I’m one of several guides of the historic walking tours offered by the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance (BHA). The following “stop and chat” events and teasers are part of our retinue. The time period featured is from 1859 (the discovery of gold) until mining success faded with advent of World War II. As we stroll, we interpret everyday life of Breckenridge residents and social life during the later half of the 19th century and early 20th century.
By the Blue River, we talk about mining. How lovely the scenery is today compared to the hard-won monetary success but equally environment-ravaging results of mining practices. The miners were an interesting lot. Housed in small log structures, hard-working during the week, and ready to party on weekends in Breckenridge saloons. There were once 18 saloons and 2 dance halls on Main Street. How do you think those miners bathed before revelry?
The saloons, however, were more than just drinking and gambling venues; they served as the epicenter of a miner's social live. Elections were held there, regulars read papers, ministers preached, bar safes were preferred to banks for storing money and valuables, and folks bonded with their favorite bar keeper and fellow patrons. Although not often, there were a few shootings and outlaw activities on Main Street. What happened?
Today, Breckenridge is reminiscent of a Victorian village and has a rich history of Victorian architecture, artifacts, and culture. How did this elite Victorian culture emerge from a mining camp? How did the dynamic between miners and the Victorians evolve and manifest in everyday life? What happened to the steeple at Father Dyer’s Methodist church?
Along the stroll, we introduce two free BHA museums – the Barney Ford Victorian Home and Edwin Carter Discovery Center. Barney Ford lived a rich life, he escaped slavery as a young man and worked hard to become a hotelier, restaurateur, and civil rights advocate. His restored home is the best-preserved Victorian home in town. Edwin Carter was a miner-turned-taxidermist because he thought that all animal life would be extinct in his lifetime due to poisons used in mining. Several original specimens are on display at his house museum as well as interactive exhibits for kids.
Log cabin construction was the norm in early Breckenridge, but changed to lumber between the 1860’s and 1880’s. How did this change prompt numerous fires? How does a larger influx of women in the 1880’s correlate to lumber wood buildings? Why were town buildings often moved? The court house and the new school, both built in 1909, boasted the first brick construction in Breckenridge. One humorous anecdote about the court house: The first women’s restroom was available in 1910. The newspaper recorded the purpose of the women’s restroom to be “for their comfort, rest, privacy, [and] restoration of neat appearance.”
Two historic homes are included on several of the walking tours. The Briggle House Museum suggests the life of a relatively wealthy Victorian couple. Pictures of hair art engender wonder. Musical instruments, talk of lavish dining parties, books and other accruements engage guests. The next-door Alice Milne House Museum showcases a middle-class family residence. Newspapers on the wall illustrate typical insulation and provide fun reading. This family also showed their ingenuity by building their own, improvised ice box.
No tour is complete without the story of Tom’s baby, a 13lb wire-gold piece, found east of Breckenridge through lode mining. Why was it termed “baby” and what happened to it?
I love the frequent comrade of Breckenridge walking-history tour groups. Guests from all over often reminisce about their historical roots as they compare/contrast their culture to Breckenridge history. I invite you to join us on a tour and experience historic Breckenridge for yourself.
written by Jill Slater