The ghostly history behind Breckenridge’s oldest historic buildings
October 14, 2016
During the first Gold Rush of 1859, Breckenridge was bustling with activity as miners flocked to the town in search of riches. Saloons lined the streets, ladies of the night attended to lonely men, merchants strolled into town to earn a living off the miners, and structures progressed from tents and shacks to log buildings.
As a desolate Breckenridge saw its revival during the second rush in the 1880s when silver was added to the mix, the area shifted from its wild existence into a more "respectable" town as Victorian ladies and gentlemen moved in.
Although the new residents built Victorian homes and updated buildings lining Main Street, life still wasn't easy in a mountain town at 9,000 feet. Breckenridge's past is lined with hardships, drinking, prostitutes and murders — stories that took place in some of the same buildings that now bustle with ski traffic today. In some cases, rumor has it that residents of those buildings who met tragic ends may never have left.
The Gold Pan
Breckenridge's oldest saloon, which is rumored to have the longest-standing continuous liquor license west of the Mississippi, is now called The Gold Pan and sits in a prime location on Main Street. Ski resort employees make it a nightly hang out, and brides- and grooms-to-be frequently bring their parties to the bar.
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But in the days before bands took the stage and smoke came pouring out of the rear end a deer hanging on the wall, The Gold Pan saw just as many wild times.
The Saloon started off as a tent in 1861, like many structures of its time, and a more permanent structure was built in 1879. In 1905, another building was added to the saloon, offering a bar on one side and bowling on the other. The Gold Pan outlasted Prohibition, serving moonshine in a back room that had to be accessed through an underground tunnel. It even hosted the last gunfight recorded in the town a few years after the ski resort was built.
With such a long history in Breckenridge, the ghostly activity felt nowadays could be miners, although it has been said that male occupants of the upstairs apartments have felt a woman's presence.
The current owners, Megan and Chris Stromberg, have experienced things they can't explain. Regularly, almost daily, a door upstairs in their office building will open once, maybe twice a day. A couple months ago, Megan was in the bar area decorating for a party early in the morning, and she felt something brush against her body.
"I instantly dropped the balloons and ran upstairs to tell Chris," she said.
Megan said Chris isn't usually the one to get scared, but he has one instance that sent him immediately out of the building. It was after hours, and he was finishing up some rebuilds on their music stage, and all of a sudden the music cut out on his phone. Immediately, it got really cold and the lights flickered.
"I put down my power tools and was like, 'OK, that's it, I'm going home and locking up,'" he said. The music came back right when he walked out the door.
A paranormal specialist came to the bar in June, recording activity in both the office upstairs and in the storeroom downstairs, where the tunnels used to be, Megan said.
The leading lady in the tales of the building that now houses Après Handcrafted Libations on Main Street is always described as a very tidy ghost. Built in the 1880s, the building was originally a boarding house. A room was usually kept for widows, and it was hoped that these women would find new husbands in the house to take care of them rather than having to resort to working in the red light districts, said Gail Westwood, author of "Haunted Breckenridge" and co-owner of Breckenridge Tours. Sylvia's tale is one that Westwood presents on Ghostly Tales, one of a variety of tours offered by the company.
It was here that Sylvia moved in search of a new husband, but caught one of the epidemics at the time and passed shortly after contracting the disease.
For over three decades, the building was a restaurant known as the Prospector, and an apartment housed tenants upstairs. There are many stories of Sylvia sightings, Westwood said, with female tenants saying she loved to clean up and even fold laundry. If dirty dishes were left in the sink, the faucets would be running when the resident returned home.
"She would appear at night, not to be seen, but to feel her. … They could feel a weight on top of them," Westwood said.
Downstairs, it's said that she rearranges kitchen items, and one bartender reported feeling a force take over her mop.
"I call her the most prolific ghost … because there have been more sightings with her, more experiences with her in that building than anywhere else," Westwood said.
Katie Briggle was one of Breckenridge's well-known socialites. Arriving with her husband William in 1896, the pair soon outgrew their two-room cabin, adding to the Victorian-style home several times until it was the size seen today. Katie taught music lessons in the home and hosted many parties.
"She held the finest dinner parties — musical events for 60 to 70 people at a time," Westwood said. "Whatever clothes she wore, the other women would follow, whatever dinner she served everybody would start cooking, whatever entertainment, decorations she put up, they would all follow. In other words, back in the 1900s you would be following Katie on Twitter, she's be the one that would be trending."
In 1924, William passed away of a heart attack and soon after that Katie left the home, living in Denver until she died. Westwood believes she returned to her beloved home after her passing.
June Walters, a current tour guide for the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance (BHA), which hosts tours through the home, said parties hosted by the Briggles were often written about in the Summit County Journal the next day. Musically talented, Katie would often hold recitals at her house, playing several instruments herself. She held card parties, bridal showers and meetings.
"I like the Briggle House," Walters said. "It is a beautiful example of Victorian, period-correct local décor. … It is a beautiful display of how the 1 percent in Breckenridge lived and entertained, and kept themselves warm, and enjoyed a Victorian lifestyle."
Walters has also possibly had a few run-ins with Katie. Walters started with the BHA 20-some years ago, but left for about 18 years before returning to again lead tours. On her first outing through the home upon her return, she heard beautiful chamber music. Afterwards, she asked the BHA manager if it had been a recording of the National Repertory Orchestra.
"She said, 'What music?' I said, the music that comes on when you walk into the parlor,'" Walters said. "She said, 'There are no speakers, there's no audio equipment, there's no way for music to play.' I thought that was really interesting. If there is a spirit, an entity, a ghost, whatever you want to call it, if there is one there, I'd like to think he or she was welcoming me back to the fold."
During a paranormal investigation, done often in the home, Walters took several photos in one corner of a room. Later, in one of the photos, she found what looked like a moving orb.
Westwood has had several experiences with what she believes is Katie. When she started going through the home as a walking tour guide, she had a very unusual experience after she started. A guest on the tour, who Westwood described as sensitive, pulled her back right before she walked into Katie's bedroom, telling her she couldn't go in because Katie was in there. The woman described her, and answered a few of the questions Westwood posed to Katie, giving her Katie's answer.
Once, a psychic friend told Westwood that Katie was standing behind her and tapping her on the shoulder. Another physical instance Westwood attributes to Katie is the time she and another tour guide found a big red stain on the carpet after an event on a cream-colored rug, and left with the intention of cleaning it the next morning.
"When we arrived the following morning and opened the door, there was the rug, perfectly clean, not a stain on it," she said.
One day a teacake went missing, and Westwood found it under Katie's bed. When Westwood left some dishes behind in the sink, the next day a can flew off a top shelf and landed at her feet.
"I suddenly said, 'OK, this is for real,'" she said. "After that started to happen, whenever I would go in I would open the door and say, 'Good morning Katie, good afternoon Katie, how are you today?' I would acknowledge her and say, 'It's just Gail and I wont be here long. … When I would leave, I would say, 'Thank you Katie, and goodbye.' I don't know if I sounded crazy, but to me it was the most respectful thing to do."
The first structures built in Summit County during the initial mining boom were log cabins. In the 1880s, the new style of structure was Victorian homes and buildings. In order to modernize existing Main Street businesses that were log, many owners would put up false fronts, said Jamie Cripps, co-owner of Breckenridge Tours. The buildings would still be the old log structures, but would look Victorian from the outside, giving the business a more modern look without the cost. Cripps said there are around 250 buildings in Breckenridge, including outhouses, that are over 100 years old.
According to the town of Breckenridge's website, most of the historically significant buildings are from the Victorian Age. New construction and changes to existing buildings in the Historic and Conservation District are subject to review under the "Handbook of Design Standards for the Historic and Conservation Districts." The town adopted the handbook to establish design standards for all new construction and renovation of existing structures.
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