Kam Wah Chung Museum is a must-see for anyone with an interest in Oregon history. Preserving the legacy of the Chinese workforce in Oregon, the museum contains artifacts and displays that share some of the trials of everyday life of these people.
Chinese businessman Lung On and herbal doctor Ing Hay worked out of this building. Dr. Hay administered care to the Chinese gold-mine workers, pioneers, and others from the John Day area and beyond by using traditional Chinese remedies.
The origin behind the building is not well known. Its original construction or purpose is most likely associated with a segment of the Dalles Military Road constructed about 1864-1865 as a trading post and stage stop. By 1871, Chinese founded Kam Wah Chung & Co. in the building. September 1888, Lung On and Doc Hay and another partner Ye Nem purchased the building and company name from another Chinese businessman Shee Pon; unfortunately, other than an advertisement in a newspaper asking solicitors to stop looking to Doc Hay and Lung On to pay off the previous owner’s debt, there is no other information known about the man. What is known is that once they obtained the business, it flourished under their leadership, serving both the American and Chinese populations. The business was multifaceted: they not only had a mercantile, but they also ran an apothecary and doctor’s office, as well as having a boarding house for migratory workers. In addition, Kam Wah Chung served as a religious and community center throughout the region. The general store run by Lung On effectively closed after his death in December 1940. Doc Hay operated the apothecary until 1948, when an injury forced him to move into a nursing home in Portland. He died four years later in 1952, never returning to Kam Wah Chung.
After Doc Hay left for Portland in 1948, the building was locked up for the next 20 years. Bob Wah, Doc Hay’s nephew moved in with Doc Hay into Kam Wah Chung in 1941 with his family for about two or three years, learning the trade of medicine from Doc Hay. Wah moved into a house across from Kam Wah Chung and occasionally used supplies Doc Hay had in the apothecary. After Doc Hay passed away in 1952, Bob Wah occasionally went into the building for medicinal ingredients, but generally abandoned the building. In 1955, Bob Wah, whom owed the Kam Wah Chung estate by then, signed an agreement with the City of John Day, leasing the building to them for $5,000, with a stipulation that it be kept as a museum in testament of Chinese migration to the region. After Bob Wah passed away in 1966, the whole of the estate was turned over to the City of John Day. At one point, the City of John Day was going to tear down the building for development of the city park. In 1968, the building was turned over to the John Day Historical Society.