Businessman, Mayor, State Legislator – The Career of Jacob Harvey Robbins

It’s not often that you see a relative’s name on a bank note.  But in 1899 Jacob Harvey (J. H.) Robbins moved to the small mining town of Sumpter, in Oregon’s Blue Mountains, organized the First National Bank of Sumpter and issued National Bank Notes.  J. H. Robbins was the consummate businessman – involved in mining, banking, sales, produce distribution, and much more, and he pursued these activities in a wide variety of locations throughout the Pacific Northwest.

First National Bank of Sumpter

J. H. Robbins was born in 1859 near Salem, Oregon.  He lived with his parents in the Blue Mountains where his father Harvey was one of the first into the Granite district’s gold mining area in 1862.  He went to school in Pendleton or Baker City during the winter months, and then graduated from the Portland Business College in 1879.  What he learned at the college stood him in good stead for the rest of his varied career.  He and his wife Edith have descendants today.  A summary of J.H.’s career follows.

Jacob Harvey Robbins

He first worked in the mill and assay office at the Monumental mine in Baker County, one of the largest mines located in the steep mountain country east of Granite, which was reportedly first discovered by his father Harvey, along with Isaac Nail and Isaac Klopp.  A 2004 National Forest Service “site inspection” report on several mines in this area included a detailed map of the remains and ruins of the site.

Outline of Monumental Mine remains as drawn by National Forest Service site inspection

Then J.H. moved north to the ranching community of Pilot Rock where he managed Alexander & Lobenstein’s general store from 1880 to 1883.  In that latter year he began keeping the books for Heistad & Loveridge in Echo, Oregon, west of Pendleton, in the wide-open sage-brush country of northern Oregon.  Newton Loveridge was his uncle, having married Amanda Minerva Robbins.  For two years J. H. engaged in real estate brokerage in Pendleton and then he was elected Umatilla County Treasurer in 1888, which office he held until 1893.  In 1889 he was appointed assistant cashier of the Pendleton Savings Bank, which he retired from in 1893.  From then until 1899 he worked as a receiver at the La Grande Land Office and was vice-president and director of the Farmer & Trader National Bank.

J. H. Robbins in Oregon State Legislature

In 1899 Jacob Harvey Robbins moved to Sumpter, back in Baker County, but not far from the Granite mining community in which he had grown up, now completing a circle from Grant county, north to Umatilla county, then down to Union county (La Grande), and to Baker county back on the border with Grant.  In Sumpter he organized his bank and issued his bank notes.  In addition he served as mayor of Sumpter and then was elected to the State House of Representatives from Baker County in 1903.  Sumpter was a booming city in the early 1900s but was already in decline when a large fire swept through in 1917.  Today, Sumpter is the center of both outdoor and historic recreation, with the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, an old railroad, and the remaining buildings from the town’s heyday, being a big draw for tourists.

But J. H. Robbins didn’t stay many years as in 1904 he moved north to Spokane, where his parents Harvey and Perlina Robbins were already living.  That year he organized Robbins, Pratt & Robbins Co., a furniture store, in Spokane with his brother Chester Robbins. All of his business activities after that are less well known.  In 1910 he was in Yakima, then he was back in Spokane and associated with the Northern Pacific Fruit Distributors, and later in Ashland where he worked for the Ashland Fruit & Produce Association.  In the 1940 census, at the age of 80, J. H. Robbins is listed as an inmate in the Oregon Masonic and Eastern Star Home for the Aged.  And yet, he continued to live until 1953, when he finally died after 94 years of a very long and eventful life.

He studied in the large city of Portland, he worked in the predominantly ranching and farming communities of Pendleton and Pilot Rock, he lived and worked in the small mining communities of Granite and Sumpter, conducted business in the city of Spokane, and later distributed fruit in the southern city of Ashland.  At one point he considered relocating to Boise.  He ended his life in McMinnville, a small city west of Portland.  Many of our ancestors lived their entire lives in one single town or county, but Jacob Harvey Robbins explored all the opportunities that the (inland) Pacific Northwest had to offer.

(Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Jacob Robbins-Harvey Robbins-Jacob Harvey Robbins)

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