By Lisa Marie Mercer
Budget-savvy travelers know all about Breckenridge, Colorado, summers. They know that the so-called off-season brings lower prices to the local hotels, and that the airlines occasionally offer airfares you can’t refuse.
Summer also brings an abundance of free cultural activities to Breckenridge, along with the promise of hiking in low humidity and temperatures that rarely rise above 80 degrees — and without the annoyance of those dastardly snakes and mosquitoes.
Behold the Kingdom of Breckenridge
This year, the summer fun begins on June 16 and 17, 2012. The Kingdom Days event dates back to the rather unfortunate mistake of a Colorado cartographer, who, in 1859 – the year of the founding of Breckenridge – inadvertently neglected to put the town on the United States map. Until the mistake was discovered and corrected in 1936, the townspeople called Breckenridge “Colorado’s Kingdom.”
Years thereafter, the town would choose a weekend in mid to late June and turn upside down, in tribute to Breckenridge’s mining, saloon and brothel days. Come for a visit and watch the mock gunfights, pan for gold, take a free tour of the town, or do something really outrageous, like run in an outhouse race. (Check out this YouTube video of the 2007 races!) You can get some free birthday cake at the newly renovated Edwin Carter House-turned-museum, or party like it’s 1859 at the town party.
Exploring Breckenridge History
Even if you can’t make it to Kingdom Days, you can still explore Breckenridge history through the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance tours. In fact, the town, which takes its historic architectural integrity quite
seriously, is practically a museum in its own right. For example, the Welcome Center on South Main Street is more than just an information booth. While it does provide information about lodging, dining, activities and events, the rear section of the first floor and the entire second floor functions as a history museum.
The first floor features an intriguing “then and now” exhibit. It displays the buildings of the past, their history and their stories, and compares them with their current function and appearance. If you have kids, send them upstairs where they can practice mining for gold, try on old-fashioned clothing, and look at elaborate Victorian kid’s furniture.
When you finish, go across the street and visit the Barney Ford Museum.
The Barney Ford Museum
While Breckenridge has housed some fascinating residents, Ford is unarguably the most fascinating. Check out his story:
Barney Ford was the son of a slave and a plantation owner. While working on a Mississippi river boat, he escaped, allegedly by faking his own death. Chicago was Ford’s first stop, where he met the woman who would soon become his wife. The Fords, like many other people of the 19th century, heard the rumors of gold and decided to head west toward California. There was a problem, however. As an escaped slave, Ford did not dare travel inland, so they took an indirect route to California — via Nicaragua.
Through a series of highly complicated events, which your tour guide will explain, the Fords wound up in Breckenridge. The California Gold Rush had simmered down, but Colorado was going strong. Unfortunately, the locals did not allow men of color in the mining fields. But Ford was resilient. He devised a detailed plan to borrow $9000 from a local banker.
Opening a first rate Breckenridge restaurant was his goal, and he achieved it. In the years that followed,
hungry locals and visitors crowded the tables at Ford’s Chop House. Engaging in politics as well as business, Ford helped establish the right for African-Americans to vote.
The Barney Ford House Museum features authentic Victorian furnishings and a fascinating look into the life of an extraordinary individual.
The Arts District
Created in 2001, the pedestrian friendly Breckenridge Art District has outdoor and indoor spaces for workshops, artists-in-residence, galleries, and an infinite variety of ongoing cultural events. The Tin Shop, for example, boasts a guest artist program that provides living and working space for guest artists from all parts of the globe. It sits next to the Barney Ford Museum on Washington Street just off of Ridge Street.
The building directly across the street once housed the Fuqua Livery Stables. Here, you could board horses, mules and burros. If you could afford the owner’s rates, you could even rent a room for yourself in the loft of the stable. Apparently, the animals’ body heat kept you warm on cold Colorado winter nights. Animals no longer inhabit the newly renovated stable. It now houses the town’s second artist-in-resident program.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this vicarious journey through the town of Breckenridge. But trust me, it’s even more intriguing in person!