North Mill Street: Basche Hardware and Ellis Opera House

historic photos courtesy of Baker County Library

In “The 1917 Fire and Granite Street,” you got an idea of how many businesses were located on the main street—Granite St—of boomtown Sumpter and how wide a range of product they covered. Another street of great variety and density was Mill St. Mill is now Sumpter’s main street, also known as Highway 410. Mill almost certainly got its name from the fact that Young and Rimbol’s water-powered sawmill of the 1880s was located along the two blocks of Mill St from Granite St to Auburn Street.

As on Granite St, businesses came and went. As on Granite St, most of them burned in 1917. In “Brewing up Trouble,” I introduced one of this section of town’s most iconic buildings: the Basche Building. The Basche Building was built in 1899 and housed C.C. Basche’s Hardware Store. C.C. Basche lived on Cracker Street, north of High Street, on what used to be the road to Bourne, another mining boomtown about six miles upstream of Sumpter and now in far worse condition than Sumpter.

Image                    Image

taken 1900 to 1910                                              taken 1910ish

 The Basche Building’s iconic status comes from the fact that after it burned in 1917, bricks were gathered from other destroyed buildings and the Basche was rebuilt to be used as Sumpter’s City Hall from the 1920s to the 1970s. I attended a few potlucks there growing up and my crazy friend vaguely remembers playing an angel in a Christmas program held in the Basche. When the new City Hall was built, the Basche Building went into private ownership and the potlucks and Christmas programs moved into the new place.

By comparing the photos above with the photo below, you can see how much the front façade changed during reconstruction. In the 2011 color photo, you can also see the darkened bricks on the southern side wall that show how much of the original building remained after the flames raced through. The plumbing store to the north (your left in photo above left) and Hub Clothing to the south were both wooden buildings, and they clearly abutted the hardware store, making saving it in its entirety impossible.

old city hall_cell


In the photo above, you can see that there’s a vacant lot north of the Basche Building now. In addition to the plumbing store, there also once was Ellis Opera House, the large white building in the photo below. The opera house stood on the corner of Granite and Mill. It was built in 1898 by mine owner Guy Ellis, who lived about a block away on the south side of North Street, closer to Columbia Street than to Mill. In the Sept 3, 1899, edition of the newspaper “Blue Mountain America,” there was an announcement that the opera house was featuring “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”


taken 1900 to 1910

By the time Brooks Hawley (1902-1991) was a child, Cap Davies’ Electric Theater was located inside the opera house, too. In his description of one of the photos in the Baker County Library’s archives, Brooks writes:

“… Ellis Opera House … not that it was anything plush, but in those days a hall that would do for a traveling vaudeville troop was an opera house. The comedian in the lot would crack jokes that would put Sumpter in the same class with Salt Lake City and San Francisco, while making disparaging remarks about the hick town of McEwen, down the valley. How well I remember that stage curtain, the hole had been poked in the canvas square in the prow of the battleship Oregon so that sometimes an eye would appear, sizing up the audience before the curtain went up. What blissful anticipation. I, about 4 years old, would be perched on the front edge of a wooden folding chair, and they were the sort that needed some weight toward the back to keep them from collapsing, so down I would go with a great clatter of wooden slats.

“The opera house was really just an enormous empty dance hall with afore mentioned folding chairs that could be piled back against the wall. It has a hollow sound, awful acoustics, even as the Community Center at Baker does to this day. I had always heard of the Sumpter boom, and I used to believe that I had been in the back of the opera house when the boom went off, maybe a little confusion with the sound of a folding chair going back on me.

“Oh yes, and that stage, there I got my first taste of electricity. There would be missing bulbs in the sockets in the footlights so these were good holes to poke my fingers and get a shock.

“Downstairs was Cap Davies Electric Theater, and that was where Sumpter kids beheld the first motion pictures. They had plenty of action. I remember one about a wealthy eccentric. He had a cute little castle in a lake in his lovely garden. When he took his friends to see inside the little castle, he would rush back to the bank and reach inside a tree to pull a lever that would make the castle sink in the lake and drown everyone.”

It’s kind of hard to top that.


2 thoughts on “North Mill Street: Basche Hardware and Ellis Opera House

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