Breckenridge Mountain earned its bragging rights as a world-class ski resort, but the town of Breckenridge, Colorado provides an abundance of fascinating material for history buffs. While the Olympic athletes who trained at Breckenridge are a major source of pride, the story of Barney Ford, the escaped slave turned successful restauranteur, provides another type of inspiration.
On Sunday, October 21, 2012, the American Institute of Architects, Colorado and State Representative Millie Hamner will present the Barney Ford House Museum with a replica of the Barney Ford stained glass window that graces the House Chamber of the State Capitol. The event begins at 2:00 p.m., and features free refreshments. If you can’t make it, the Barney Ford Museum stays open all year round, and is definitely worth a visit.
The Barney Ford Story
Up until 2004, the Barney Ford Home and Museum was a private home, which belonged to Robin Theobald and his wife. Barney Lancelot Ford was the son of a slave and a plantation owner. While working on a Mississippi river boat, Ford escaped by faking his own death. His first stop was Chicago, where he met the woman who would soon become his wife.
Choosing a Name
At the time, he had no last name. When he saw a train called the Lancelot Ford, he decided to use Lancelot as his middle name and Ford as his surname. Hearing rumors of gold in California, the Fords headed west. There was, however, a serious problem.
Finding a Route
The inland route was paved with danger for escaped slaves. Fortunately, a perfect solution came from a man by the name of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt was born to a poor family in Staten Island New York. York. At age 11, he dropped out of school and went to work for his father. Then, at age 16, he inherited $100 from his mother, which he promptly invested in two flat bottom sailboats. These became early versions of the Staten Island Ferry.
An Odd Alternative
The California Gold Rush of 1848 offered another chance for Vanderbilt to grow his business empire. In most cases, the journey to California by sea would involve a trip around Cape Horn in South America. It would take about 159 days. Vanderbilt calculated that he could cut down on cost and time by sailing steamboats up the San Juan River into Lake Nicaragua. In 1851, Vanderbilt formed the Accessory Transit Company. He then acquired a contract from the Nicaraguan government for $10000, built a port on the Pacific Coast, and began a highly successful transport business.
The Nicaragua Years
Since Vanderbilt’s prices were affordable, and since it did not go inland, the Fords decided to take the Nicaragua route. Much to their surprise, when their ship arrived in Greytown, Nicaragua, they decided to stay and open a hotel and restaurant. Although the threat of war eventually caused them to leave, they had acquired valuable skills as hoteliers and restaurateurs. They returned to Chicago, where Ford became the head of the Underground Railroad.
Denver and Breckenridge
Denver, Colorado was the next destination on the Ford’s journey to success. Here, Barney Ford opened a barber shop. When it was burnt down in the fire of 1863, Ford devised a detailed plan to borrow $9,000 from a local banker. His goal was to open a first rate restaurant in Breckenridge, Colorado. In the years that followed, Ford’s Chop House was one of the most popular restaurants in Breckenridge. Barney Ford was more than just a successful businessman. He helped establish the right of African Americans to vote, and started an adult education program for freed slaves in Colorado.
Ford’s story serves as an inspiring tale of the perseverance of the human spirit.