Summit Stop: A taste of slope-side history
April 10, 2011
BRECKENRIDGE – Today, there are more than 70 restaurants and bars in the Town of Breckenridge offering diners options ranging from pizza to steak. But 130 years ago, one of the best restaurants in the little town was Ford’s Restaurant and Chophouse, where diners might enjoy oyster or trout. The chophouse was owned by Breckenridge’s first black entrepreneur, an escaped slave turned self-made businessman named Barney Ford. His former home, on south Main Street is just one of several historical sites protected by the town and the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. The Barney Ford House museum, and it’s counter parts scattered around town are part of Breckenridge’s carefully preserved heritage that sets it apart from other ski towns. So when you finish exploring the ski hill, take a stroll through Breckenridge’s 150-year history.
The Barney Ford House Museum is the centerpiece of Breckenridge’s historic sites and activities.
The museum was once the home of Barney Ford and his wife, Julia, built for the couple near the chophouse in 1882.
Ford, the son of a white landowner and his housemaid, was born a slave in the 1820s. He escaped from slavery on the underground railroad and made his way to Chicago where he met Julia, who was free.
Eventually, the couple married and moved to Breckenridge. Over the years, the Fords made their fortune and their way in society. At one point in his life Ford, who owned several businesses nationwide, was the 14th richest man in Colorado and the couple was accepted in prominent social circles in Breckenridge and Denver. Ford also became a leader in Colorado’s struggle for civil rights and black suffrage.
Since the Fords retired to Denver in 1890, their home has had several different owners. When the most recent owners, the Theobalds, realized the historical significance of the house they gave it to the town as a gift.
Another gem of Breckenridge’s historic collection is the Edwin Carter Museum, also built by one of the town’s prominent early residents.
Like many of Breckenridge’s first residents, Edwin Carter came to town in search of gold. But when he saw the toll the mining industry took on the environment he became a naturalist, particularly concerned about local wildlife. Professor Carter built the log cabin that is now his museum and taught himself the art of taxidermy.
When he died, many of his more than 3,000 specimens laid the foundation for what is today the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
The Breckenridge Welcome Center is also home to a museum with exhibits depicting early life in a small mountain mining town, while the Summit Ski Museum memorializes the history of a sport that is now the town’s main event. For those who prefer to take their history in stride, the town also offers historic walking tours for $10 per person. The tour winds through six blocks at the historic heart of Breckenridge and includes stories that bring the town’s first characters to life.
The Barney Ford House Museum is located on the corner of Washington Avenue and south Main Street. The Edwin Carter Museum is located on Ridge Street east of Main Street. Walking tours begin at the Breckenridge Welcome Center at 203 S. Main St.