With the only stoplight in Grant County, John Day is the “big city.” Centrally located at the intersection of highways 26 and 395, the town has facilities serving the surrounding areas, including a hospital and the county’s fairgrounds, airport, industrial park, chamber of commerce and library. John Day is home to two museums: Kam Wah Chung and the Ranch and Rodeo Museum, which celebrates the cowboy way of life in Grant County. The city park at Northwest Canton Street and Ing-Hay Way has a picnic area and walking path along Canyon Creek with the public pool nearby. The Seventh Street Complex on the north side of town offers a variety of recreational opportunities. Just west of town, the John Day Golf Course invites guests to play nine holes and enjoy the stunning views overlooking the course from a large banquet room in the clubhouse. The new Davis Creek Park offers hiking trails and views, and other new developments are in the works
The first homestead staked in Grant County (what was then Wasco County), in 1862 by B. C. Trowbridge, was within the limits of the present city of John Day. The community was not as quick to grow as neighboring Canyon City, which was the county seat and center of the bustling mining industry in the area. Incrementally, local merchants and residents began relocating to John Day primarily each time after severe fires in Canyon City: the Grant County Courthouse burned in 1870, Chinatown burned in 1885, and fires in 1898 and 1937 devastated Canyon City’s downtown.
The first Post Office at John Day City was established in 1865, but was discontinued in 1871. It was reestablished in 1879 with the name John Day. In April 1900, a local committee was elected, and the Oregon Legislature approved an Act incorporating the city of John Day on February 23, 1901.
The largest part of early John Day was composed of the Chinese community, commonly called Tiger Town. In 1882, the Advent Christian Church in John Day boasted 547 members, 382 of whom were Chinese (and a number of Chinese residents were interred in the Seventh Day Adventist Cemetery). By 1887, John Day was home to nearly 1000 Chinese immigrants, who had been attracted to the area by a gold rush twenty years earlier, many of whom were displaced by the 1885 fire in Canyon City.