Travel Tales and Reviews website ... A project of Techno Tink Media

sumpter ghost town, oregon

I spent two weeks in the heart of Spring camping at South Shore campground in the U.S. Forest getting a chance to do gold panning, hiking, and exploring the remnants of this queen city Ghost Town or at least what remains of it after the fire in 1917 that destroyed most of it. From Baker City follow highway 7 to Sumpter. South Shore is about 3/4 there.

The town was founded by Hugh Asbury, Fletch Henderson, Dick Johnson, and John Reel – a team of travelers who were on the California Goldrush hunt when they stopped and camped near Cracker Creek in 1862. To spin the time while camping, they decided to gold pan the river and discovered its glory. They discovered gold flakes instantly, which is what one can experience still today. They ditched California and stayed where they were – building a small primitive cabin between Cracker Creeks and McCully calling it Fort Sumter (after the Fort Sumter, South Carolina of Civil War fame). You can see the remnants of that cabin about a 1/2 mile above Sumpter on Granite road. The first post office was established there in 1874 headed by Joseph D. Young as the postmaster who added the “p” to the town’s name as “Sumpter” from “Sumter”. It was a difficult trek to the town of Sumter as only accessible by a wagon road coming up from Baker City 30 miles away which later evolved into an early stage route. By 1895 it grew with the implementation of advanced extraction techniques. The Sumpter Valley Railway extended the track to the settlement and eventually saw a population of 300.

Streets were paved with planks, brick buildings erected, new railway with up to 6 loads of mining equipment daily, and seven stage lines in operation. The town was booming and nicknamed “Queen City” as it evolved to become a hub of several mining camps in the area. By 1900 the area’s 35 mines produced nearly nine million in gold. Sumpter saw phenomenal growth establishing sixteen saloons, three newspapers, seven hotels, an opera house, two banks, a red-light district, and numerous businesses. When the census finally tallied the population it was over 3,500. In 1913 dredging was implemented in the Powder River, the remains of the first one can be seen near the Railway depot in McEwen. The second dredge can be found at the edge of town in a pond it created. They continued dredging the valley until 1954. The disastrous fire occurred on August 13, 1917, which broke out in the Capital Hotel, spreading throughout and destroying over 100 buildings, leading to its death. As things were winding down most miners moved on. The railway saw a decline in use by 1933 and passenger service closed in 1937, then saw its end by 1947. Many believe there is gold deep in the bedrock still to be mined, but it was too deep for the dredges. Today its a popular tourist attraction telling its many tales and folklore.

Close Menu
Close Panel