Sumpter's epic begins with the discovery of gold by five men from the deep South and their hand
-hewn log cabin with stone fireplace and rock chimney construction in 1862.They named it,
"Fort Sumter" in commemoration of the 1861 shelling at the National Garrison at Charleston, S.C.
This historical cabin site is about a half mile above Sumpter on the Granite Road. In 1883, the name was not acceptable to the Postal Department, so "Fort" was dropped and a "P" added to the
spelling. Sumpter lay quietly until the Transcontinental Railroad reached Baker City in 1884. The area
began to "boom." The town of Sumpter was platted in 1886, the same year the Statue of Liberty was
dedicated on Bedloe's Island in New York's harbor. As the town rushed ahead, Sumpter became a
"rip-roaring" place, like all mining towns of those early days. In 1896, the Sumpter Valley Railroad
reached Sumpter, which added to the already-growing community. The real activity was in the 1899
-1903 period, with the opening of numerous hard-rock mines and the extensive area usage of
hydraulic placer mining. By then, Sumpter boasted a brickyard, a sawmill, a smelter, electric lights,
a fine gravity flow water system with reservoir (still in use to this day) and a street paved with planks
and miles of wooden sidewalks. There were baseball and basketball teams, a racetrack, an
undertaker, several assayers, a brewery, a dairy, two cigar factories, and extensive China Town,
a hospital, sixteen saloons, livery stables, and blacksmith shops--also five hotels, a clothing store,
three general stores, a public school with 200 students, an opera house, two banks, four churches,
a telephone system, newspapers, and a fire department. By 1901, Sumpter had grown to more
than 30,000 people and 81 business establishments.............
By 1905 and '06, the mines began to lose yield and close down. The area's population began to
shrink as well. In 1913, with the Columbia Mine still in operation, the dredging of the valley
commenced. Sumpter began to breathe life again. The Columbia Mine stopped operations in 1916,
leaving only the No. 1 and No. 2 gold dredges working the Sumpter Valley floor......
Sunday, August 13, 1917, began like any other day, but by the day's end, this prosperous town was
reduced to a pile of ashen rubble, by a fire which consumed virtually the entire business district plus
a great number of private homes in a 12 block area. The hospital building up on the hill
(which is now a bed and breadkfast) is the only remaining original building still standing
in the Historic town of Sumpter today...........
The No. 2 dredge worked the valley floor, with its 3/4 " opening trommel screen looking for placer
gold nuggets and coarse flakes, roughly the size of coarse pepper until 1923. And.... The No. 1 dredge worked the valley floor in a serpentine pattern until 1924. The dredge that currently rests at
the edge of Sumpter today, was built for the Sumpter Valley Dredging Company in 1935. Because
of World War II, it shut down operations from 1942-1945. The dredge was re-opened under various
owners until all the dredging of the Sumpter Valley ceased in 1954. It recovered more than $4.5
million in gold during its heyday. This was at a time when gold was officially priced in the USA
in a range of $20.67 per ounce to its maximum of $35 per ounce until it was shut down in 1954.
It is said that over $10 millions in gold was recovered by the dredging of of Sumpter Valley alone.....
History is still very visible here........
Much remains to intrigue the vision and thoughts of those
who pass this way. While it has not returned to its former levels of population, Sumpter is
experiencing a mini-real estate boom with much new construction and many stubborn miners
still working the area hills and streams in pursuit of ages old, golden dreams in 1999 and beyond.
Sumpter crossed into the new millennium with a hardy core of 177 winter residents who form the
heart of this stubborn but still breathing small American town.........