The naming of a mountain town |

The naming of a mountain town

How was breckenridge named?

As with most of Summit County’s history, there’s some debate about this question. You see, either there was some brown-nosing going on, a little bit of recognition paid or all of the above.

Option No. 1: Breckenridge was named after then-Vice President John Cabell Breckinridge (notice the fancy spelling). In this version of history, George Spencer platted and developed the town, and had his eyes on the grandest prize a new community could ask for: A post office. The trouble was getting that post office. Spencer knew that could be a time-consuming process and so took a fellow resident’s suggestion and named the town after Buchanan’s right-hand man. The move worked, and on Jan. 18, 1860 the town had its very own post office. Records from the post office show inconsistent spelling in the town name with the first mentions in 1859 and early-1860 being spelled with an ‘e’, then later in 1860 with an ‘I’, but then changing back and forth multiple times. The current spelling was made official in 1877, but at the same time the post office was still spelling the town with an ‘I’. Here we again have a couple different tales to tell.

Option No. 1A: The spelling for the town name changed because, much like a hug-it-out alternative school, no one really cared if you spelled things right. It only mattered if you got close enough to be decipherable.

Option No. 1B: The spelling changed because the town’s sentiments for old second-in-charge John Cabell Breckinridge changed. You see, the VP became a congressman after his time in the White House, but was then kicked out of Congress in December of 1861 because of his other affiliations — he joined the Army of the Confederacy. Many of our humble hamlet’s occupants were Union sympathizers and so the spelling was changed because the town no longer respected its namesake.

Option No. 2: When George Spencer came a calling, he brought a party along with him. In the party was none other than Major Thomas Breckenridge. Thomas is credited by some with being the first to build a cabin in town and may have been the first one over the pass. It is therefore possible the town is named for him. In fact, the earliest references in the Summit County Journal claim Major Breckenridge to be the main man, and potentially so does a Rocky Mountain News article that claims the town was named after an agreeable local miner. So why the different spellings, then?

Option No. 3: Local historians Bill Fountain and Dr. Sandra Pritchard-Mather did some digging on this story and came up with their very own concept that shows the people of Breck to be the catalyst for change. In this theory, the town was originally named for Major Breckenridge in 1859 as recognition for his part in founding the community, but the name is changed in 1860 in an attempt to win favor with Vice President Breckinridge and secure that much-coveted post office. The official records don’t reflect the change until the townsfolk knew for a fact they were getting their post office — sometime in the spring of 1860. The name was then changed back when former-Vice President Breckinridge was kicked out of Congress.

So basically, like the spelling for the name, pick a story you like and stick with it, or you can keep changing your mind if you’d prefer.

Quandary, an old and wise mountain goat, has been around Summit County for ages, and has the answers to any question about life, love and laws in the High Country. Have a question for Quandary? Send an email to

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.