The Whiskey Gulch gold rush in 1862 brought thousands of prospectors to the Canyon City and John Day area. About nine years later, Chinese immigrants opened a store called Kam Wah Chung, translated as Golden Flower of Prosperity, in a former trading post that was built on The Dalles Military Road around 1866.
About 2,000 Chinese men lived in the “Tiger Town” part of John Day by 1885. Two Chinese immigrants bought the business in 1888 and expanded it to a grocery, dry goods store and clinic.
Ing “Doc” Hay offered herbal medicine to the burgeoning Chinese population as an alternative to Western medicine. Lung On, who spoke both Chinese and English, ran the general store and facilitated communication between Chinese and American settlers.
Over time, the building served as a community center, offering a place for gambling, drinking and smoking. Some miners boarded there as well.
At its heyday in 1887, the Chinese community in John Day included three stores, a temple and a laundry. The Kam Wah Chung building is all that remains of those structures.
“Doc” Hay and Lung On held onto their business through a period of violent anti-Chinese agitation in Oregon in the mid-1880s. By 1910, American settlers began to visit Hay for their ailments. As his reputation grew, Hay began serving clients as far away as Massachusetts, sending diagnoses and herbal remedies by mail. Meanwhile, On put his business acumen to work and opened the first auto dealership in Oregon east of the Cascades.
Lung On suddenly sickened and died in 1940. His estate was valued at $90,000 at the time. Kam Wah Chung & Co. continued running for eight more years, at which time “Doc” Hay fell and broke his hip. He traveled to Portland for treatment and died there in 1952.
Hay was brought back to John Day and was buried alongside Lung On at Rest Lawn Cemetery. Three years later, Bob Wah deeded the Kam Wah Chung building and its contents to the city of John Day for use as a cultural museum. The building was boarded up.
Then in 1967, while surveying for a new park, John Day city staff discovered the ownership deed. When volunteers opened the building, they found it just as it was in 1955, with food in the kitchen, a stock of dry goods and medicinal herbs and Hay’s tools on the apothecary table.