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History of Breckenridge, Colorado

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Town History

Gold Dust to White Gold

Long before white settlers from the east crossed the Continental Divide, Breckenridge was part of the summer hunting grounds of the nomadic White River and Middle Park Ute Native Americans. The Town of Breckenridge was born out of America's mid-nineteenth century rush to settle the West during Pike's Peak Gold Rush.  General George E. Spencer was one of hundreds of "town builders" who trekked across the West, fathering boom and bust communities.  Intent upon locating in the Blue River Valley near Fort Mary B, General Spencer reportedly seized Felix Poznansky's town site of Independent. He accomplished this by offering all the members of Independent, except Poznansky, twelve choice lots for the rights to the town site.

The General proved to be a shrewd town boomer.  He formally created the Town of “Breckinridge” in November 1859 and named it after President James Buchanan's Vice President, John Cabell Breckinridge (1857-1861). By flattering the United States Government, Spencer hoped to gain a post office. He succeeded and the post office in Breckenridge became the first post office between the Continental Divide and Salt Lake City, Utah.  At the outbreak of the Civil War Spencer may have regretted that he had not named the new settlement for himself.  Breckinridge's sympathies were clearly with the South. He received a commission as a Confederate Brigadier General and the U.S. Senate expelled Breckinridge for treason. The embarrassed little town of Breckinridge quickly and quietly changed the spelling of its name to "Breckenridge," changing an "i" to an "e".

An ambitious grid was eventually platted for the 320-acre Breckenridge town site.  Main Street was laid out parallel to the Blue River.  Residences developed along Main Street, to the north, south, and east of the commercial core.  On the west side of the Blue River, in "West Breckenridge," industry, inexpensive housing, and a red light district were established.  By June 1860, a row of log cabins, tents, and shanties lined Main Street.

By mid-1861, Breckenridge boasted several stores, hotels, saloons, and a post office.  On October 11, 1861, the Town secured the Denver, Bradford, and Blue River Road Wagon Company connection, which gave lifeblood to the little gold mining community.  Breckenridge's Main Street allowed for ease in turning around freight wagons and became the center of social and athletic activities.  During the mining heyday, Breckenridge provided the miners with a variety of attractions.  Without diversions, life in the mining camp would have been an endless cycle of routine work.

Breckenridge was established as the permanent county seat of Summit County, Colorado, but by the mid-1860s, the Civil War and increasing difficulty in locating free, accessible gold led to a drop in the Breckenridge population.  Many businessmen and merchants moved on to other boomtowns.  Although specific population figures for this period are not available, the community's population is believed to have been less than 500 in 1866. 

The late-1860s saw the introduction of large-scale hydraulic placer mining to the area and Breckenridge was once again engrossed in another mining phase. Hydraulic mining occurred in Lomax, Iowa, Georgia, and other gulches.  Hydraulic mining also brought about another change in the character of the local mining industry.  Individual miners and mining companies consolidated their holdings.  The days of the lone prospector were gone. In 1879 Breckenridge found itself an important hard-rock mining location and prominent supply center. The discovery of rich silver and lead carbonates in the hillsides nearby put the Breckenridge mining district on the map and the second wave of fortune hunters invaded. Breckenridge had plenty of "elbow room" to grow and the community was formally incorporated in 1880. Soon more substantial architecture appeared.  Comfortable houses, churches, and a school were built on the hillside east of Main Street.  Saloons and other false-fronted commercial ventures were confined to the main streets.  Main Street became the business thoroughfare and in 1880 eighteen saloons and three dance halls lined the street.  Ridge Street, parallel to Main, had a grocery store, hotel, post office, dry goods store, bank, assay office, and a drug store.

By 1882, Breckenridge secured a depot site for the Denver, South Park and Pacific Railroad and thereby brought rail service to Town.  Breckenridge doomed a half dozen other rival company towns in the process, including Swan City, Preston, and Lincoln City.  The population of Breckenridge peaked at approximately 2000.  By 1882, Breckenridge added three newspapers and a cemetery.  The Town also managed to organize three fire companies to protect the vulnerable wooden structures.  A major fire in 1884 destroyed a number of buildings along Main Street and Ridge Street. Despite the fire danger, local carpenters continued to build with wood because of the availability of materials and the reduced time, effort, and cost of construction.  As a result, few masonry buildings ever appeared in Breckenridge.

Breckenridge was home to one of the most famous evangelists in Colorado history -Reverend John Lewis Dyer.  The Methodist minister, known as the “Snowshoe Itinerant,” walked and skied his way through the mountains, taking the gospel to those who might not otherwise hear it.  Carrying heavy canvas sacks of mail over the snow-packed mountain passes; Father Dyer earned enough money to continue his missionary work in Breckenridge.  In 1880, he built Breckenridge's first church, now located on Wellington Road.  While Father Dyer was trying to save souls, famed desperado Pug Ryan was doing his best to deliver souls to their Maker.  In 1898, Pug robbed a midnight poker game at the posh Denver Hotel on Main Street. An accidental discharge from a sawed-off shotgun announced Pug's arrival. None the less, he got away with $50 in cash from the bar till, as well as fine watches and jewelry from the gamesters.  Pug died for his digressions at the state penitentiary in Canon City in 1931.

World War II Ends the Mining Era

The population of Breckenridge dropped to fewer than 1,000 people by the turn of the century.  Despite a successful gold-dredging boom from 1898 to 1942, the population continued to drop throughout the first half of the twentieth century.  More and more buildings were abandoned.  Thinking the Tiger Placers Company would provide jobs in an era of national depression, Breckenridge town officials allowed the Tiger #1 Gold Dredge to chew its way from the northern town limits through the south end of Main Street.  The two-story, pontoon boat supported an armature that carried a line of moving buckets that dug up placer mining ground to depths of 48 feet in the riverbed.  The dredge removed all vegetation and buildings in its path. The riverbed was literally turned upside-down.  Fine soils of the river bottom were either sent to the depths below or sent downstream as sediment. The riverbed and bedrock below were dredged up to the surface. As a result, few historic buildings survived on the west side of the river.  World War II finally silenced the dredge and the population declined to approximately 254 individuals.

Many of Breckenridge's historic buildings were lost during the "post-war" period for a variety of reasons.  Some property owners demolished their structures to reduce their tax burden. Other buildings were lost to accidental fires, while others were purposely burned in practice exercises of volunteer fire crews.  Some buildings were even torn down for firewood.  Breckenridge, however, never achieved ghost town status.  Instead, it maintained itself as a small town until the advent of the ski industry.  The closest it came to a ghost town was in 1930, when it was decided that Breckenridge had been excluded from maps of the United States.  The Breckenridge Women's Club was in session one day in 1936 when they found a strip of land 90-miles long and 30-miles wide had been left out of the United States. Breckenridge was included in this area with points north to Grand County.  So, on August 8, 1936, the Governor and an impressive entourage gathered on the courthouse lawn, where a flag of the United States was raised. Today, for one weekend in August, Breckenridge declares itself free and sovereign with the heritage festival, once known as “No Man's Land.”

White Gold and the Eisenhower Tunnel

In December 1961, Rounds and Porter, a Wichita, Kansas, lumber company, opened the Breckenridge Ski Area and a new-boom era began.  Transportation improvements fueled the Breckenridge recreation "rush."  The Eisenhower Tunnel, on Interstate 70, was completed in 1973 reducing the drive time from Denver to Breckenridge to an hour and a half. As a result of the relatively easy access from the Front Range and Denver, the recreational activities in the high country including bicycling, hiking, golfing, fishing, snowshoeing, and skiing, has increased in popularity. Record numbers of skiers and visitors now visit the Town of Breckenridge and record numbers of vehicles now pass through the Eisenhower tunnel. During the 2001-2002 ski season a record 4,400 vehicles passed through the tunnel in a one-hour period and the 24-hour winter record was set on December 29, 2001 when 44,000 vehicles passed through the tunnel. High visitor numbers are not limited only to the ski season. The ten highest weekend vehicle counts at the Eisenhower tunnel have all occurred in July and August. The current weekend record was set in August of 2001 when 140,367 vehicles passed through the tunnel. The single busiest day on record is August 5, 2001 when 50,113 vehicles passed through the tunnel in a 24-hour period. Overall, the tunnel traffic increases about 3.5% per year. The Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Highways Administration are studying this Interstate 70 corridor as well as State Highway 9 that connects Breckenridge to the Interstate.

End of the Millennium and Planning for the Future

The Breckenridge permanent resident population grew from 393 in 1960 to 3,126 at the end of 2002. The "peak" population, which includes residents, second-home owners, skiers, and day visitors also increased significantly from 11,600 in 1984 to approximately 33,291 during the 2002-03 ski season. The number of Breckenridge housing units has increased from only 325 units in 1970 to approximately 6,351 units by the end of 2002.  

Commercial construction has also been strong.  In the ten years between 1983 and 1993, the Town's commercial square footage more than doubled, from approximately 500,000 square feet to over 1,104,000 square feet.  It has continued to increase steadily, and currently there is over 1,409,971 square feet of commercial development that includes retail, office, government, recreation, light industry, and manufacturing, etc.

The 1983 Breckenridge Master Plan provides the general guidance for the growth of the Town to balance new development and community character.  In 1997 the Town coordinated with Summit County and the Town of Blue River to adopt an intergovernmental plan for the Upper Blue Basin. The Joint Upper Blue Basin Master Plan establishes goals and strategies for development in the Upper Blue Basin. The Town continues to implement the strategies outlined in that plan to insure the appropriate quantity and pattern of development. In August of 2002, the Town adopted the Breckenridge Vision Plan, which outlines specific action steps that reflect the community's values and vision. These documents are all available on the Town's web site at

The Town utilizes design guidelines to preserve the character of the historic district and a unique flexible zoning system that is based on performance standards. The Town has also adopted a Transfer of Development Rights Program as a way to direct new development into the core and to preserve the back country which provides diverse wildlife habitat, unspoiled ridgeline and mountain vistas, forested hillsides, opportunities for solitude and outdoor recreation, and a scenic back drop.   

Breckenridge still serves as the county seat and is a center of activity for Summit County. The stunning landscape, cultural heritage, authentic mining vernacular, and Victorian atmosphere have created a thriving community and premier year-round family resort, which attracts both national and international visitors.  With world-class skiing, a continuous series of summer-time events, and over 600 restaurants, galleries, and services Breckenridge looks forward to continued economic viability while preserving its unique history and character.      



Summer 1859-
Gold is discovered along the Blue River and a base camp, later to be known as Breckenridge, is established. While none of this base camp remains today, Breckenridge does contain more than 350 historic structures, making it the largest historic district in the state of Colorado.

The Gold Pan Saloon is established as a rough-and-ready bar for the miners. Today, the is still in business at 103 N. Main Street in Breckenridge, and stands proud as the oldest continuously operated bar West of the Mississippi.

Breckenridge gets a post office to serve the more than 8,000 miners and merchants who flock to the area.

Sylvia is one of Breckenridge's most enduring personalities. A miner's widow living in Breckenridge in the 1860's she occupied a women's boarding house on Main Street and is said by many to still occupy the building. Sylvia was said to be a prospector herself, (though of suitors, not gold), but failed to strike it rich and passed away alone. Today visitors can try to spot Sylvia themselves at the former boarding house, now The Prospector Restaurant, located at 130 S. Main Street. Local lore suggests that she only reveals herself to males, still in hope of finding a mate.

Breckenridge Navy founded by "Captain" Sam Adams. Adams, seeking a water route from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, leads four boats on an ill-fated trip from the Blue to the Colorado River before hopes are abandoned.

Professor Edwin Carter was a Breckenridge local from 1859 to century's end and a naturalist who spent his life collecting and preserving area wildlife samples. Carter eventually passed away from arsenic poisoning he received from the chemicals used in his taxidermy process, and bequeathed his entire animal collection to the City of Denver. His gift was the foundation of the Denver Museum of Natural History and many pieces can still be seen in Breckenridge at the Edwin Carter Museum located at 111 N. Ridge Street.

Father John L. Dyer, the "Snowshoe Itinerant Preacher" founds his Methodist church Breckenridge. Dyer spends winters on his twelve-foot-long wooden skis, traveling between mining camps to preach. The church he founded is located at 310 Wellington and still holds services today.

The railroad arrives in Breckenridge. South Park & Pacific Railroad Company lay rail tracks over what is current day Boreas Pass Road. Today visitors can view original narrow gauge rail cars, including a rotary snowplow, a coal tender and two boxcars, at the Denver, Leadville & Gunnison Railway Park located at 189 Boreas Pass Road.

"Tom's Baby" a 13.5 pound gold nugget is discovered near Breckenridge by local miners Tom Graves and Harry Lytton. Tom's Baby is now on display at the Colorado Museum of Natural History in Denver.

"The Big Snow" comes to Breckenridge. Snow falls everyday from November through February, forcing residents to dig tunnels to travel through town and stopping all trains from visiting Breckenridge for months.

Barney & Julia Lancelot Ford were two runaway slaves who lived in Breckenridge in the late 1880's. Barney was a successful in mining in his early days in Breckenridge, but was bilked of his fortune by his lawyers who took advantage of the fact that African Americans were unable to own property in Colorado at the time. Barney and Julia didn't accept this fate, however. Instead, they worked to guarantee rights for African-Americans in the Colorado Constitution and returned to Breckenridge to gain a new fortune running the upscale Denver Hotel and Ford's Chop House. Visitors can see the couple's historic home at 225 S. Main Street in Breckenridge.


School children discover Pug Ryan's treasure near Breckenridge. Pug Ryan and his gang robbed the Denver Hotel in Breckenridge in 1898, making off with considerable loot. The robbery resulted in a shoot-out and the death of all the gang members except Pug who escaped--never to return to claim his prize. The found treasure included the gold watch of the Denver Hotel's owner.

Mining era money funds the building of the stately brick K-12 schoolhouse, complete with an indoor swimming pool and pressed-tin ceilings. Today, the building is inhabited by Colorado Mountain College and the Speakeasy Theatre and is located at 103 S. Harris Street.

Dredge Boat mining comes to a halt after more than 40 years when World War II requires all metal be melted down for the war effort. Today visitors can view where the progress stopped at Maggie Pond at the Base of Peak 9 or eat on a reproduced dredge at The Dredge Restaurant located at 108 Jefferson Avenue.

Tommy Knocker's were the much feared and revered gremlins many Cornish miners believed to inhabit the underground shafts where they were working. Lore suggested the Tommy Knockers had a hand in the luck dealt to the miners while underground. Raising their displeasure was believed to cause accidents or death. Today visitors can see if they can spot one of the Tommy Knockers at The Country Boy Mine or the Lomax Mine, located at 301 Ski Hill Road and open for tours in the summer months.

The Country Boy Mine ceases operation after a flood. Developed in 1887 and utilized through the years as a gold, silver, lead and zinc mine; today the mine is open to visitors and provides guided underground tours, gold panning and a view into the past.


Breckenridge continues as the Summit County seat, but the population dips to 393 and town members fear the area will soon be a ghost town.

July 27, 1961-
Rounds and Porter Lumber Company of Wichita, Kansas is issued a permit for a new ski area in Breckenridge. Tapping into a new "vein" of winter sports, the ski area ensures the continuation of the town and the area's history.

December 16, 1961-
The Breckenridge Ski Area officially opens with one Heron double chairlift and a short T-bar. Almost 17,000 skier visits were recorded that first season, despite the fact that Interstate 70 was still not complete to Summit County.

Trygve Berge, a native Norwegian, served as the Breckenridge Ski School Director for the resort's first 11 years. Trygve was a Norwegian national ski champ in 1955 and founded a ski school with Stein Eriksen prior to locating in Breckenridge. Today Trygve's legacy is honored with Trygves Run for beginners, and the Bergenhof Restaurant, both named for him.

Peak 9 opens with two double chairs and 12 trails. Skier visits for the 1971-72 total 221,000, compared to 17,000 during the 1961-62 season.

Colorado's first alpine slide begins operation on Peak 8.

C.J. "Crazy John" Mueller is widely known as one of the fastest men on earth for his speed skiing abilities and three separate world-record speed skiing titles in the 1980's. This speedy Breckenridge local was an original member of the first (and only) U.S. Olympic Speed Skiing Team. John lived up to his "crazy" title by regularly skiing in excess of 100 MPH. CJ's legacy lives on with numerous posters around the area and many sightings of the town's "fastest" resident.

Breckenridge installs the world's first high-speed quad chairlift on Peak 9. The lift, capable of transporting 2,800 skiers per hour, started the industry's high-speed quad revolution.

Breckenridge became Colorado's first major resort to allow snowboarding.

Breckenridge's third interconnected mountain, Peak 10, opens and the resort hosts the worlds first Snowboarding World Cup.

Peak 7, the ski area's fourth interconnected mountain, opens for hiking access and glade skiing.

Breckenridge Ski Resort and Keystone Resort are merged with Vail and Beaver Creek to form Vail Resorts, the largest mountain resort company in North America at the time.

$18 million is invested into on-mountain improvements, including two new high-speed quads--the most in the resort's 37-year history.

Another $14 million invested includes construction of Ten Mile Station on Peak 9. Breckenridge celebrates being the country's most popular ski resort that season with a record 1,392,242 skier visits.

Breckenridge local and snowboard legend Todd Richards has lived in the area for more than ten years. Well known as a medalist in the 1998 Olympics and numerous X Games, Todd is a member of the Breckenridge Freeride Team and can often be seen in the Breckenridge Terrain Park on Peak 8.

The country's highest-capacity lift and first double-loading six-passenger chairlift, the Quicksilver Super6 opens at Breckenridge, replacing the world's first high-speed quad. For a second straight year, Breckenridge is the most-visited resort in the US, tabulating 1,441,000 skier visits.


Breckenridge increases intermediate terrain by 30 percent with the Peak 7 expansion, adding seven new trails and the six-person Independence SuperChair. The new Peak 8 SuperConnect transports visitors from Peak 9 to Peak 8 with incredible speed.

Prospectors entered what is now Summit County (then part of Utah Territory) during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1859, soon after the placer gold discoveries east of Breckenenridge near Idaho Springs. Breckenridge was founded to serve the miners working rich placer gold deposits discovered along the Blue River. Placer gold mining was soon joined by hard rock mining, as prospectors followed the gold to its source veins in the hills. Gold in some upper gravel benches north of the Blue River was recovered by hydraulic mining. Gold production decreased in the late 1800s, but revived in 1908 by gold dredging operations along the Blue River and Swan River. The Breckenridge mining district is credited with production of about one million troy ounces (about 31,000 kilograms) of gold. The gold mines around Breckenridge are all shut down, although some are open to tourist visits. The characteristic gravel ridges left by the gold dredges can still be seen along the Blue River and Snake River, and the remains of a dredge are still afloat in a pond off the Swan River.

Notable among the early prospectors was Edwin Carter, a log cabin naturalist who decided to switch from mining to collecting wildlife specimens. His log cabin built in 1875 exists today and has been recently renovated by the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance with interactive exhibits and a small viewing room with a short creative film on his life and the early days around Breckenridge.

The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance reports that in the 1930s, a women's group in Breckenridge stumbled upon an 1880s map that failed to include Breckenridge. They speculated that Breckenridge had never been officially annexed into the United States, and was thus still a "No Man's Land". This was completely false—official US maps did include Breckenridge—but these women created an incredibly clever marketing campaign out of this one map. In 1936 they invited the Governor of Colorado to Breckenridge to raise a flag at the Courthouse officially welcoming Breckenridge into the union—and he came. There was a big party. And the entire event/idea of Breckenridge being left off the map made national news. The "No Man's Land" idea later morphed into a new theme of Breckenridge being referred to as "Colorado's Kingdom", and the theme of Breck's independent spirit is still celebrated to today during Breck's annual "Kingdom Days" celebrations every June.

Breckenridge was the film location of the 1989 comedy National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and some scenes in Dumb and Dumber (shots of Aspen in the movie are actually Breckenridge).

On November 3, 2009, voters passed ballot measure 2F by a nearly 3 to 1 margin (73%), which legalized marijuana possession for adults. The measure allows possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and also decriminalizes the possession of marijuana-related paraphernalia. Possession became legal January 1, 2010. Possession is still illegal by state law however. The measure was written mainly to be symbolic.

Breckenridge Trivia History

Unlike most other Colorado ski "towns", Breckenridge dates its founding to long before the first rope tow opened back east in 1936. In fact...:

Breckenridge was first settled in 1859 following the discovery of gold in the Blue River, which still runs through the middle of town. The Dredge Bar & Restaurant is an authentic piece of mining equipment from the 1800s. Make sure to visit some of the historic mining shacks still located on the hill while skiing at Breckenridge!

The largest gold nugget ever found in North America was discovered in Breckenridge on July 3, 1887 by a man named Tom Groves. The single nugget weighed 151 oz. and was about the size of an adult human head. It was dubbed "Tom's Baby" because Mr. Groves paraded it around town like a new-born child. Whatever happened to the nugget is still one of Breckenridge's great mysteries.

Like most mining towns of the era, Breckenridge was not the most pious of communities. Drinking, gambling, and prostitution were rampant. Father Dryer established a local parish, determined to set the town straight. When he refused to stop ringing his church bells and waking up the hungover residents of Breckenridge, the townspeople used dynamite mining caps to blow up his church steeple. No more bell.
The Gold Pan Saloon was one of the first businesses of its kind in town and is still in operation today, making it the oldest continuously operating saloon west of the Mississippi River.

Breckenridge got its name when the town wanted a post office. The townspeople thought they could increase their odds of getting one if they named their town after the nation's Vice President at the time, John Breckinridge. The idea worked and Breckinridge got its post office. But when civil war broke out in 1864, John Breckinridge sided with the south and the pro-Union citizens of Breckinridge wanted the town's name changed. The solution was easy: change an i to an e, and it's been Breckenridge ever since.

Today the gold rush is over but the powder rush is running strong! Breckenridge, Vail, Beaver Creek, and Keystone are operated under common ownership, making lift tickets at these resorts one of the best values in the industry!

History of the Ski Resort

Resort History:
The conception of building a ski resort in Breckenridge began during the late 1950's when Bill Rounds of the Porter and Rounds Lumber Company became interested in bringing skiing to the valley. He created a organization called the Summit County Development Corporation led byClaude Martin and Bill Starks. A report was issued by the U.S. Forest Service in April of 1961, which recommended terrain below timberline on Peak 8. According to Martin, initial plans called for four ski lifts, a four passenger gondola, air strip for executives, motels, lodges, apartments, ski shops, and restaurants.

The Peak 8 Ski Area opened on December 16, 1961 with one Heron double chair and a midway unloading station and one short learners T-bar. Ticket prices were four dollars for an adult and two fifty for children. Attendance ranged in the neighborhood of 17,000 skiers.

The following year a 375-foot Constam double chair was installed up the "Mach One" trail. This season marked the first Ullr Dag festival, which included a ski parade, competitions and aerial tricks demonstrated by ski school instructors. The festival came about because the majority of the ski school instructors were Norwegian.

In 1965, Chair 2 was installed by Heron, which terminated near the top of the current Colorado Super Chair. A base lodge was completed on Peak 8, but the structure was short lived. An explosion destroyed the building shortly after completion. While an exact cause was never determined, a gas leak was suspected.

By 1967, Harry Baum from Arapahoe Basin was in charge of operations at the ski area and later purchased the resort. That same year, a poma lift was installed near the summit of Chair 2 to what is now the summit of Chair 6, serving high alpine bowl terrain. Skier visits topped over 140,000 people.

In 1970, Aspen Skiing Company purchased Breckenridge and Baum was retained as the manager. During the summer of 1971, two new double chairs were installed on Peak 9, along with multiple ski runs. The total cost of the expansion was 4.5 million dollars. In 1972, the popular C Chair was built with runs Union, Minnie, and Siverthorn Cutoff. Ticket prices topped six dollars per day with skier visits at 271,000 people.

By 1978, A, # 4, and D Chair were all installed providing access on Peak 9. That same year, Aspen Skiing Company was sold to Twentieth Century Fox, which had vast profits from the hit movie Star Wars. During the late 1970's, the alpine slide was constructed providing summer on-mountain activities. Chair 6 was installed in 1979, which provided easier access to some of Breckenridge's bowls. New runs included Quandry, Too Much, Steilhung, and Frosty's Freeway.

The season of 1980-81 marked a big drought for Breck when only 86 inches of natural now fell. Skier numbers fell to 195,000. Almost half the previous season.

History of Summit County

Summit County has an extensive and exciting history. As early as 1773, trappers penetrated The Colorado Rockies. The Rocky Mountains and Summit County were a trappers paradise. During the same time, and as far back as 4800 BC, Summit County was the home and hunting ground of the free roaming Ute Indians.

Summit County was one of the original seventeen counties set up in 1861 during Colorado’s territorial period. At that time, Summit County was much larger than it is today, stretching from the Continental Divide to the Utah border, and from Fremont County and Hoosier Pass to the Wyoming line. Summit County was later divided into the current seven counties of Grand, Routt, Eagle, Garfield, Moffat, Rio Blanco, and Summit. Clear Creek, Park, Lake, Grand, and Eagle counties all border Summit County.


In 1859, Summit County gained national notoriety with the discovery of gold near Breckenridge. With a party of fourteen, Ruben J. Spalding scaled Hoosier Pass from the South and discovered gold. They were the first white prospectors to cross the divide to Colorado’s Western Slope. General Spencer, one of the original party of fourteen began organizing a town site. His town became Breckenridge, the first permanent town of the Colorado Western Slope. Today, much of the history of the early boom times of Breckenridge are still very prevalent in the area just by walking down main street. The gross majority of buildings in Breckenridge are restored originals from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

The discovery of gold sent thousands of prospectors into Summit County’s mountains. The next prospecting settlements took place along the Swan River and the French Gulch. There were a number of towns located in the area. The prospectors came over Georgia Pass, where today there is a really fun Mountain Bike trail that links to Kenosha Pass off of US Hwy 285.

The rock piles evident in the upper Blue Panning Basin were created by a mining process called dredging. Gold dredging began in 1905 with the development of a dredge by Ben Stanley Revett. The dredge floated on a self-made pond while being secured to the shore by cable and to the river bottom by a spud driven into bedrock. The dredge would scoop up rocks and gravel from the riverbed and after processing the gold, the rocks would be deposited behind the dredge. A total of nine dredges worked the streams in the upper blue valley until 1942. They unearthed an estimated $224,000,000 worth of gold at today’s value.


It was gold that brought prospectors to Summit County’s Snake River area, but in 1863 silver was smelted by John Coley on Glacier Mountain. Montezuma was the most notorious of the towns that sprang up in the area. Like Breckenridge, the surrounding area was dotted with many unnamed settlements that have since gone their way. Today, the town of Montezuma still exists with a few original mining buildings and a general store that is still open for business during the summer months. You can follow Montezuma road up past Keystone to many 4×4 trails in the area including the steep decent down Red Cone Mountain. The drive is easy for most standard 4×4’s, but it is not recommend that you go past the base of Red Cone unless you know what you are doing and have the proper vehicle.


Dillon Colorado has a very unique past. The town was originally located at the confluence of the Ten Mile Creek, Blue River, and the Snake River. The current location of Dillon is it’s fourth. In it’s original location, Dillon became the crossroads for early stagecoach lines and wagon freighters. By 1898, two narrow gauge railroads met and shared a depot. The location of Dillon allowed it to serve not only to the mining community, but also the ranching communities in the lower Blue River Valley. Most of the ranches in the Lower Blue River Valley were acquired under the 1882 Homestead Act. Those pioneering ranch families worked hard to tame the land in that region. Many of the same families still operate ranches in the lower Blue River Valley area today. Dillon was moved to the present location in the 1960’s due to the construction of Lake Dillon by the Denver Water Board. More about the history of Dillon and Lake Dillon is available on the North Shore of Lake Dillon along the bike path and the Dillon Dam Road near the spillway.


Ten Mile Canyon was also full of gold and silver fever. Frisco, located at the edge of the canyon, which now is home to a stretch of I-70, was incorporated in 1880. Today, Frisco is a thriving business community with many of the local government agencies located there. In addition, the Summit County Historical Society is located on Main Street.

Wheeler Flats was another town that sprung up in the Ten Mile Canyon. The primary draw for Wheeler Flats was the vast amount of lumber needed by the local mines and continuing railroad expansion. Several sawmills were required to handle the demand for lumber. Eventually, this site was developed into a ski resort, which now boasts the name Copper Mountain. Today, Copper Mountain is a town and resort all in itself. A just completed development by IntraWest Resorts makes Copper Mountain one of the most modern ski resorts in North America with probably the most amenities concentrated into one area. If visiting during the summer, make sure you take a shot at biking up to the top of Vail pass from Copper Mountain on the 7 miles of bike path. If you feel really adventurous, you can coast all the way down to Vail and attempt to climb back over Vail Pass.

Exploring Summit County

Summit County is a place where dreams still come true. Talk to any local and you’ll soon discover that the spirit of Summit County’s residents is contagious. Both young and old find the fresh clean air and beautiful scenery of Summit County extremely motivating. Local residents as well as visitors usually try to take advantage of every waking moment exploring the many outdoor activities at hand. A word of caution to visitors coming from lower elevations, please consult the section on Altitude sickness.

Fly fisherman have long favored Colorado’s Blue River. The 1-1/2 miles stretch directly below the Dillon Dam offers the catch and release angler exceptional opportunities to catch trophy size Rainbow Trout. The Colorado department of Fisheries releases hatchery brook stock after their useful hatchery years have expired. Many of these fish reach 5-6lb size. Occasionally an exceptionally skilled fisherman lands a trout in the 8-10lb class, a trophy by anyone’s standards.

Much of the surrounding area is owned and managed by the US forest Service. There are virtually hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain bike trails that offer access to Summit County’s backcountry. Complete details maybe obtained by visiting the forest service ranger Station located at 135 Blue River Parkway in Silverthorne.

If you have the passion to tame the winds and set sail on a nautical adventure then the waters of Lake Dillon is just what you need. With consistent winds, Lake Dillon offers sailors of all experience levels time at the helm to test their seamanship. Sailboat rentals are available at both Dillon and Frisco Marinas.

Gold seekers find Summit County a treat to explore. Occasionally a luck prospector actually brings some of Summit County’s dense gold home. But if panning through slurry material and probing the rocks for that magical glitter don’t stir bits of excitement, then perhaps a trip to one of the many casinos in Central City or Blackhawk might. A brand new highway was just built from Idaho Springs to Central city. The highway is a beautiful drive on the tops of the foothills to the Rockies and should not be missed.

Summit County’s prize possession by far is white gold. Some people call it snow. Hundred of inches of clean white snow magically appear from the heavens to grace the hills of Summit County each year. Through massive development efforts, Summit County can boast four destination ski resorts all within 15 miles of each other. In addition to downhill skiing, there are several high quality Nordic centers throughout the county that offer the backcountry skier every possible amenity. Also, snowmobiling is quickly gaining recognition among area visitors both rentals and private tours are available.

This is just a sample of what Summit County has to offer and what activities you have to choose from. The sky is literally the limit when you are in Summit County, so make the most of your vacation in Colorado and Summit County.

Early History
In 1861, Summit County was one of Colorado Territory’s original 17 counties, then stretching from the Divide to the Utah border, and from Fremont and Hoosier Passes to the Wyoming Line. Six counties were later created from this early Summit County expanse: Grand, Routt, Eagle, Garfield, Moffat, and Rio Blanco. Today, Summit County is bounded by the neighboring counties of Clear Creek, Grand, Park, Lake, and Eagle.

Gold Rush Days
Summit County first received worldwide attention in 1859 when prospectors discovered gold and silver in the surrounding hills. High country trappers, from 1810-1840, attempted to keep the glittering gold and silver-seamed mountains a secret, but the news filtered out of the remote area to the rest of the United States. By the summer of 1859, hordes of gold-hungry adventurers scaled the snow-covered Continental Divide to the mineral-rich valley of the Blue River, catapulting this gentle valley from tranquil isolation into the gold rush days. Mine camps lined the Blue River and its tributaries and a parade of colorful characters and scoundrels, like Pug Ryan and Methodist preacher John Lewis Dyer, marched their way on to the pages of history.

Mining Towns & Ski Resorts
Bustling new towns exploded into existence just as quickly as they lapsed into ghost towns, like Parkville, the first county seat. Others, like Breckenridge, Frisco, and Dillon, flourished during the days of mining prosperity and clung to life years after the mines played out. Not until 1946 did snow become business in Summit County, when Arapahoe Basin Ski area opened its slopes. With the opening of Breckenridge Ski area in 1961, Keystone in 1970, and Copper Mountain in 1972, “The Summit” became one of the greatest destination ski areas in the nation and was coined “Colorado’s Playground”.

Fast Facts
Summit County Area
396,000 acres
(about 619 square miles)
Annual Precipitation
Approx. 250” snow
Total Number of Housing Units*
Average Temperatures
Summer: 68°
Winter: 30°
27,994 Sales Tax
State: 2.9%
County: 2%
Breckenridge and Dillon - 2.5%;
Frisco and Silverthorne - 2%
* 2010 Census data

The following summer, Breckenridge heavily invested in snowmaking operations to prevent poor conditions seen the previous year. The world's first high-speed quad was installed at the base of Peak 9 during the same year. The Doppelmayr Lift Company from Austria constructed the quad. To celebrate this milestone, Doppelmayr brought over a special brass band from Austria.

By 1983, ticket prices reached 19 dollars per day, with skier visits at 673,00 people. The E Chair was installed, provided better access to some of Brecks more challenging mogul runs off of Peak 9. The following season, the infamous T-bar made it's debut up the Horseshoe Bowl; the old poma lift then retired. Ownership of Aspen Skiing Company changed when the Crown family purchased the operation from Fox in 1984.

Peak 10 opens for the first time the in 1985 with a new Poma quad chair called the F Lift. The chair was converted into a high-speed lift for the following ski season. Runs on this hill were named for WW II planes by mountain manager Jim Gill.

Peak 8 installs its first high-speed quad in 1986, replacing chair #1. The lift is called the Colorado Super Chair. Later that season, a large avalanche toccurs on the Peak 7 Bowl, killing four skiers. Rescue efforts
take days and news of the incident spreads across news stations. The terrain was considered out of bounds.

Skier visits topped 1 million people for the 1987-88 season. That same year, Breckenridge is sold to Victoria Ltd of Tokyo, Japan. Local residents were glad to welcome new owners. Many believed that Aspen exploited Breckenridge's revenue to support their own ski areas.

In 1990, the Mercury Super Chair was installed (now renamed the Beaver Run Chair). For the opening celebrations, astronauts John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Scott Carpenter, and Gordon Cooper attended. Lift tickets are now 36 dollars.

By 1993, Ralston Purina purchased the ski area long with Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. Between all three ski areas, they logged over 2.6 million skier visits.

Vail Resorts (VR) purchased Breckenridge in 1996 along with Keystone. Now VR owned Beaver Creek, Vail, Arrowhead, Breckenridge and Keystone. That same year Poma was contracted to install the Snowflake double chair. This lift has a 45 degree turn about mid-way up the lift line. Vail's first major improvement was the replacement of the Quicksilver Quad with a double loading six-passenger chair built by Poma. This
remains the first and only double loading lift in America.

In 2002, the long awaited Peak 7 terrain was developed. A six-passenger lift was installed to provide adequate capacity. The area is utilized by intermediate skiers that enjoy groomed terrain. The Peak 8 Super Connect was also installed this year by Poma. This quad replaces Chair 4.

For the 2005-06 season, the Imperial Express was built. This is now the highest lift in North America, taking the crown from Loveland's Chair #9. The lift tops out at over 12,840 feet.

To facilitate development at Peak 7, Shock Hill, and Peak 8 a new Leitner-Poma gondola opened during 2006. This system eliminated transport buses from the downtown parking areas to the ski area. To better integrate with the new developments, the Independence Express on Peak 7 was lowered to the midway station of the gondola. This now provides skiers a quick access to Peak 7 terrain.