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John Day, Oregon

Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum

This perfectly preserved Chinese medicine shop was untouched for decades before being reopened as a museum. 

The Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum was once the social and material hub of its area but after being closed for more than 20 years, it was reopened to reveal a dense time capsule of a late 1800’s general store and Chinese medicine emporium.  

Originally built sometime in the 1860’s, this site of the Kam Wah Chung Co. Medicine Shop was bought in 1887 by two Chinese immigrants, Ing “Doc” Hay and Lung On. As his nickname suggests, Doc Hay was known for treating both Chinese and non-Chinese patients with traditional Chinese medicine, which he sold from his Oregon shop. As its infamy and importance grew, the shop began to service local miners as well selling food stuffs, tobacco, and even homebrew whiskey. The shop served as a central hub in all aspects of life for the area’s Chinese-American community up until the late 1940’s, when Doc Hay went into a nursing home after breaking his hip. The shop itself was simply locked up and left, unadulterated and abandoned until it was once again explored in 1969. Thanks to the sturdy construction of the building, the interior had been perfectly preserved with thousands of dried up Chinese herbs and period foods simply collecting dust on the shelves. 

The site has since been restored and preserved to look as it would have in 1940, and it is filled with artifacts documenting Hay and Lung’s life as Chinese immigrants in the wild west. The shelves are filled with thousands of period artifacts and relics such as herbs and instruments from his practice, complimented by the lavish Chinese ornamentation of the shop. There are also a number of pieces of vintage furniture outfitting the space just as it did in the 1800’s.

Visitors to the museum can still peruse the dusty boxes of ingredients and if they can read Chinese, might still be able to cure themselves of ails them. 

 

Know Before You Go

Although the address for Kam Wah Chung is listed as Main Street, you need to go to the interpretive center first in order to get a ticket for a guided tour. At present, tours are free, but because the items in the building are delicate, visitors are limited to those on the tours.