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Sumpter Valley Railway- The Sumpter Dredge

Sumpter Valley Railway
The Sumpter Dredge

Vast quantities of gold lay underneath the floodplain of the Powder River south of Sumpter, and in 1912 miners brought the first of three dredges into the valley to mine the river bottom. Two dredges worked the valley floor between 1913 and 1924, when a crash in gold prices ended the first efforts. An increase in gold prices in the mid-1930's brought renewed interest in dredging, and a new set of miners brought a third dredge into the valley. The third dredge worked until 1954, except for the years of World War Two when the U.S. Government ordered all gold mining to cease. All told, the three dredges removed an estimated 371,426 ounces of gold from an area one mile wide by eight miles wide, but at great cost to the environment. Much of the present Sumpter Valley Railway ride today runs through the dredged area.

Rotting hulls are all that remain of the first two dredges, with one of them resting right next to the McEwan depot. The third dredge ended its operating years just south of the Sumpter townsite, and after several decades of inactivity the State of Oregon purchased the dredge and established Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area. Oregon State Parks has stabilized and partially cosmetically restored the dredge and has developed interpretive displays about the dredge and the history of Sumpter. The dredge itself is open to tours during the summer months and sits a short walk from the Sumpter Valley Railway depot.

An aerial image from Google Maps of the aftermath of dredging in the Sumpter area.