Barney Ford Museum – Breckenridge, Colorado - Atlas Obscura

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Barney Ford Museum

The home of a formerly enslaved man who went on to become a prospector, entrepreneur, and activist for Black rights. 


After being born into enslavement, Barney Ford found his freedom and success as an entrepreneur and activist. He had this elegant Victorian home built in Breckenridge, Colorado, where he lived for many years.

Barney Ford was born in Virginia in 1822 and grew up enslaved on a plantation in South Carolina. His mother, Phoebe, taught him how to read and encouraged him to make his way north to become a free man. After her death, a 17-year-old Ford escaped with the help of the Underground Railroad. He stayed with friends in Chicago and learned the barber’s trade while working for the Underground Railway to other enslaved people find new lives. During his stay in Chicago, he met and married Julia Lyoni who helped him choose a new last name, Ford, after the steam engine locomotive Lancelot Ford. 

Ford had no doubt that he was equal in every way to men of his time. As a young man, he read classic literature, political writing, and economic theory to educate himself for his future business dealings. In 1851, Ford and his wife set out for the California goldfields, but the ship they were on took a detour to Nicaragua. They decided to stay, and opened a small hotel and restaurant to serve passengers traveling the coast near the present-day Panama Canal. This early venture prepared Ford for his successes later in Colorado.

In 1860, he and Julia moved to Colorado with plans to strike it rich in gold. Although these plans did not materialize, Ford opened a barbershop, built and operated a hotel and restaurant in Denver, and lived and worked in Breckenridge. Ford fought for the rights of Black Americans and was the first Black man to serve on a Colorado grand jury. In 1890, Ford moved to Denver, where he kept up his businesses until his death in 1902. Ford’s contributions to Colorado have been recognized with a stained-glass window in the state capitol and numerous buildings named in his honor.

The Barney Ford Museum has been restored to its original Victorian styling. Each room in the home represents a different part of Ford’s life. 

Know Before You Go

Please check the Breckenridge History (formerly Breckenridge Heritage Alliance) website for current museum scheduling. There is no cost to get in the Barney Ford Museum, though a $5 donation is suggested. There is a history interpreter at this museum and a self-guided tour.

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