historic photos courtesy of Baker County Library and Baker Heritage Museum (apologies for the small size, but couldn’t seem to make them larger)
As indicated in previous articles “Looking Both Ways” and “Rest Your Weary Head,” there were many hotels in boom-years Sumpter. “Rest Your Weary Head” discussed the Belvedere—which didn’t burn until 1925—and five of the hotels that weren’t seen again after the fire of 1917. In the paragraphs to follow you’ll explore the first-established hotel in Sumpter and the hotel where the fire started.
Below is the oldest photo of Sumpter known to exist; it was taken in 1895. This is Granite Street, looking west toward the Powder River whose flood plain separates the flat area the town was built on from the hills. (Most photographs taken of Granite St look east into the center of the business district, as with the final photo shown in this article.)There were about 200 people living in Sumpter in 1895 according to Sumpter-born Sumpter historian Brooks Hawley (1902-1991). The flagpole in the center of the photo was erected in 1890 in the middle of the intersection of Granite and Centre (this is the spelling on the plat) Streets. The town was first platted in 1889 by Charles Rimbol. In Oct 1896, the railroad arrived. Sumpter was incorporated in 1898. The tree in the photo was the only tree left in downtown Sumpter, and it stood on the corner of Granite and Mill. The tree burned when Granite Street burned.
Most of the buildings in the 1895 photo were replaced by newer buildings over the years. One exception was the Starr Hotel, about the westernmost building on the right side. It stood mid-block between Cracker and Centre Streets. The photo below has been cropped to make the Starr’s black sign sticking out into the street more noticeable. Closer up, the second building on the right is Duckworth’s Red Front Store, with its false front and eyebrow-roofed porch. Henry Duckworth was born in Yorkshire, England, and the family crossed the plains to settle in Auburn in 1870, later moving to Sumpter. In 1899, the Red Front was owned by W.C. Calder. The building burned down May 1900.
In the 1900 photo of Granite Street looking east, below, a lot has changed, but the Starr still has a black sign sticking out into the street. The tall brick building beyond the Starr is First National Bank, built 1899. It is on the northwest corner of Granite and Centre. The twenty-mule team is on its way to Red Boy Mine. A lot of photos of machinery bound for the Red Boy were taken in the early 1900s. The big white building a couple doors east of the bank is Columbia Market. Between the bank and Columbia Market is a lower brick building built it 1900, replacing the Red Front Store. Not quite visible is the raising of planking over these two blocks of Granite St from Mill to Cracker; construction of the planked street began in 1900 at the Mill St end.
In 1897, almost directly across from the Starr, the Capital Hotel was built. A May 20, 1898, article in the Morning Democrat called it “the leading hotel of Sumpter…” and gave a brief description of P.J. Griffin, owner of what was then called the Spencer. “On the first of April he bought this hotel. It is a large and commodious building, having thirty eight bedrooms. It is thoroughly lit by electricity, and has all the modern improvements. The table is furnished with all the market affords, and is a cardinal feature of the house. His wife aids him in the supervision of the hotel, and we bespeak for them a large and growing patronage.” Griffin had previous experience with hotels in Boston and in British Columbia. One suspects he later had something to do with the Hotel Griffin discussed so much in previous From Auburn Street articles. It is my understanding that the photo below accompanied the Morning Democrat article.
Brooks Hawley calculates that this next photo of the Capital (below) was taken about 1901 and that the small boy on the porch with his parents is Elwood Denny at the age of 3. Elwood graduated from Sumpter High School in 1915. Mr & Mrs A.L. Denny had become owners of what is now clearly marked as the Capital Hotel.
By 1914, the wear and tear of dirt, dust, heat, cold, and snow were showing on the Starr (near left, below) and the planked two blocks of Granite St. The Capital Hotel (right side of photo) still looks pretty good. Three blocks to the east, at the top of Granite St, the school (center of photo), built in 1897, looks resplendent in its white paint. A smaller white building to the left of the school is the hospital that was built in 1900. In three years, the only two buildings seen in the photo below left standing would be the school and the hospital.