04 March 2013

Summit County in the Census’

One thing that happens often in census records is border changes.

summitcnty This could mean that a territory become a state, a state changes size, counties merge or split from each other… even towns increase in size, decrease, or disappear from the record set altogether. Ten years can mean a lot of change in some areas.

One of the things I have had on my list for some time is to look at the towns that existed in the early census collections for Summit County. Technically, the first census here was in 1860, but it is listed under Nebraska Territory, and the records are difficult to find at best. Therefore, I will start with 1870 and move forward.

Summit County was established in 1861 with Colorado statehood. It was one of the original seventeen counties, and that first set of borders included essentially the entire northwest corner of the state. By 1877, the borders we see on the map now existed. Six other counties were eventually carved from this area: Grand, Routt, Eagle, Garfield, Moffat and Rio Blanco. 

The first county seat was Parkville, but the title was quickly transferred to Breckenridge (the general story being that residents of Breckenridge literally stole the county papers in the middle of the night, and hid them until Parkville gave up; they then claimed ownership to the county seat); and the current population resides in the towns of Dillon, Frisco, Breckenridge, Blue River, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Montezuma, Silverthorne and Heeney.


Census Year Census Location
1870 Breckenridge, Montezuma, Not Stated
1880 Breckenridge, Carbonateville, Chihuahua, Clinton Gulch, Decatur, Eagle River, French Gulch, Frisco, Gold Hill, Gold Run Creek, Jack Mountain, Kokomo, Lincoln City, Montezuma, Not Stated, Robinsons Camp, Sheep Mountain, Swan River Valley, Ten Mile
1900 Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Kokomo, Robinson, Precinct 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14
1910 Argentine, Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Kokomo, Lakeside, Lincoln,
Montezuma, Robinson, Slate Creek
1920 Breckenridge, Dillon, Lakeside, Montezuma, Slate Creek, Precinct 2, 7, 8
1930 Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Kokomo, Lakeside, Montezuma, Slate Creek, Precinct 8, 9
1940 Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, Kokomo, Lakeside, Montezuma, Slate Creek

Interesting, no?

1880 is filled with small gold and silver camps as the area experienced its second rush of mining operations. Some of these areas, like French Gulch, are now considered part of the other towns (French Gulch is an area within the Town of Breckenridge), and some are completely gone.

Both Robinson and Kokomo were left as ghost towns, and eventually the ruins were covered with a reservoir for the Climax Mining Operation on the edge of Summit and Lake Counties. Dillon, although consistent in the census records, has actually moved twice as a community – as in, pick the buildings up and put them somewhere else – and now sits in its (let’s hope!) final location along the shores of the Dillon Reservoir, a major water supply for the front range and City of Denver. Lakeside is another town that was extinguished for water; it is underneath the Green Mountain Reservoir in the northern arm of the county.

If you research one primary area, I would encourage you to do this same comparison. Fairly easy, I just pulled up the Census and Voter Lists search page on Ancestry.com, chose my State, County, and then used the drop down for “Populated Place” to identify the names of the communities. Perhaps not scientific, but it is certainly enough for my purposes.

The immediate benefit of doing this, at least to me, is that I can easily see how the population fluctuated over time. The fewer locations listed in the census generally indicates less communities, so you can see the swells in the main residential areas, at least as far as the Federal Government was concerned. Having a relatively thorough of the area as it is now, and the history behind some of the ghost towns and other communities gives me a broad understanding of how the county developed to be what it is now.

Of course, just like with anything in the genealogy field, it leaves me with more questions. In this case, I am especially interested in the Precincts. What were their boundaries, how were they determined, why did the numbers associated with them change over time? This is something for another post, perhaps…

If you chose to conduct a similar comparison, I would be interested in reading it! Leave me a comment with a link here, or on my Facebook or Twitter accounts. Let’s see what other goodies we can come up with across the country!


  1. I copied your directions for getting to that "Populated Place" dropdown on Ancestry.com. Sounds like good advice. I may look at Darlington and Dorchester Counties in SC that way. My aunt always said she was born in Beaufort, but the city directories around her birth date always list Charleston. Hm, it might be a county thing . . .

    Thanks you for this advice and perspective!

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