Connect with history even when the museums are closed
May 06, 2023 | Category: Making History Happen
May can be an eclectic weather month here in Breckenridge. While many places are in the glory of spring, the Colorado high country is still thawing out from winter. Locals affectionately call it “mud season” because as the snow melts into the rivers, some days can be pretty messy. On the other hand, it’s a great time to visit! The ski crowds are gone and most days are sunny and pleasant – but don’t be surprised by an occasional snow storm. While Breckenridge History is technically closed during May, there are ample opportunities to engage with our local history.
The best place to start is the Welcome Center Museum with a variety of rotating and interactive exhibits. The quaint theater plays short videos on various topics of local history and the Time is a River display allows guests to discover our valley’s history from the formation of our famous mountains through the contemporary ski era. While our virtual reality bar is closed, guests can search their app store for 1888 Breckenridge and step back in time to see what town looked like in the height of the mining era. If possible, this is best viewed outside in the Blue River Plaza to really see the then-and-now comparison. Also available at the Welcome Center are self-guided walking tour booklets. At just $5, they are a great companion while strolling Main Street. Look for the maroon and gold plaques to read interesting tidbits about all the historic buildings lining our primary promenade.
The Barney Ford Museum is closed in May, but the incredible life and legacy of this entrepreneur and civil rights leader is accessible. Start on the museum web page for a brief overview and then click the link for the virtual tour of the museum to see the beautiful interior of Ford’s former Breckenridge home. Don’t miss the links under accolades on the right side of the page to realize the full extent of his legacy. Lastly, take a listen to History Colorado’s Lost Highways podcast covering some of the new information our recent research has revealed.
Just south of downtown and on the Breck Free Ride route is the High Line Railroad Park. An original narrow gauge engine and rotary snowplow are the highlights, but we’ve added a box car, caboose, and flatcar with other rail equipment. This family-friendly stop also has a train-themed playground with a locomotive play feature kids love to climb and “conduct.” Several picnic tables dot the park and are a great spot for a family lunch break if the weather cooperates. While you’re there, you’ll want to visit Isak, our very own troll! Cross to the south end of the ice arena parking lot and follow the signs to the Trollstigen Trail. While not long-ago history, the tale of our troll is already considered historic by locals. The short, easy trail makes this the perfect add-on when visiting the train park.
A bit further up Boreas Pass Road are two more outdoor, self-guided sites. First is the Breckenridge Sawmill Museum featuring original equipment used to transform Breckenridge from a mining camp with rough-hewn log cabins to a proper town with boardwalks and stately clapboard homes. Depending on the snowmelt, the Washington Mine and Milling Exhibit may be accessible by May. A mostly reconstructed hardrock mining site, these exhibits showcase how precious ore was harvested from below ground and then processed to extract the gold.
For the more adventurous, there are two excellent hikes with interpretive signs along the trails to contextualize mining artifacts and remains. Drive or catch the free bus (get off at the Breckenridge Terrace 1 stop and cross the main road) to the Iowa Hill Trailhead just north of town for a short loop that explores the history of hydraulic mining. You’ll need a car, bike, or ride to the Reiling Dredge Trailhead southwest of town in French Gulch. This out-and-back is a moderate hike that reveals the history of dredge boat mining in Breckenridge. Whether it was huge water hoses that decimated hillsides or behemoth boats that dug up riverbeds, the relentless search for gold changed our landscapes. These sites can be hard to digest but they are an important part of our heritage and we preserve them to help teach future generations of the environmental impact of mining.
For those who prefer to read or want to know as much as they can before arriving in Breckenridge, we have a series of articles on our local history with topics including the Ute native people, mining, early governance and socialization, and the railroad. Visitors can also read about our preservation projects, both completed and in-progress, which is quite apropos as May is Historic Preservation Month. Breckenridge History’s most public work is our heritage tourism branch with tours, hikes, gold panning, and more, but a huge amount of effort goes toward historic preservation. We are very intentional with our projects to preserve significant historic sites and artifacts for future generations. As the world of historic preservation and interpretation is progressing, so are we, by including the uncomfortable stories in our local history, and researching a broader scope of the diverse and extraordinary stories of the many people who have called Blue River Valley home. One more digital stop is our archives website where visitors can browse hundreds of old photographs and read histories of many of the contributing structures to our National Historic District.
Lastly, one of the neatest parts of visiting a historic town like Breckenridge is the opportunity to eat or enjoy libations in historic buildings. Here are a few options to check out while you’re here. Please remember to visit their websites and call ahead as some places do have multi-week closures in mud season.
- Ember at 106 East Adams Avenue
- Hearthstone at 103 South Ridge Street
- Rootstalk at 207 North Main Street
- Twist at 200 South Ridge Street
Casual and Family Friendly
- Amazing Grace at 213 East Lincoln Avenue
- Breckenridge Tap House at 105 North Main Street
- The Canteen at 208 North Main Street
- Fatty’s Pizzeria at 106 South Ridge Street
- The Gold Pan Saloon at 103 North Main Street
- The Motherloaded Tavern at 103 South Main Street
- Apres at 130 South Main Street
Some might think May is a month when there is nothing to do in our resort town, but Breckenridge History offers many options for visitors (and locals!) to get off the beaten path a bit and enjoy the quieter side of Breckenridge.