Sumpter group mining history

April 04, 2002 12:00 am
Nils Christensen and Doug Henderson inspect the bull wheel on the Maxwell Mine stamp mill. (Submitted photograph).
Nils Christensen and Doug Henderson inspect the bull wheel on the Maxwell Mine stamp mill. (Submitted photograph).

By CHRISTINA WOOD

Of the Baker City Herald

SUMPTER Cedar Street might not look like much of street, more dingweeds and rocks.

But look at the undeveloped street through the vision of Nils Christensen and others, and youll see something entirely different.

A family from Boise gathers around a working steam-powered stamp mill flanked by antique mining equipment, learning about the early days of mining in Eastern Oregon. Another contingent from the Tri-Cities sets their minds to the technology of the sawmills of yesteryear in a live demonstration offered by volunteers.

Thats the vision for the Cracker Creek Museum of Mining that Christensen and other members of the Sumpter Valley Museum Association share.

We would like to see families bring their children here, staying several days in the area, and learning about how all these things were done, Christensen said. We want to have some things that talk about the times and teach visitors how things were done and the technology that was used.

Sumpter is already home to the Sumpter Dredge State Park, managed by the state of Oregon, and the volunteer, non-profit Sumpter Valley Restoration Railroad, which operates a historic steam engine on track between Sumpter and McEwen.

The Sumpter Valley Museum Association (SVMA) has been awarded a grant for $11,647 from the Meyer Memorial Trust for initial site development work for its mining museum project in Sumpter.

Christensen, the association president, said the new museum will focus on hard rock gold mining in the region.

The group is also in discussions with the Sumpter City Council regarding management of the Sumpter Municipal Museum as well.

According to Christensen, the Municipal Museum is doing well and is expected to be open this year for visitors. The museum also received a grant from Meyer Trust in the amount of $12,000 for work on its environs. The building, once the Sumpter Supply building, has a new roof and the crack in the south wall has been repaired.

Other ideas that SVMA is looking into includes exhibits on forest products, ranching and agriculture, and even hydro-electric power generation.

A small work crew collected and transferred much of the equipment to the museum site in 2001. Baker City logger Chuck Phegley donated equipment used in the transfer while Joe Stocker of Sumpter unloaded the heavy pieces at the site.

Once such move was made possible by Loraine Myers. The stamp mill she and her late husband, Norman, owned at the Blackhawk Mine was damaged in a fire several years ago. Several pieces survived in good shape (minus the wooden components) and were transferred to the Cracker Creek location.

The association has plans for an on-sight working restoration shop which will include early 19th century belt-driven blacksmith and machine shop equipment. As the pieces are restored, they will be put on display, either as working exhibits or static displays, so that visitors can view the items as well as learn about the areas mining heritage.

Several operating exhibits are planned including a steam-powered sawmill, a steam-powered stamp mill, a stationary steam engine from the early 1900s from the Eagle Valley Lumber Company in Richland and a restored Monaghan walking dragline. The dragline transported ore from the mines to the nearby mills, across valleys. This is a job usually done today by trucks.

Much of the equipment will need extensive restoration. Smaller, portable pieces have disappeared, some have been damaged in fires while time has taken its toll in rust and rot.

Modern day owners of many area mines have donated equipment included the Highland Mine and Maxwell Mines at the head of Rock Creek.

Christensen said the concept of the completed museum complex is still very much in the planning and development stages. A design for the sign at the entrance has been created, but ground has yet to be broken to install the restrooms or build the road.

The next few years promise to be exciting ones for the supporters of SVMA. Their dream is to turn Sumpter into a destination area steeped in history that will provide a learning experience for the children of the electronic age.

They believe the experience will draw families from as far away as the Portland area, from Tri-Cities to Spokane in Washington State, and Boise to walk around, touch and hear the roar of the glory days of mining.

Anyone interested in being a part of the SVMA projects, in helping restore equipment, in donating items for the displays or supporting the efforts, may call Nils Christensen at 523-3381 or Steve Rich at 894-2568.