Celebrating Breckenridge’s musical history
August 06, 2023 | Category: Our Collective History
If you listen closely, you can probably hear the soundtrack of summer in Breckenridge: Birds chirping, water rushing through the rivers, pine needles crushing under foot, and for the last 30 years, NRO musicians filling the evening air with classical music. This year, Breckenridge History has had the honor of partnering with the National Repertory Orchestra for a number of free concerts at the Blue River Plaza, Isak Heartstone, Prospector Park, and the Barney Ford Museum. Each venue and ensemble present a unique musical experience, and this has given us an opportunity to dive deeper into the history of music in Breckenridge.
Like the rest of Breckenridge, our musical history is full of characters. Some of them you might be familiar with, like the Finding family. Or maybe you’ve heard of Mrs. Briggle. Kathleen Trotter was born in Ontario, Canada, on January 14, 1869, and became a well-known society lady in Breckenridge as the wife of Mr. William Briggle. Mrs. Briggle was a matron of the Breckenridge Order of the Eastern Star, an active member of the Episcopal Church, and a piano teacher. While she never had children of her own, she taught countless pupils to play the piano and had 10 nieces and nephews. Mrs. Briggle was passionate about music, and if you’ve attended any of the NRO concerts at Blue River Plaza this summer, you might have seen Mrs. Briggle enjoying the concert in the form of Phyl Rubenstein, an equally passionate interpreter with Breckenridge History. In the past, you might have even been to a tea inside the Briggle house hosted by our Mrs. Briggle doppelganger.
However, Mrs. Briggle wasn’t the only music aficionado in Breckenridge’s past. Someone you might not be as familiar with is Speed S. Fry. Speed was a violinist and orchestra leader who called Breckenridge home in the early 1900s. He was also an assessor, mine investor, and secretary of the Elks. He was a self-proclaimed champion huckleberry picker and even shook hands with President Taft in 1909. He was also a co-founder of the Breckenridge Mule-Skinners base ball club, although a Summit County Journal article from 1909 shows his skills might not have matched his ambition: “Arl Fincher and Speed Fry alternated in batting and pitching, and left the field all swelled up because neither one could hit the ball.”
Speed was involved in a little bit of everything; he even patented an improvement to the calculator in 1905, which was supposed to help make multiplication easier. That patent was used in several other devices through the 1970s, including a speed and distance calculator for bicycles and a vocabulary game device. He even had a pet owl, who through a series of unfortunate events, he ended up having for Thanksgiving dinner in 1914. The article in the November 28, 1914, Summit County Journal details the demise of Speed’s owl as follows:
Marshal Stuard declares that a few nights ago, while he was driving his gentle pony team down the street a large hoot owl flew from a telephone post and attacked the team. Upon investigation he found that it was Speed Fry’s pet hoot owl, and immediately notified the owner that he would have to keep the bird in after the curfew had rung. Fry talked the matter over with the owl, and it declared it would rather be dead than have to stay home at nights all alone, so taking it at its word the bird was duly executed and its body used for the professor’s Thanksgiving dinner. Parting with this pet has so seriously affected the owner that he talks about it continually and friends are thinking seriously of getting him another pet to take its place.
Pet owls aside, one of Speed’s greatest passions was music. He created Fry’s Orchestra which performed at balls, dances, movies, and concerts throughout Breckenridge. When some construction finished on the train station in Breckenridge, newspapers at the time joked that the space was big enough, Speed was bound to throw a ball there any day. Which is why we think Speed would appreciate the NRO’s approach to concerts everywhere from the troll to the museums.