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Our View: Kam Wah Chung a local treasure

Published on June 12, 2018 4:10PM

Nestled near Canyon Creek in John Day is a building steeped in history.

Constructed more than 140 years ago, the small structure that housed Kam Wah Chung & Co. is now a museum providing visitors a window into the past.

Following the Canyon City gold rush in 1862 and an influx of Chinese immigrants, Ing Hay and Lung On purchased the building after migrating here themselves.

At its peak, the Chinese population in John Day was about 2,000 — the third largest Chinatown in the United States, slightly smaller than those in Portland and San Francisco.

Ing Hay and Lung On operated Kam Wah Chung to cater to the population with a mercantile, apothecary, doctor’s office and boarding house that also served as a religious and community center.

When Ing Hay fell ill in 1948, the business closed its doors after more than 60 years.

Everything inside remained as it was when he left, and still remains today to the delight of thousands of museum attendees each year.

The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and the city began using it as a museum in 1975.

More than a half century after Kam Wah Chung closed its doors, a new effort blossomed to ensure they would remain open to those seeking to understand its cultural significance.

Former first lady Mary Oberst, Barbara Sidway and Sharon Leighty spearheaded a $1.5 million fundraising effort to restore the building and establish an interpretive center, and the site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005.

The site was transferred to the state, which continues to operate the interpretive center and provide tours of the museum. Kam Wah Chung is expected to draw about 10,000 visitors this summer.

On Saturday, a sold-out crowd gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the restoration by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, and the 140th anniversary of Kam Wah Chung.

This historical gem, and the efforts to preserve and share it, deserve applause. Everyone who contributed — from the fundraisers to the park staff to the Friends of Kam Wah Chung volunteers — should be proud of what they have accomplished.

Thanks to the efforts of many, Kam Wah Chung is a historic local treasure that will remain for all to enjoy for many more years to come.


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