Friday, October 19, 2007

Barney L. Ford Museum - Breckenridge

Barney Ford was born into slavery on January 22, 1822, but he died at the ripe old age of 80 years, a prosperous man.

Ford was the son of a slave and wealthy plantation owner. As a young man, he was moved to South Carolina where he was taught to read and write by a neighboring servant. His mother, in an attempt to save her son from slavery, tried to contact a representative of the Underground Railway, but it is said she drowned in the process.

After being sold to a slaveholder in Georgia, Barney was given the duty of driving hogs and mules, laboring in the fields and working the barges. He continued to educate himself in all aspects of the arts, mathematics, and business matters. When he met his future wife, Julia and proposed marriage, he realized he did not have a last name to use on the marriage certificate. He particularly liked the name Lancelot Ford, the name given to the pioneer railroad engine, and decided to take that name as his own. He was known thereafter as Barney L. Ford. The Ford's were blessed with two children, Lewis Napoleon and Sadie.

The life of the Ford family was complex and challenging as Barney saved money, opened businesses, lost some to fire, borrowed more money and opened more businesses in Denver, Chicago and Breckenridge. The family eventually made Breckenridge their permanent home and built the house that is now the museum seen in the photograph. The Victorian home was built by Elias Nashold and was once considered one of the finest homes in Breckenridge. The wood framed home has rectangular bay windows with hand-jigsawed, diamond shaped inserts. These features became so popular that Nashold incorporated them in several other buildings in town.

Throughout his life, Barney fought against racial discrimination and rallied for equal rights. As he did so, he used his influential contacts, persuasive personality and wonderful smile to accomplish those needs. He was the first black man in the State of Colorado to serve on a U.S. Grand Jury, he was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame and listed as one of the 100 Greatest Coloradans in 1992. He was truly an astonishing man.

The museum is located on 111 East Washington Avenue, Breckenridge and well worth a visit. There is no charge for admittance but a donation is greatfully received. Call for museum hours at 970.453.5761.