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.


Rest Your Weary Head

historic photos courtesy of Baker County Library

The bird feeder has been amazing this last week with chickadees, juncos, finches, and nuthatches on their ways from winter lands to summer lands.

Modern-day Sumpter is used to transitory guests. At either end of Sumpter are rv parks. Scattered throughout are private residences for short-term rental. On Mill Street, from south to north, are the cabins of the Scoop ‘n’ Steamer across from the Sumpter Stockade with rooms and tent-camping available. Farther north is The Depot Inn, located on the southern edge of what once was Depot Square (see previous article “Looking Both Ways”).


Sumpter of the past had many more rooms available for both transitory guests and permanent residents. My favorite exterior is that of the Belvedere (below left, date unknown), followed by the brick-built Sumpter Hotel (below right, Nov 3, 1902). Or maybe the exterior of the Capital, but I’ll stick with Sumpter Hotel for now.

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The Belvedere was owned by Barney Flynn for many years and survived the big Sumpter fire of August 1917. Destruction by flame was still its destiny, though, and it burned down in the fall of 1925. New on the site in 1956 was Dwyer’s Tavern. Elkhorn Saloon is the current business on the site, and is almost certainly in the same building as Dwyer’s Tavern.

Sumpter-born Sumpter historian Brooks Hawley (1902-1991) provides much more information about Sumpter Hotel. It was built by Dave Wilson, with the brick work being finished by July 1901 but not officially opening until Jan. 27, 1902, when 200 attended the banquet and danced to Ford’s Orchestra. Construction cost $60,000. The building measured 100 x 100 feet with a central rotunda of 40 x 50 feet, and was steam-heated. Twelve of the forty-six bedrooms had baths. The rotunda was surrounded by a balcony that housed business offices. Sumpter Hotel stood on the northwest corner of Granite and Mill, where now the highway through Sumpter makes a sweeping bend from northbound to northwest-bound.

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Sumpter Hotel bar interior.  Sumpter Hotel lobby, May 1902

The Delmonico Hotel was built in 1900. The picture below, at left, was taken in 1903. The Delmonico stood on the northeast corner of the intersection of Auburn Street and Columbia Street, a block east of Mill Street and Depot Square. The photo below, right, was supposedly taken a few years later, and shows Caleb Roswell’s Pioneer Feed Store on the southeast corner of Auburn and Mill.

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There is a reference in the Baker County Library archives about the burning of the Golden Eagle Hotel prior to the 1917 fire, but no pictures are available of the building itself. It stood half a block north of Hotel Griffin, shown below, c. 1906. The Griffin was spoken of extensively in previous article “The Round Trough.”

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The northernmost hotel in town was the Metropolitan (above, date unknown). It stood on the north side of North Street, where Centre Street came to an end. It later became a lodge for Knights of Pythias.

All but the Belvedere burned down Aug 13, 1917. The fire started at the Capital Hotel, built in 1897. Across Granite Street from the Capital was the Starr Hotel, built in 1878. In 1917, the Starr was probably the oldest building in town. The earliest picture of Sumpter known to exist, an 1895 photo, has the Starr in it. I’ll talk about the Starr and Capital more next time.

The Modern Troughs

The first two articles “From Auburn Street” focused a lot on history, but “Looking Both Ways” also mentioned the modern watering holes of Sumpter that exist in 2013 rather than the round community trough in the intersection during the early 1900s. And, recently returned to the east side of the Cascades from checking into a thankfully minor-after-all family crisis, a modern watering trough was just what I needed.

Depending on the day of the week and the time of day, there are four places in Sumpter where one can get at least wine or beer in a glass. From south to north, all accessed from Mill Street, those are: Scoop ‘n’ Steamer, Borello’s, Elkhorn Saloon, and The Miner’s Exchange. You can also buy alcohol at The Gold Post or Stage Stop, but those locations are more like mercantiles than watering troughs.

The Scoop is a café/restaurant. It has an espresso machine and a small ice cream bar for bowl or cone. The owner makes good cinnamon rolls. During the winter, the Scoop serves just breakfast and lunch. I have friends who are big fans of the breakfast sandwich. I like the barbecued steak sandwich and the Heisler Burger. In the summer, dinners are added Fri-Mon, until 7. The food is basic and hearty. Just like small town food should be. It’s probably the best place in town for a family with young children to eat. Wine and beer are available.

The food—lunch and dinner—is also hearty at the Elkhorn, where the building is divided into a restaurant section and a bar section. The bar has a television and a dark, smoky atmosphere. It is the smoky atmosphere that keeps me away more often than not. But with over forty-five different hamburger selections, Taco Tuesdays, and Pizza Thursdays, it’s hard to ignore the Elkhorn for long. On Tuesday, I suggest you stick to the tacos, though; the nachos are made football stadium style with that runny, fakish cheese. The Elkhorn is large enough that it occasionally hosts small community events like wedding receptions, bands, or television viewing parties.


The sign at Borello’s says it’s an Italian restaurant, but the restaurant section opens only for large groups and only with advance notice. The lounge section is open for some food Fri, Sat, Sun, 3-8:30 I’m told. I haven’t eaten there since the place held One-Eyed Charlie’s Sandwich Shop back in the 1970s. I have gone drinking with friends, there, though. It’s small and intimate. But it’s not a place where you can drop in with children.


We tried drinking at The Miner’s Exchange the same night we visited Borello’s, but it had closed at 9. The owner of the Exchange keeps the hours he likes, mines when he likes, and talks only to the people he likes. All are subject to change. But he’s got some great stories about mining and the characters that have been involved in it over the years. Some of the stories might even be true.

By the way, lest you think I’ll neglect to mention the past at all this time around, boomtown Sumpter had a saloon named The Miner’s Exchange, too. It was one of the 16-27 saloons—depending on who you talked to—located in Sumpter around the turn from 19th to 20th century.

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.