Kam Wah Chung Interpretive Center

Dayville, OR

After reading Jodee’s post (On the Road Abode) about an interesting spot in the town of John Day, we just had to check it out for ourselves.  The Kam Wah Chung Interpretive Center seemed to be a bit out of place in this small community, especially when we found that no Chinese people live in the town.  In fact, they don’t even have a Chinese restaurant.

The story begins in the second half of the 1800s when gold was discovered near John Day, bringing Chinese immigrants to the area to work in the mines.  In the mid-1880s John Day was home to nearly 1,000 Chinese immigrants who lived in an area of the town called Tiger Town.  A trading post built in the area in the 1860s was purchased in 1887 by two Chinese immigrants, Lung On and Ing Hay. They converted the trading post into a clinic, general store, and social center for the community.

The two men were very different individuals.  Ing Hay was a quiet man who was a gifted “pulsologist” and herbal healer.

Lung On was an outgoing businessman.

Once the mines closed almost all of the Chinese moved out of the area.  But Lung On and Ing Hay remained in John Day and became well-respected members of the community.  Lung On died in 1940.  When Ing Hay broke his hip in 1948 he was moved to a nursing home in Portland.  He intended to return once healed, so the door of the store was just closed and locked.  Unfortunately, he never recovered sufficiently to return and died in 1952.  Ing Hay asked that the building be deeded to the city of John Day with the provision it be turned into a museum.  His wish, and the ownership of the building, were forgotten until 1967.  While surveying for a new park, the city discovered its ownership of the building and began to restore it as it was in the 1940s.  The inside of the store today is exactly the way it was when Ing had the door locked in 1948.

The building today

The building in 1909

“Doc” Hay in his later days

A visit to Kam Wah Chung begins in the Interpretive Center,  a room filled with displays and two videos about life in the Chinese community in John Day.  In the Interpretive Center we signed up for a free tour of the nearby store.  A volunteer guide lead us (and one other person) the short distance down the road to the store where she unlocked the door and escorted us inside.  There she shared information about each area of the building.  She had some very fascinating stories.

The “general store” area just inside the entrance door

Chair where “Doc” Hay evaluated patients

Cigar boxes and tins containing “Doc” Hay’s drugs and treatments

Small kitchen and dining area

A place to sleep for 25 cents – up to 4 slept in each bunk

The loft area of the store is a small cabin that was placed up on top of the stone walls.  No one knows how the cabin was lifted up on top.  A view from the back of the building shows the cabin sitting up on top of the building.

While most Chinese immigrants left instructions to send their bones back to their ancestral homes when they died, Ing Hay and Lung On each chose to be buried in their adopted country.  We visited their gravesites in the city cemetery.

Ing Hay’s gravestone

After three nights at the Fish House Inn and RV Park in Dayville, we continued moving west on US-26.  After a drive of about 150 miles we are now in Crown Villa RV Resort in Bend, OR.  We will be here for the next month, allowing plenty of time for exploring central Oregon.

More on that later . . .

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26 Responses to Kam Wah Chung Interpretive Center

  1. Upriverdavid says:

    Did you check out the R.V. camping next to the museum?

  2. They used to put a lot of people in a bed. I guess no one got cold.

  3. Jim and Barb says:

    We love visiting places that are restored just as they were “back in the day”. It is cool to see how they were set up and what kind of products were sold.

    • placestheygo says:

      From what we were told, stabilizing the floor was only major restoration inside and repainting the outside. Otherwise, the inside is suppose to be like it was when the door was locked all those years ago. Even the fruit left at the various small shrines in the different rooms was the original fruit that has dried over time with the lack of humidity. This is what attracted me to want to see the place. It was very interesting to see products of the day.

  4. How very interesting! I want to spend some time in the Bend area one of these days–my Dad worked in the timber industry near Bend in his younger days. Our good friends from NR, Fred and Nancy live near Bend too.

    • placestheygo says:

      This is our first visit to Bend with enough time so that we can really explore. We just read information panels on the timber industry that was Bend back in the day.

  5. geogypsy2u says:

    Such an interesting little museum and story. Enjoy Bend.

  6. Jeff Pierce says:

    Very interesting! The center was closed when we had lunch in adjacent park and I never gave it a second thought. So unusual to find an intact store/office/home as it was left by the owner.

  7. We skipped the interpretive center when we visited John Day. Looks really interesting.
    Hope you have some good weather in Bend. Be sure to check out Bridge 99 Brewery. They had some great dark beers!

    • placestheygo says:

      I’m sorry you missed a visit to the museum. It was so interesting and definitely worth a stop.
      So far our weather hasn’t been very good here in Bend…wet, windy, cold, and mainly in the 40’s. Things are looking up come Thursday! Glad we have a month! Thanks for the Brewery recommendation!

  8. Debbie L says:

    What a gem. We love this type of off the beaten path history. Thanks for an entire post dedicated to it. A must see….one day!!!

  9. Sherry says:

    Such an interesting story. Sad that none of their countrymen are there any more. Your pictures are wonderful. Well worth the visit it is clear.

  10. Laurel says:

    We visited Kam Wah Chung several years ago, and like you, found it fascinating. The whole place is essentially a time capsule! I especially loved seeing all of the herbal medicines (of course!). Your photos capture it well.

  11. Gerri & Mike says:

    What an absolutely fascinating story and place!! I just love this type of history!! It is a place we will definitely put on our “to see” list!!

  12. pmbweaver says:

    Sitting here waiting again for Paul to have a procedure, so I was able to finally read a post.
    What an awesome museum. I love that they left it as it was. It is strange that there isn’t one Chinese person living there. Can’t image everyone moving away. Also, I didn’t know Chinese people were transported back to their homeland for burial. Guess I am not to old to learn something new each day. Lol.

  13. Jodee Gravel says:

    We enjoy small, local museums best, and this is still our very favorite. I’m so glad you got to see it – thanks for capturing the great history. We missed the gravestones, what a perfect spot to end their amazing story. We’ll finally be in Oregon this week as well.

    • placestheygo says:

      I am so glad you found this great little museum, Jodee. We really enjoyed our visit. The weather looks like it improves starting Wed. here in Bend. Hope it is nice in Ashland. It has been winter since we arrived.

  14. allisonmohr says:

    I really hope your weather improves. We spent three Junes in Bend, the first was great, the second two, not so much.

    • placestheygo says:

      Looks like we finally move into spring starting Wed, Allison. Then, it looks likes 70’s for awhile. We are finished with the cold, wet weather we’ve had so far.

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