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.”
By 1862, the Civil War and increasing difficulty in locating free, accessible gold began to clear the camp of prospectors. 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.
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. 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.”
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