Spooky Season has arrived!
The wind is chilled, the leaves are changing, and through this period of transition, we find a reinvigorated sense of adventure.
Happy Campers RV Rentals is here to inspire and encourage your new found Fall feelings! Let’s dig into the spirit of the season together, as we take you on a journey to some of the best Ghost Town destinations in Oregon! It’s time to pack up your costumes, consolidate your candy, and hit the open road on a Halloween destination vacation.
Ghost towns have always been a fascinating subject. Towns are not created with the intent to become vacant. What celebrations took place in its streets? How did its founders envision the future? What hopes did settlers have when they arrived at a new life?
There are three technical categories of Ghost Towns in the state of Oregon.
- True Ghost Towns: The true ghost towns are those without anyone living there anymore.
- Partial Ghost Towns: Partial ghost towns have a population that has declined to extremely low numbers.
- Tourist Ghost Towns: which while preserving their historic features, have become tourist attractions and fun places to visit.
The third stop on our Oregon Tour of Ghost Towns is the once flourishing city of Sumpter! Sumpter qualifies as a Tourist Ghost Town.
Table of Contents
A Brief History of Sumpter
Sumpter is a tourist ghost town located in the Baker County, East Oregon. As of 2020, the population of Sumpter weighed in at 204. Established by five men in 1862, they built the first cabin after striking gold in the area. They named their first structure Fort Sumter after the famous Civil War era fort in South Carolina.
Unlike Granite, located approximately 16 miles away, Sumpter was slow to grow in its first three decades, and didn’t begin to show substantial growth until the 1890s. Once heaving mining machinery became available, and the arrival of the railroad in 1897, Sumpter’s population exploded to the thousands by the early 1900s. The town came to be known as “Queen City” and was producing millions of dollars in gold annually. In 1913, Sumpter was the first city to utilize massive floating gold dredges and began mining river gravels just outside the city.
The following is pulled from a pamphlet published by the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company of Portland in 1900.
“A year and a half ago, it was a crossroads village, with perhaps 150 inhabitants. In May, 1899, it had about 250; and in May, 1900-just a year later it is a rushing, bustling little city of nearly 4,000 population, with something like 150 business houses.”
A series of unfortunate events eventually brought Sumpter to its decline, beginning with a terrible fire on the 13th of August, 1917. By the time the flames had cleared, a majority of the town had been absolutely destroyed. Dwindling mine production at the time coupled with the cost of repair and rebuilding led many residents to abandon Sumpter for neighboring districts. Once gold mining operations were banned in the United States (after America’s involvement in World War II began) Sumpter ceased the last of its mining operations and became all but deserted.
Sumpter Quick Facts
- 1The Sumpter DredgeThe Sumpter dredge is an important link to Oregon's past, connecting visitors of the present with those who came before during the boom of the gold rush. To this day, it is one of the largest and most accessible dredges still existing in the United States. The dredge famously operated 363 days a year, giving the crew of at least 20 men only the 4th of July and Christmas Day to rest. Between all 3 dredges that once operated in Sumpter, at total of approximately $12 million in gold was recovered. Unfortunately, it cost more to operate the dredge than it pulled up, and the final dredge ceased operations in 1954.
- 2The Sumpter GhostThe Ghost Town of Sumpter comes complete with its very own Ghost Story. Meet Joe Bush, a legendary ghost who has been known to haunt the Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge. Our dear friend Joe has been known to leave wet, bare footprints on the edge of the dredge's decks, enjoys making lights flicker, and passes the time by opening and slamming doors on unsuspecting living folk. The legend of Joe Bush inspired the book Skeleton Creek, a children's horror mystery novel by Patrick Carman.
- 3Sumpter TodayToday, Sumpter stands as a monument to a forgotten era. Visitors delight in rich history with tours of the Sumpter Dredge, followed by hikes along Elkhorn Crest Trail and Olive Lake, both located nearby. Though the population of Sumpter is considerably small, the town hosts a series of yearly events that bring travelers from all corners of the West, including motorcycle rallies, outdoor music concerts, and themed holiday events.