History of Summit County
Summit County is bordered by three high mountain passes, two of which are on the Continental Divide, and by a river valley. It is located mostly in the White River National Forest. To the West is Vail Pass at 10,589 feet. To the South is Hoosier Pass at 11,539 feet. To the East is Loveland Pass at 11,990 feet. Both Hoosier and Loveland are on the Divide. To the North is the Blue River Valley, which flows into Green Mountain Reservoir and from there into the Colorado River. From the three passes, three rivers converge behind the dam of Lake Dillon – Ten Mile Creek, the Snake River and the Blue River. The county is home to the Eagles Nest Wilderness as well as the Ten Mile, Gore and Williams Fork mountain ranges. The original Summit County was from Hoosier Pass to the Wyoming border and from the Continental Divide to Utah.
The land which makes up Summit County was originally part of a huge inland lake which stretched from Utah to the Missouri river. 70 million years ago the huge Pacific plate buckled under the weaker Continental Plate, pushing it skyward to form the Rocky Mountains. As the earth cooled many valuable mineral deposits were formed. During the Ice Ages, the rock was scoured by glaciers forming the present river valleys and exposing many of these veins of ore.
The first inhabitants of the area were the Ute Indians, who migrated to the area around 4800 BC and used the Blue River valley and its
its tributaries as their summer hunting grounds. In about 1810, the first trappers crossed the divide to hunt beaver, and lived harmoniously with the Indians. Gold seekers came to the county in 1859, centering most of their activity in today’s Breckenridge National Historic District. Silver was found soon after in the Snake River valley and encompassed the town of Montezuma in the valley above Keystone. Placer mining with huge dredges on the Blue River lasted into the 1940s.
Summit County is now a winter and summer recreational paradise and known as “Colorado’s Playground”. It is also home to many ranches which have existed for over one hundred years. The winters revolve around what is known as liquid gold – the fluffy white powder created by the dry climate that falls on the county’s four ski areas. Arapahoe Basin opened in 1945, Breckenridge in 1961, Keystone in 1970 and Copper Mountain in 1972. Vail and Beaver Creek are located in the adjacent Eagle County. Neighboring Park County includes the towns of Buena Vista and Leadville, the Arkansas River and Fremont Pass.
The towns of Frisco and Dillon are located on Lake Dillon. Silverthorne is below the Lake Dillon dam and is adjacent to Interstate 70 with its easy access to Denver and Eagle County. Breckenridge is south of Lake Dillon up the Blue River Valley and Keystone is east up the Snake River Valley.
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For more information on the history of Summit county, visit the Summit Historical Society.