The free Main Street Trolley passes some of Breckenridge’s most beloved historic buildings. After a busy day enjoying Breckenridge’s many activities, sometimes it’s a pleasure to just sit and relax for a bit. Let the trolley do the work as you enjoy miles of scenery and iconic old buildings through downtown Breckenridge. Grab a seat, gaze out the window, and come along for an historic ride.
The Breckenridge Trolley loops Main Street, returning to the same trolley stop after about thirty minutes. This narrative starts and ends at the Breckenridge Welcome Center at 203 South Main Street and describes the view on the sidewalk side of the bus.
Embark from the Welcome Center and journey south on Main Street. This part of Breckenridge was originally a residential area and today’s split-level shopping malls soon make way to historic homes. The first historic structure you’ll notice is a two-story red house. Next door is a charming yellow home surrounded by cottonwood trees, known today as Starbucks. Neighboring the Starbucks is a distinguished brick home from the early 1900’s, a perfect example of a popular architectural style called the “Denver Square.” While this style may have been in vogue in Denver, the Breckenridge locals didn’t like it and nicknamed it “The Red Ugly.”
Next is the 300 block of South Main where more old homes faced Main Street. The Marmot store was formerly the home of the Knorr family, which owned a successful saloon before moving to ranching country north of present-day Silverthorne. Knorr family members sill reside in Summit County.
The trolley crosses Jefferson Avenue on its journey south. Behind the purple Columbine Square -- a modern edifice intended to mimic the frontier Victorian architecture seen in the fancy town of San Francisco, California -- lies the pond for the old Royal Tiger Dredge, which shut down in 1944 after chewing its way through the west side of Breckenridge, destroying everything in its path in search of gold in the river bed.
The trolley soon turns east onto Boreas Pass Road, the original route of the narrow-gauge railroad that served Breckenridge from 1882 to 1937. The Colorado & Southern Railway departed Denver on the way to the rich silver mines of Leadville, up and over Boreas Pass, and travelling through Breckenridge along the way. Life changed dramatically in Breckenridge with the arrival of the railway. Learn more at the High Line Railroad Park and Museum, a short walk from the trolley stop at the Ice Area.
Another interesting side trip from the Ice Arena stop is Isak Heartstone, the Breckenridge Troll.
At the Ice Arena, the trolley turns around and heads back north through downtown Breckenridge. At the south end of Breckenridge, the Marriott Residence Inn occupies the site of the Gold Pan Shops, a massive complex that built pipes to move water for hydraulic mining and fixed railway cars and equipment. A great little book, Gold Pan Mining Company and Shops, written by local historian Maureen Nicholls, is available for sale at the Welcome Center Museum. And after the Gold Pan Shops, it was the location of the Breckenridge Inn, the town’s first hotel built when the ski area opened in 1961.
Back into the historic district, the same settlement pattern can be seen with residences facing Main Street in this quieter part of town. The first historic home you’ll notice is the Helly Hanson store, formerly a sizable home shaded by tall cottonwood trees.
In the 200 Block is the Olive Fusion store which was moved to Main Street in the 1970s. Before that, it was the home of Breckenridge’s most famous madame, Mae Nicholson, who turned to dairy farming later in life after the mines shut down and the demand dropped for her girls’ services. Visit the store to see the original log walls covered with flattened tin cans to keep out the drafts. Next to Olive Fusion is Magical Scraps, formerly a funeral parlor, and later, the location of Breckenridge’s first (and only) radio station.
At the corner of Main Street and Washington Avenue, Barney Ford’s handsome home is partially hidden by a thicket of trees, away from the bustle of Main Street where his 1880’s restaurant occupied the commercial frontage. Visit Barney Ford House Museum and learn more about this early crusader for human rights and universal suffrage.
The trolley crosses Washington Avenue and the architectural style changes. We are now in the original business district of historic Breckenridge which comprised of just a few blocks at the intersections of Main Street and Lincoln Avenue. Here false fronted businesses are commonly seen. Intended to give substance to a small log building, false fronts made a business look larger and more successful, while providing plenty of wall space for signage and descriptions of the services offered inside.
Mid-way through the 100 Block of South Main Street is a substantial stone building, now known as Mountain Tees. It was built in the late 19th century as the Finding Hardware Store, and is one of Breckenridge’s few early buildings not made of wood. It survived many downtown fires, thanks to its sturdy construction.
The intersection of Main Street and Lincoln Avenue was the heart of the downtown business district of early Breckenridge. Many saloons, a butcher, a grocer, a bicycle shop, and several assay offices were located to the east of Main Street on Lincoln Avenue, leading up to Ridge and French Streets.
The trolley continues north on Main Street and soon the architectural style changes again back to residential. Prospector Park, with the sculpture of Tom’s Baby, occupies a considerable portion of the block, where the former GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Hall once stood. At the north end of this block are two simple historic homes at 114 and 116 North Main Street, now the Local’s Market.
Further along on Main Street to the north of the downtown core, many of the older surviving buildings are made of log, indicating a humbler part of town.
The trolley turns around at City Market, built in 1987. Before that, Breckenridge residents had the option to purchase their groceries at a small local market, or journey to Frisco or Denver for their foodstuffs. At this point, the trolley heads south again back toward the Welcome Center. One of the first historic buildings along this side of the street is the office of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance, a cozy log building with a typical stone fireplace chimney made of river cobble.
The Trolley takes a quick divergence to the Transit Center and Gondola Terminal, offering sweeping views to the east back toward historic Breckenridge. The cityscape is dominated by the snow white dome of the Old Summit County Courthouse. Bald Mountain defines Breckenridge’s eastern horizon. Disembark here to connect to other buses in the system that lead to historic hikes outside of town.
Returning to Main Street, the trolley continues south. In the 100 Block of North Main Street, two boarded up buildings line the sidewalk. The office of W. Pollock is one of Breckenridge’s oldest structures. The small log cabin with clapboard front, now Pharmstrong, was formerly the Chinese Laundry. Near the stoplight, The Gold Pan Saloon with actual swinging saloon doors, is Breckenridge’s oldest continually operating liquor establishment.
Lincoln Avenue and Ski Hill Roads are the separator between North and South Main Street.
After the stoplight, you’ll enter the 100 Block of South Main Street, Breckenridge’s most lively district. At the height of the mining area, this small section of town boasted 18 saloons and two dance halls. Historic buildings with indented entrances indicate a saloon, so the swinging door wouldn’t take out anyone on the sidewalk. The Theobald Building at 101 South Main and the Skinny Winter at 123 South Main are prime examples of this. For a fun and in-depth look at Breckenridge’s saloons, dance halls and early night life, book the Behind Swinging Doors Saloon tour.
The Trolley returns to the Welcome Center at the Blue River Plaza, completing the circle and the tour. If your interest in historic Breckenridge is piqued, this is the place to stop in and sign up for one (or more!) of the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance's guided walking tours, buy a pamphlet for the self-guided walking tour, or find out more about Breckenridge’s free history museums.
written by Leigh Girvin