Spencer’s Restaurant: Who Was George Spencer?
Spencer’s Steaks & Spirits Restaurant in Beaver Run Resort honors George E. Spencer, a founder of Breckenridge, the man who secured our post office and helped ensure the future of our little mining town. Breckenridge wouldn’t be Breckenridge without Spencer, and Beaver Run Resort’s Spencer’s Restaurant proudly offers delectable meals and abundant buffets in his memory. Who was George Spencer? Here we share more information about this important figure from Breckenridge’s past.
In the summer of 1859, a few hardy prospectors crossed over the Continental Divide in search of gold. These first miners arrived as early as June to pan the Blue River and its tributaries for the precious metal. Most finds were minor until Ruben Spalding hit it big on August 10, 1859, finding 37 cents worth of gold in his first two pans, the largest nugget the size of a flax seed. That may not sound like a lot of money to us today, but in 1859, it was worth about $13, not bad for a few minutes of work.
Soon the Blue River Diggings were buzzing with prospectors and the businessmen, merchants and saloon-keepers who follow a gold rush. These service providers learned a valuable lesson from the Georgia and California gold rushes: the quickest way to riches in a gold strike area is to mine the miners. The men pulling the gold from the river bottoms can’t eat it. They needed food, tools, booze and other necessary services.
One way to mine the miners was to establish a town plat and sell lots. To make the town viable, it needed a post office. Miners would flock to a town with a post office to be the first to learn national news and receive letters from home.
George E. Spencer had the smarts to set up a town plat and the political connections to get a post office. Descending from a family of statesmen and lawyers, Spencer was born in New York, studied law and set up a practice in Iowa. But the Pikes Peak or Bust gold rush tempted him to come west in 1859 at age 23.
Spencer and party made their way across the snowy mountain range in November 1859 to establish the town plat, only to find that nemesis Felix Poznansky had already erected a log cabin and claimed the townsite as Independent. Spencer’s political connections won the day for Breckenridge, however, thanks to Spencer’s ability to secure the charter for the post office.
Strings were pulled to get the post office and Spencer knew how to pull them. The area we know today as Breckenridge first earned the name in 1845 when Colonel John C. Fremont, the “Pathfinder,” explored the valley. One of his corpsmen lost a mule and delayed the party for days while the animal was retrieved. Fremont named the search area “Breckenridge Pass” in rebuke to Thomas Breckenridge and his lost mule. A decade-plus later, as the Pikes Peak rush began, men from Fremont’s expedition returned to the vicinity in search of gold, remembering the name that Fremont gave the area. (During the railroading days of the 1880s, the pass was renamed Boreas Pass.)
Spencer convinced the men of Breckenridge that if they’d be willing to change the spelling ever so slightly, Vice President John C. Breckinridge would gladly see to it that the town received its post office. Eager to establish their town as a critical supply center, folks agreed. The town’s spelling changed to Breckinridge, and the post office charter was granted in January 1860.
When John C. Breckinridge flipped to the Confederacy at the start of the Civil War in 1861, the people of the town changed the name back to Breckenridge. But Spencer was long gone by then, having made his important contribution to the longevity of our town. Of all the nearby towns and mining camps that sprung up in the first decades of the gold rush, Breckenridge is the only one that survived.
After leaving “Breckinridge,” Spencer distinguished himself in service to the Union during the Civil War and was elected U.S. Senator to Alabama. In the Civil War, Spencer served as Colonel to the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment, made up of Southern Unionists, until his resignation in July 1865. Upon Alabama’s readmission to the United States, Spencer served as a Republican Senator from 1868 to 1879. He died at age 56 in Washington, D.C.
Spencer’s Restaurant in Beaver Run Resort honors this important founder of Breckenridge by carrying on his name and memory. Learn more about the history of Breckenridge and Beaver Run Resort in this article.