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In 1858, Green Russell from Georgia learned through his Cherokee Indian connections that gold had been discovered along the South Platte River in Colorado. This was the beginning of the “Pikes Peak Gold Rush.” People came from all over the country and abroad to find their bonanza. They fanned out into every mountain valley, along the rivers and eventually into mountain elevations above 10,000 feet.
Gold was discovered along the Blue River on August 10, 1859 by a Missourian named Ruben J. Spalding. Spalding and his group chose to work the the sand and gravel by building a dam and digging a canal to divert the river for placer mining. Another prospector named William H. Iliff, discovered over $7,000 in gold in a 40′ x40′ patch across the river from Spalding and his group. Iliff revealed his find to friends in Denver; over 2,000 men rushed to the Blue River valley near present day Breckenridge and began working the river bed by placer mining.
In the 1870s, hard rock mining replace the dwindling era of placer mining. Beginning in 1898 and lasting until 1942, large dredge boats worked the Blue River bed replacing manual placer mining. There was no regard for environmental concerns.
The town of Breckenridge may have been named after Thomas Breckenridge (although speculation). The original spelling was changed to Breckinridge in favor of President James Buchanan’s Vice President, John Cabell Breckinridge (1857-1861). They hoped naming him would bring favor of a Post Office to the town. When the Civil War broke out, Breckinridge, who was a Brigadier General, sided with the Confederacy. Pro-Union folks in Breckenridge would have nothing to do with a “dang Confederate.”
In 1880, an inept cartographer failed to insert the town into a map of Colorado. Thus, Breckenridge became known as “Colorado’s Kingdom,”a “no man’s land status.” In 1936, Governor Ed Johnson and Summit County residents celebrated a flag raising at the courthouse. It was official . . Breckenridge was now a part of the United States!
There was Captain Sam Adams of the Breckenridge Navy in 1869 who sought a water route from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific.
Professor Edwin Carter, a naturalist, spent his lifetime collecting and preserving wildlife samples. He donated his collection to the Denver Museum of Natural History. You can learn more about Carter at the Edwin Carter Discovery Center in town.
There was Father John L. Dyer, the “Snowshoe Itinerant Preacher” who traveled among the many mining camps on his 12 foot wooden skis. Dyer founded the Methodist church in Breckenridge that still holds services today.
Tom Graves and Harry Lytton discovered the 13.5 pound gold nugget named “Tom’s Baby.” The gold nugget is on display at the Colorado Museum of Natural History in Denver.
Runaway slaves Barney & Julia Lancelot Ford moved to Breckenridge in the late 1880s. They made and lost a fortune to unscrupulous lawyers because African Americans could not own property. They regained their wealth running the fabulous Denver Hotel and Ford’s Chop House. They were instrumental in guaranteeing rights for African Americans in the Colorado Constitution. Learn more by visiting the Barney Ford House Museum.
Breckenridge has evolved into a world class ski resort and town. The town is the largest “historic district” in Colorado. There are over 350 historic structures in Breckenridge.
There are nine (9) museums representing local history, skiing, children, mining, natural history, sawmill, railroad park, characters and the historic Breckenridge Fire Department and its predecessors.