accident in 1992, Bill had time for archival research. He teamed up with other local historians Rich Skovlin, Maureen Nicholls, and Rick Hague to learn more.

In his explorations, Bill covered many miles of Summit County and uncovered unique artifacts, unknown mines, and interesting stories. His own story reads like an adventure novel: surviving a fall into a mine shaft, discovering the Great Flume, chance meetings with influential figures, and more. Taking his inspiration from the Biblical phrase “Seek and Ye Shall Find,” Bill has used providential guidance and impeccable intuition to find and shine a light on Breckenridge history.

With Dr. Sandra Mather, Bill has co-authored 8 books on mining and Breckenridge history in the Chasing the Dream series. Topics include The Search for Gold in French Creek, Ben Stanley Revett’s Dredge Boats, and Swandyke, From Boom to Bust to Dust. Learn more about Bill’s adventures chasing Breckenridge history in the “about the author” section of his newest book: Country Boy Mine, 1881-1994.

Having a good general knowledge of local history can help the researcher identify names and places, focus attention on a specific subject or area, and get a feel for the over-all background of a place. To familiarize himself with the general history of Breckenridge and Summit County, Bill consults a wide variety of books and publications. Local resources include works by Mary Ellen Gilliland (general history), Erl Ellis (dredge boat history), Mark Fiester (Breckenridge history), Maureen Nicholls (mining history), as well as his own Chasing the Dream series co-authored with Dr. Sandra Mather.

For the larger picture of Colorado history, some of Bill’s favorite resources are Frank Hall’s History of the State of Colorado (four volumes), Leslie Ransome’s Geology and Ore Deposits of the Breckenridge District, Colorado, Professional Paper 75, and Muriel Sibell Wolle’s Stampede to Timberline.

Bill brought all of his research resources to the table when he began to look into J. Frank Willis. The first source of information on Willis was the photo album itself, a primary document with images, captions, and an inscription. Bill Fountain is well familiar with known photos of Breckenridge, having amassed a personal collection of over 3,500 digital historic images. Examining the album, Bill realized it contained views of Breckenridge that he had never seen before. A true treasure trove!

Bill knew that Otto Westerman photographed scenes and people of the Breckenridge area from the 1880s until his death in 1920. Many of Breckenridge’s iconic historic images are thanks to Westerman’s efforts. A client visiting Westerman’s studio could put together an album of favorite pictures as well as photographs commissioned by that individual. Such was the case with J. Frank Willis.

In addition to many familiar images of Breckenridge, Frisco and the surrounding area, Bill discovered that Willis’ album contained previously unknown images including Willis seated in his home and views of Breckenridge from his mining claim on Gibson Hill. Thanks to photo captions, Bill was able to locate and research Willis’ mining claim, the Alice A.

Mining claim information is available from the Bureau of Land Management at the Federal Center in Lakewood. Resources available from the BLM can reveal the Mineral Survey, plat maps, surveyor’s notes, and ownership information. Some BLM resources are available on-line. Other research may require a visit to the office. Mining claim information may also be found in the records of the Summit County Clerk.

Many physical sites offer Colorado historic resources including History Colorado, the Denver Public Library Western History Collection, Colorado School of Mines’ Arthur Lakes Library, and the Colorado State Archives. Colorado Inmate Records are available on-line. Other on-line sources for photos and documents include sales and auction sites like Ebay. For an in-person visit to DPL’s Western History Collection, Bill recommends bringing a flash drive to directly upload images and documents.

Local information can be discovered at the Breckenridge History Archives and the Summit Historical Society Archives (both by appointment only), Breckenridge Valley Brook Cemetery records, and Summit County Government offices such as the Library, Clerk and Recorder, and Assessor.

Willis’ photo album contained an inscription: “For Pauline W. Merritt from her brother J. Frank Willis.” This clue directed Bill to census data, an invaluable resource for any family researcher. From the census, Bill was able to learn about Willis’ vital statistics, where and when he was born, information about his parents and siblings, and where he lived.  Colorado census data is available from the Colorado State Archives. One of the best sources for U.S. census data is, a subscription service that allows some free search options.

Photographs, whether historic or modern, provide a wealth of information. One of Bill’s top research tips is to always carry a digital camera. Bill has several: in his car, at his side, and a spare just in case. With the high resolution of a digital camera, Bill can capture details in old photos, historic documents, artifacts, museum displays, and other records that evade the low-resolution captures of a phone-camera.

For family researchers, a digital camera might be one of your best investments. Bill’s other photography tips include: use natural light whenever possible, avoid use of flash, and take detail shots as well as over-all images, especially with maps and large documents.

Bill has become adept at Photoshop, a photo manipulation software that allows him to sharpen images, lighten or darken old photos, and bring out details that may be missed by the naked eye. Photoshop also allows Bill to interpret and transcribe historic documents, particularly those with faded handwriting. Reading old script can be difficult. If Bill finds an indecipherable section, he’ll trace the words to get a feel for how the person made certain letters, often allowing old writing to be readable again.

To fill in the life details and personality of J. Frank Willis, Bill turned to the historic newspaper record. With modern technology, many old newspapers have been digitized, making on-line research relatively easy.

The best sources for research on the every-day lives of families and individuals in the Breckenridge area comes from the Montezuma Mill Run, the Breckenridge Bulletin, and the Summit County Journal. These newspapers can be found on the free-to-access Colorado Historic Newspapers website. The Summit County South Branch Library also has many historic local newspapers on microfiche that are not available on the digitized website. These require manual search.

In the newspaper collections, Bill suggests running searches specific to Summit County newspapers, as well as on the entire database. Often newspapers would share stories about neighboring communities, providing information that the local paper might miss. Another tip is to use various iterations of the person’s name when searching. Entering “Willis” will turn up everyone with that name. Try J. Frank Willis, J.F. Willis, Frank Willis, and John Frank Willis for specific results. If your ancestor has a name that is often shortened, like “Bob” for “Robert,” try searches with both names.

Bill also recommends standard on-line research using your favorite search engine. Sometimes the best clues are buried on page 4 or 5. Bill recommends going deep into the search results. 

Thanks to Bill’s newspaper research, we know that Willis started mining in the Montezuma area in 1879. In 1883, he was charged by his employer with grand larceny, which was dismissed. Willis then moved to the Breckenridge area. He was an eccentric who preferred his own company and rarely spent time in town. Willis never married and had no children. In 1900, he spent the winter with family in New York. Willis died at age 48 in 1903 of a heart attack while climbing the hill to his Alice A claim. Willis was typical of the many miners who came to the Breckenridge area to make his fortune. He was a regular guy of the times.

Ordinary people make history every day. Willis’ commission of a photo album souvenir for his sister Pauline created an historic record relevant to us today. Thanks to Bill Fountain’s research, we know about Willis’ mining history in our community, the location of his mine on Gibson Hill overlooking Breckenridge, and the sad circumstances of his death. Thanks to Willis, we have the gift of new-to-us historic images, never seen before, of our community. And we thank Willis’ descendants for donating that album to the Archives for all to enjoy. Perhaps your ancestor created history in Breckenridge as well.

written by Leigh Girvin

Date posted: October 31, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on Bill Fountain’s Research Tips and How-to’s

Categories: Historic Sites and Museums Why We Collect

History belongs to everyone. Making Breckenridge’s historic sites accessible is a top priority for Breckenridge History. From physical access to accommodations for hearing and sight impairments, learn more about the ways that Breckenridge History brings our community’s stories to all.

Virtual and augmented reality means that museum-goers don’t even have to be in Breckenridge to visit many of our historic sites.  With the launch of Breckenridge History’s 1888 App, many top historic destinations are available to view from anywhere. With the app, take a virtual tour of some of Breckenridge’s popular mining sites like the Wellington Mine and Mill or Lincoln City. Visit the historic narrow-gauge railroad at Rocky Point. And step into the Edwin Carter Discovery Museum. All from the comfort of your own home.

Augmented reality brings 1888 Breckenridge to life at the 1888 App or utilizing the Google Occuli at the Welcome Center Museum. Images of dusty streets, buildings with peeling paint and sounds of horses clomping by make it easy to put yourself in the time of Breckenridge’s gold boom.  Sound effects and narration animate the scenes for those with visual impairments.

Another option for a virtual tour is the new guided video of the Barney Ford Museum. Learn more about Ford, an entrepreneur of the gold era who began life enslaved in the South before making his way West to Breckenridge, building a fortune in the hospitality business. The handsome Victorian-era home he built on Washington Avenue can be visited in person or virtually.  For visually impaired guests, the video tour offers audio information about Ford and his home.

Visitors to the Barney Ford Museum will find few barriers to access.  Parking in the rear of the museum off the alley provides a clear path of travel to the museum’s back entrance. One ramped doorway within the museum may be steeper than the standard. Please feel free to ask the interpreter on duty if assistance is needed.

Breckenridge’s busiest museum, the Welcome Center Museum, offers a primer on Breckenridge history and accessible technology to bring stories to everyone. The rear entry to the building provides a no-step threshold, delivering guests right to the Breckenridge 1888 oculi and the video room with a wide variety of stories. The main level museum focuses on Breckenridge’s founding stories. Upstairs, accessible via elevator, learn about Breckenridge’s modern history as a ski town featuring a special exhibit of 60 years in 60 artifacts.

At the Edwin Carter Museum, visitors can learn about this miner turned conservationist. Carter’s 1875-built log cabin does not offer wide doorways for wheelchair access, though many mobility devices may still fit through the 31” opening of the front door. By parking in the rear and taking the boardwalk to the front entrance, visitors enjoy a clear path to the museum. Once inside, there is ample room to move about. Video displays and tactile artifacts allow those with visual impairments to experience Carter’s unique story.

Three outdoor historic sites comfortably accommodate mobility access with wide gravel paths and minimal grades. The Highline Railroad Park on Boreas Pass Road preserves Engine Number 9, which hauled the narrow-gauge train over Boreas Pass, connecting Breckenridge with the world. The park also features a rotary snowplow, illustrating how the vital railway kept running in the winter.  The Breckenridge Sawmill Museum further up Boreas Pass Road offers handicap parking and plenty of room to move about the displays. There, visitors can learn about the valuable contributions that sawmills made to the development of frontier towns.  At the Washington Mine and Milling Exhibit, a succession of milling equipment can be toured along a gentle gravel path. The most complete milling exhibit in the state provides visitors with a thorough understanding of the process of getting gold out of rock.

On Breckenridge History’s walking tours of downtown Breckenridge, guests with different abilities are welcome. Whether the Walk Through History tour or the Bawdy Breckenridge tour, the path follows well-traveled sidewalks and streets in town complete with curb cuts and cross walks.  All sidewalks climb the hill from Main Street to Ridge and Harris Streets with grades under 10 degrees.

Another way that Breckenridge History honors accessibility is through language. Because words have power, you will hear interpreters at our sites — and at Barney Ford Museum in particular — use terms that may be new. To honor the person instead of the condition of bondage, we use “enslaved woman” or “enslaved person,” instead of the noun “slave.”  Similarly, no longer do we use “master” but instead “enslaver.”

Language translation is also available by clicking through on the QR codes provided by Breckenridge History on many interpretive signs. Spanish-language speakers will find opportunities to learn more about Breckenridge’s history.

Within the Town of Breckenridge, the community strives for inclusiveness. Learn more about adaptive activities in Breckenridge from the Breckenridge Tourism Office. For specific adaptive programs, visit the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC).

While Breckenridge History strives to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, the historic nature of many of our facilities means that some sites are more accessible than others.  If you or someone in your group needs assistance related to a disability or questions about accessibility, please contact Breckenridge History ahead of time. We can help with specific information about accessible parking, options for visiting our museums and historic sites, and other advice.


written by Leigh Girvin

Date posted: October 27, 2022 | Author: | Comments Off on Making History Accessible to All

Categories: Historic Sites and Museums What To Do in Historic Breckenridge Why We Collect