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"The Golden Flower of Prosperity" - Saturday, June 8th 2013


Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, loosely translated as "Golden Flower of Prosperity" is located in John Day, Oregon.  The cost is free and includes a guided tour by a park ranger.  Now a most unusual museum, it was once a general store, a doctor's office, post office, a library and a center of Chinese social and religious life.  It's "golden flower" era began in 1888 when two young Chinese immigrants - "Doc" Ing Hay and Lung On - bought the building's lease, and having decided a partnership could be mutually beneficial, they formed one that lasted for more than 50 yrs.  Lung On, who was well educated and fluent in English, was a skilled merchant.  He sold supplies to local miners and expanded the enterprise into a successful dry goods store and import business.  He also brought the first car to John Day and started the first car dealership in Eastern Oregon!

The walls of the bottom story,built around 1870, are made out of locally quarried volcanic tuff.  The upper story was added in the 1890's. 

Doc Hay (1862-1952) was an intuitively gifted pulsologist using a centuries-old Chinese medical system that identified ailments based on the patient's pulse.  He brewed his treatments - teas and poultices - on the Kam Wah Chung cookstove, using ingredients from his store of over 500 herbs and various animal parts, including common clove, ginger, wild asparagus, chicken gizzards, tortoise shell, pomegranate bark and cocklebur.

When the state took over the bldg, a chest with $27,000 in uncashed checks inside was discovered under Doc Hay's bed.  He required that everybody pay for his services, but if he felt - so the story goes - you couldn't afford to pay, he tucked the check in the chest ($27.000 then = approx $250,000 today!!).


Doc Hay's Apothecary.  Notice the bear's foot in front.

Shelves of the mercantile and storeroom were stocked with a variety of goods including items from China such as sandalwood fans and ginseng. Candy, cigarettes, tobacco, cigars, matches, firecrackers, beer, incense, and gambling supplies lined the shelves along with staples such as first aid items, sundries, soaps, coffees, teas, candles, lard, canned goods, sugar, flour, cotton and rice. Garments could be ordered through the store from mail order catalogues.  At one time, John Day’s Chinese community had an established “joss” house that served as both the community meeting house and religious temple. As the town’s Chinese population waned the shrine was moved from the temple to the Kam Wah Chung Company bldg (after 1900). Here Hay, a Buddhist, performed rituals for Buddhist immigrants. The shrine stood in a small room complete with ornate, brocade curtains and a small seated image of the Buddha. There were three altars and anyone who wished to consult the gods could light an incense stick, place food or drink on the altar, and pray to the diety.

Kam Wah Chung kitchen.  A cleaver was kept in every room... as protection.

Thousands of objects displayed within the building's 1,250 sf of exhibit space include old tin containers and wooden boxes filled with Chinese teas, foodstuffs, tobacco and medicinal products, still lining the shelves as if on display in a general store.  Lung On passed away in 1940 and after Doc Hay died in 1952, the building was locked and unopened till 27 years later!  Fruit left on shelves had dehydrated, but not spoiled.  Many herbs held their flavor and potency.  It was like they'd stepped away for an afternoon walk....  Fascinating place, fascinating history.

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We learned that Canyon City, two miles away, was holding their '62 Days celebration (that would be 1862, when gold was discovered on Canyon Mountain), so we betook ourselves there.

This Canyon City Episcopal Church, built in 1876 in a Stick/Eastlake style, was spared by three separate disastrous fires that leveled the town.  They say it was "consecrated to the Lord and baptized in fire."

Not to be sacrilegious, we say Pass the Pie!  Jimmy had Key Lime.  I had Pecan.  Yum.

When I suggested he pose with the ladies, I meant the two with bonnets.  Hey, what's up with this?!  When we left the '62 goings-on, we headed for the laundromat.  It was time!

Somebody else likes lilacs as much as I do:  Oregon swallowtail.

Wonderful day in John Day!

3 comments:

  1. Did the dust in the old store make you sneeze?

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    Replies
    1. Nope! Wonderful step back in time!

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  2. We loved that museum when we visited on our way home from Spokane via Idaho and Highway 95. It is a treasure. I learned so much about Chinese history in the west. Glad you found it.

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