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Sumpter Valley Dredge
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441 Mill St, Sumpter, OR 97814, USA (
Sumpter Valley Dredge
This gold dredge is a historic reminder of the gold mining days of Sumpter, Oregon and, according to some, the home of a ghost by the name of Joe Bush. The dredge itself dates back to 1934 (or 1935 depending on the source) and happened to be the third such dredge built nearby on Powder River. The impressive vessel stands five stories tall and weighs around 1,200 tons. The ship is over 125-feet long and 52-feet wide and boasts 72 one-ton buckets on the boom that extends from the dredge's hull - making it one of the largest dredges in the United States used to extract gold from waterways. Today, the Sumpter Valley Dredge rests in a small pond just outside of Sumpter and the story of it and its resident ghost have even inspired a series of children's novels.
The History of the Dredge
A prospector named Henry H. Griffin first discovered gold in the area in 1862 at a location a few miles from town called Griffin Gulch. His discovery started a gold rush and it is said that over 30,000 prospectors flooded into the area to stake their own claims. As America's gold rush took place throughout the Industrial Revolution, the technology to mine for gold made advances at the same time. The prospectors went from panning the rivers to mining the mountains to dredging the river.
The first dredge went into operation in 1912, followed shortly thereafter by the second dredge in 1915. Only two years later, the area suffered a catastrophe when a fire destroyed the business district of Sumpter, which totaled 11 blocks. Things grew dire in the area over the next couple of decades and less gold was being found, so the third dredge brought renewed optimism and dreams of prosperity when it was officially launched. The new dredge actually was built using several parts from either the first or second dredge, again depending on the source.
The new dredge used its 72 one-ton buckets to dig into the riverbed at a rate of 25 buckets per minute to extract scoop-fulls of dirt, which was then sifted through the machinery that separated the gold and dumped the rest, known as tailings, along the shoreline. The dredge worked over 1,600 acres around Sumpter, devastating the river and the environment and leaving scars that are visible to this day. The tailings sometimes reached up to 10-feet high. While the harm to the environment was irreversible, these tailings were ultimately responsible for creating over 300 ponds and wetlands in the area that now support a large amount of wildlife.
It is estimated that the three dredges extracted between $10 and $12 million dollars worth of gold, with this particular dredge accounting for $4.5 million of that total. A three-man crew manned the dredge 363 days a year (with the only breaks on the 4th of July and Christmas Day), 24 hours a day, while over a dozen other workers covered maintenance, surveying, and various other tasks. It turned out that the cost of the employees and operating the machine was more than the gold that the dredge extracted from the earth. However, it remained in business for twenty more years until it shut down operations in 1954, as businesses began to move out of the area and the once-heavily populated area became a ghost town. The dredge was more than $100,000 in debt at the time of its closure.
Preserving and Restoring the Dredge
Three decades later, the abandoned Sumpter Valley Dredge was in bad shape after years of neglect and time spent submerged below the water in the very pond that it dug for itself. Yet still, tourists drove from miles around to stop and take a look at the ruins of this once great piece of machinery. With this in mind, as well as hoping to celebrate the town's heritage, the remaining citizens and businesses of Sumpter banded together in 1985 with the idea of resurrecting the dredge. Coordinating their efforts with Oregon Parks and Recreation to convert 80 acres of the surrounding land into a state park, the group formed Friends of the Sumpter Valley Dredge and began to raise money to restore the historic relic. It would take plenty of patience and time, but one decade later they had raised a total of $350,000 in grant money (ironically, the same amount it cost to build the dredge back in 1934) and began restoration in 1995.
The dredge was ultimately raised and a pedestal of black sand was built underneath it to provide support and give it the appearance of floating in the pond. However, once the rotting wood of the structure was pulled from the water, it began to deteriorate even more rapidly. As such, the wood and planks of the dredge were replaced and new parts took the place of parts that had rusted and fallen apart. In 1998, the dredge was officially reopened to the public who could now tour sections of the dredge. Still, the rehabilitation and restoration efforts continue to this day, funded by donations of the many tourists that come aboard. Sometimes though, those tourists get a little more than they were expecting.
The Ghost of Joe Bush
The stories of a ghost haunting the decks of the Sumpter Valley Dredge date back to its days of operation. Former employee, Wes Dickison, credited another employee for helping spread the stories of a spirit on board as a way of explaining the frequent mechanical failures. In a 2007 article titled, "
The Legend of Joe Bush
," Dickison told the
Baker City Herald
...it all started as a joke, and I'd blame George Hansen.
" Yet, when Dickison was pushed further to confirm that it was nothing more than a story, he balked, "
You wondered, when water started running for no reason. It was a spooky place in the middle of the night.
" He later relented further when asked what the other employees thought - "
We all say it was haunted.
In the days of operation, one employee was left behind while the others went to summon the dredgemaster whenever mechanical issues would arise. It was then, while sitting in the pitch black and listening to the strange noises throughout the ship, that the men began to believe that there was maybe more to the story of Joe Bush. Further bolstering these beliefs were the strange and sudden opening and closing of doors while no one was around and, most eerily, the sight of wet, bare footprints on the deck of the dredge.
The haunting of Joe Bush did not stop with the recovery and restoration of the Sumpter Valley Dredge either. Tour guides and staff report many of the same phenomena once reported by the workers; including the wet footprints of a man's bare feet walking down the main deck. There have even been sightings of an apparition resembling a man that appears in shadow-form or seen in silhouette that disappears before the eyes of startled witnesses. The staff is not the only witnesses to the sightings. Tourists visiting the dredge have reported similar sightings, as well as experiencing the sounds and footprints.
There is some debate as to the origin of the ghost of the Sumpter Valley Dredge. Some suggest that the ghost is from a former worker that died while working on the first dredge in the area and accompanied the parts when they were transferred to the third. Meanwhile, others point to a plaque on board that memorializes George O. "
" Mosley, who died while working on the dredge on February 17, 1942. The employment records of the dredge do not list a Joe Bush as ever working on the vessel, but former workers remember another worker by that name working on another dredge in the area. It is unknown what became of him.
The stories of Joe Bush continue to this day and the Friends of the Sumpter Valley Dredge even distribute a pamphlet titled, "
The Ghost of the Dredge
," to interested tourists. In fact, the stories of the haunting and the ghost of Joe Bush even inspired an author to write a series of children's books based on the ghostly legend and the story of the Sumpter Valley Dredge.
Skeleton Creek Saga
Patrick Carman was one of the many tourists to visit this landmark during a family vacation in 2006 and became completely captivated by it. Carman had recently established himself as the author of a series of popular children's novels, including
The Land of Elyon
series, and immediately became inspired by the dredge and its stories of a ghost for a new novel. The first book in the series,
, was published on February 10, 2009, and followed two characters as they researched the mythology of the ghost of the dredge, Joe Bush.
The novel took the interesting approach of mixing medias in telling the story. Throughout
, there are various breaks in the storyline that direct the reader to a Web site to enter a password and see a short video segment that is presented in the mock-doc style of
The Blair Witch Project
(1999). Carman actually used all of the money he received as an advance for the book to film the sequences at the Sumpter Valley Dredge.
was followed later in 2009 by the sequel,
Ghost in the Machine
. The third book in the series,
, was released on September 1, 2010. Carman has stated his hope that the books will interest the readers enough that they will want to take a trip to Sumpter and visit the old dredge themselves.
The Dredge Today
The Friends of the Sumpter Valley Dredge continue to maintain the dredge and keep it open for interested tourists during posted hours. It is located at the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area at the base of the Elkhorn Mountain Range alongside Powder River. The dredge, itself, closes during the winter but the rest of the park, including its various trails, is open year-round. Outside its winter closure, tourists can come aboard the dredge and explore it, stopping at the various kiosks peppered throughout the structure or they can request guided tours. For more information, please visit the sites below.
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Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Web site for the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area - home of the reputedly haunted Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge.
Friends of the Sumpter Valley Dredge
The non-profit organization responsible for preserving and maintaining the allegedly haunted Sumpter Valley Dredge located in Sumpter, Oregon.
Skelton Creek is Real
The official Web site dedicated to the Patrick Carman series of books, the Skelton Creek Saga, based on the ghost of Joe Bush on the Sumpter Valley Dredge in Sumpter, Oregon.
Arts Quad, Cornell University
Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery
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Available from Amazon.com
A brief history of a town and a gold dredge in the Sumpter Valley
Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area: A Tour of Dredge #3
Skeleton Creek (book 1)
Ghost In The Machine (Skeleton Creek)
The Crossbones (Skeleton Creek)
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Photo of the reputedly haunted Sumpter Valley Dredge from the front-side in September 2010.
Photo of the Sumpter Valley Dredge in Sumpter, Oregon reputedly haunted by the ghost, Joe Bush-09/10
Picture of the tower of the reputedly haunted Sumpter Valley Dredge in September 2010.
Photo of the plaque remembering a former worker inside the Sumpter Valley Dredge - 09/10.
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The above content is for informational purposes only. Before making any travel arrangements, it is highly recommended that you contact those in charge of the property to check for updated availability and hours of operation. While we do our best to keep this information updated, we cannot guarantee that it is completely valid and up to date. Any destination marked "
Closed to the Public
" is marked that for a reason and we discourage any visits or attempts to gain access to that facility. Similarly, take note of any "
" that may be associated with a destination. Finally, treat any location and its local residents with respect. Any vandalism and/or unruly behavior is completely despicable and only ruins the experience for future visitors.
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