Breckenridge’s miners live on at Boarding House Bash Dinner |

Breckenridge’s miners live on at Boarding House Bash Dinner

Kimberly Nicoletti

BRECKENRIDGE – “Amid loud slurping and chomping noises, helpers frantically run to and from the kitchen in a futile attempt to keep these serving bowls full. (The miners) waste no time in chitchat or etiquette; they approach mealtime as serious business, and mountains of food are dispatched forthwith.”

-Beth and Bill Sagsteiter, from “The Mining Camp Speaks”

Scarf down authentic Cornish pasties and fixin’s with the Summit Historical Society as it hosts a Boarding House Bash Dinner at one of the oldest watering holes around – The Gold Pan Saloon.

“What we wanted to do is simulate the atmosphere that occurred in these old boarding houses,” said former mining engineer and Summit Historical Society boardmember Rick Hague.

Summit Historical Society member Rich Skovlin will tell tales of life in the mines and boarding houses in the late 1800s.

There’s gold in them thar hills …

When the gold rush began, hundreds and sometimes thousands of men filled the area to work in mines. Initially, they paid to sleep on floors of saloons, such as The Gold Pan, but soon tents and wooden buildings popped up to house miners and provide three meals a day for $1. Most boarding houses slept 20-40 men, but one of the largest, in Leadville, housed 500 miners under a tent, Hague said.

“Conditions in these boarding houses varied tremendously,” Hague said. Most had a wood-burning stove in the middle of a room, with beds stacked two to three bunks high around the walls.

“It probably was a pretty smelly place because their boots would be wet,” Hague said.

“Cleanliness wasn’t really a consideration, either,” Beth and Bill Sagsteiter wrote in “The Mining Camp Speaks.” “Tobacco juice mixed with the mud on the floors. Flies were a real problem.”

But the food wasn’t bad …

The chef was the most important person in the mining camp, Hague said. Miners demanded heaps of food.

They ate breakfast and dinner at the boarding house and took lunch in a pail. Lunch needed to be a food easily eaten with the hands, so chefs made pasties, or crust doughs filled with meat, potatoes and any other vegetables grown at the camp.

Company boarding houses lured men to work in their mines using gourmet food.

“On the other end of the scale, there were some crummy boarding houses, depending on the circumstances of supply and demand,” Hague said.

The old watering hole …

To illustrate the history of Breckenridge, Maureen Nicholls will present a slide show of old postcards, dating from 1910. She will show photographer John Topolnicki’s postcards from the 1960s and “70s, as well as paintings made into postcards.

“It’s amazing how they change. What you find today is gone tomorrow,” Nicholls said.

Buildings like the Gold Pan Saloon have changed too. It began in the late 1800s as a mercantile, called The Fair, and sold shoes, boots and hats. In 1905, John Bradley turned it into a billiards parlor and two-lane, shorter-than-standard bowling alley, which extended farther back than the present-day building.

During Prohibition, the parlor advertised billiards, cigars and soft drinks, but sold liquor illegally. In 1917 the Federal Marshal slapped owner John Bradley with a stiff $300 fine.

In 1952, the saloon adopted its present name, The Gold Pan.

And there’s more …

The mining days not only unearthed gold, silver and lead, but also left a rich history.

Tickets for the Boarding House Bash Dinner are $30 and include pasties, fixin’s, one alcoholic drink and a wealth of information. The dinner is a fund raiser for the Summit Historical Society.

For reservations, call (970) 453-8332 or send a check before June 1 to: The Summit Historical Society, P.O. Box 745, Breckenridge, CO, 80424. For more information, visit the Web site at

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