Students Imagine Then While Viewing Now

by Grace Meadows

historic photos courtesy of Baker County Library

While I was away in late May and early June, about 500 students from across Oregon visited Sumpter on school field trips. Some only rode Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration’s historic steam train and visited the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area. More did that AND visited the Sumpter Municipal Museum and took part of the historic walking tour, with accompanying historic photographs. Most who did the walking tour made it as far as Auburn Street.

The walking tour started in front of the Museum. Join me now for a taste of what the students saw and heard from their tour guide.

“Welcome to Sumpter, founded in 1862. Last year Sumpter had its 150th birthday. The Museum here was built in 1899. It has served as a store and a gas station. We’re still trying to figure out anything else it might have been. The blank concrete you’re standing on is where the gas pumps were. This is where I caught the school bus. Across the street stands the Black Market, an antiques store.

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Black Market

“But around 1900, the building was smaller and was where the engineers who measured out Sumpter property worked. Next we’ll walk up to the building where their bosses worked.”


Sumpter Townsite Syndicate Engineering Department

The students then walked north along Mill St to the Sumpter Townsite Syndicate office building (discussed and displayed photographically in previous posts “Brewing Up Trouble” and “The Modern Troughs”). The attention of the students was called to the wall on the north side of the building, which was built at an acute angle from the front wall rather than at a ninety-degree angle.

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Sumpter Townsite Syndicate Office

“We know this building was built after the railroad arrived in Sumpter in 1896. There was a big curve in the track here. The Townsite building was built inside that curve.”


Brooks Hawley’s  map: Historic Sumpter

The next stop was as close to Auburn St as time allowed. North of Auburn St, the students were told, many buildings burned in the 1917 fire, as they could see in pictures on display at the Museum. South of Auburn St, no buildings burned. (If you can’t visit the Museum right at the moment, see previous post “The 1917 Fire and Granite Street” or get online to look at Baker County Library’s historical photos archive.)

As they stood at the corner of Mill and Auburn, looking around…

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2012 north up Mill

… they were urged to imagine a brewery, bakery, bank, newspaper office, and hardware store.

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1910ish up Mill

Over there had stood a feed store (see also previous posts “Looking Both Ways” and “The Round Trough”).

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Pioneer Feed 1903

“The train came into town this far, and the depot stood there.

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SVRy depot

“Where the little green store stands now…


Soda Mountain

“… was a livery stable where they parked their horses and walked the two blocks to where the real downtown was with its hotels, restaurants, cigar store, drug store, and lots of other businesses.

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Taylor Livery

“See the building that says Sumpter Trading Post? In the 1910 photo, it said Basche, and it was also built in 1899. The Basche Hardware building burned, but the bricks of the many other destroyed brick buildings in town were used to rebuild it [see also previous post “North Mill Street: Basche Hardware and Ellis Opera House”]. It was used as City Hall from the 1920s to the 1970s, when the new City Hall was built. We had lots of potlucks and I was in Christmas programs in there, too.

“Where the new City Hall stands now, on this side of the Basche building, is where a newspaper office was. Next to that was the Bank of Sumpter. In the 1917 fire, the bank burned down and all that was left was the vault. When I was growing up, people would come look at the vault and say, ‘Oh, there was an old building here.’ Then they’d take a brick.  I remember they put up a fence so not all the bricks would disappear.

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Basche Hardware, office of “The Blue Mountain American,” and Bank of Sumpter (no date)

“In the 1990s, they put the bricks back together and built a cover over it. If you get a chance to come back to Sumpter, you can go up there and see the rebuilt vault.”

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rebuilt vault

Only one group of students had the time to sneak up as far as the vault. No one had time to visit Granite St. But they did a good job imagining old Sumpter right from Auburn St.