Kam Wah Chung & Company Museum
Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum
A Multi-purpose Place
The building's earliest customers were primarily Chinese residents of Canyon City and the John Day area who were attracted by work generated by eastern Oregon's gold strikes of the period. Some chronicles suggest it served travelers as a trading post.
Its "golden flower" era began when young immigrants Ing "Doc" Hay and Lung On bought the building's lease in 1888. Then it became a successful place of business, a frequently visited herbal medical office, a haven from social persecution for Chinese residents and even a temple, or "joss house." To Doc Hay and Lung On, the building was also home - a home they shared with relatives, friends and itinerants into the 1940s. Its seven rooms included two bedrooms, a bunkroom and a kitchen as well as its general store, stockroom, herb room and medical office.
In today's John Day, the building is a memorial as well as a museum commemorating an important era in Oregon history and recalling the lives of two men who eventually earned their community's respect as two of its most prominent citizens. Thousands of relics displayed within the building's 1,250 square feet of exhibit space yield insight into a significant cultural legacy. Old tin containers and wooden boxes filled with Chinese teas, foodstuffs, tobacco and medicinal products line shelves as if still on display in a general store. Although many items were imported from China to serve the local Chinese community, you will find a good array of American product, many still unopened.
Hand-made Chinese antiques are scattered among the museum's furnishings, many in the kitchen and bedrooms. Doc Hay's former bedroom is the one with the cleaver on the bed stand. You can easily imagine the venerable doctor mixing remedies in the apothecary, which was protected by iron window bars. His medical supplies, which he imported from China, included at least 500 different herbs. Many are rare with unknown uses. They ranged from common clove, ginger and red pepper products to such items as wild asparagus, chicken gizzards, tortoise shell, pomegranate bark and cocklebur.
The story of Kam Wah Chung & Co. and the culture that grew around it is well preserved by a wealth of personal letters, financial records and other documents written in Cantonese. Some of the correspondence describes period lifestyles and living conditions, in both China and North America. It also includes letters written by residents of 19th century China requesting money for passage to the "New World."
Examples of these records and writings are showcased along with artifacts displayed and interpreted in the museum and nearby visitor center. Oregon Parks and Recreation Department park hosts and members of the Friends of Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum volunteer group serve as helpful greeters and interpreters on one of the best surviving intact collections of cultural remnants from the American West's late 19th century influx of Chinese immigrants.
Pictures and information were provided by the Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum
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