Looking Both Ways

historic photos courtesy of Baker County Library; color photos courtesy of Sumpter Chatter

Sumpter’s Auburn Street is a great place to look both ways, especially if you’re standing at the street’s main intersection at Mill Street. In this age of 9-1-1 and GPS, Auburn Street is where north is separated from south. Around 1900, it was the first street coming in from Whitney and the last street coming in from Granite where you could turn around your 20-mule team.

Various historic photos and maps show a hay and feed store, the Brewery Saloon, a photographer’s studio, Hotel Griffin, and a big, round watering trough at the intersection of Auburn and Mill. One corner was open space adjacent to the railroad depot. South of the depot and the tracks was a field where impromptu rodeos were held.

July 4, 1913: Looking north and east across Auburn St from south of the railroad tracks, warehouses to the left, Catholic Church steeple to the right.

Stand at that corner in 21st-century Sumpter and for feed you see a small grocery store, for a watering hole you have to walk a block west or south to a bar, and for photos you can go look in a nearby real estate office at pictures of trees and houses. Nothing’s been built in the open space where once stood the depot. On the other side of the space is a cozy motel, so you can still rent a bed near the intersection. For impromptu rodeo wildness, you get shopping at the Sumpter Flea Market three times a summer, including the weekend nearest the 4th of July.

 Flea Market shoppers a block south of   Auburn, across Mill from the Sumpter Municipal Museum.

Tamed mounts looking for stabling as they   travel north on Mill St toward Auburn.

Standing on Auburn St looking north, you’re looking at twelve blocks where fire devastated a thriving downtown on August 13, 1917. Seven hotels no longer stand there. Numerous houses, two newspapers, three churches, about a dozen saloons, two livery stables, warehouses, whorehouses, cafes, restaurants, grocery, jewelry, clothing, and cigar stores, Edwards Drug, Hoffman Bakery, hardware stores, shoe, barber, and tailor shops are all gone.

There are signs of recovery. A gas station has stood for decades where the remarkable brick Sumpter Hotel fell. The Basche Hardware building was restored with bricks from other burned buildings and served almost fifty years as City Hall before it went into private ownership.

Turn 180 degrees and look the other way. The original townsite syndicate brick building survived the fire and out-survived a number of uses thereafter. The wooden building that held the syndicate’s engineering department still stands. From there in the 1970s arose the Flea Markets that are a major part of modern Sumpter’s economy. Across from that is another intact brick building from the 19th century. It holds the local museum, with displays devoted to the gold that brought Sumpter into being, to the life of a frontier town’s housewife, and to relics from 150 years of the city’s existence.

Walk another block and hang a right. On the way, you’ll pass two homes built in the early 1900s to support the resurgence of gold exploration by dredging. You’ll see a new depot that serves the Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration’s current northernmost reach of a restored steam railway that first came to Sumpter in 1896. Beyond that you find the dredge that worked the valley from 1935-1954, prettier than she’s been in over forty years.

Looking both ways from Auburn Street, there’s an awful lot to see.

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