By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
JOHN DAY Carolyn Micnhimer thinks it's about time Kam Wah Chung andamp; Co. is getting some attention.
andquot;I wish it had been done sooner. It is a gem of a historic piece of history,andquot; she said.
Micnhimer, 77, has headed tours of Kam Wah Chung for 25 years, telling the story of Doc Hay and Lung On, two Chinese men who opened an herbal medicine office, general store and a temple, or andquot;joss house,andquot; in 1887 in John Day and served the local Chinese and American population until 1948.
Micnhimer isn't the only one who thinks this place is special a public/private partnership has been formed to raise $800,000 by Dec. 31, 2006, to address critical restoration needs. The partners include the Oregon State Parks Trust, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, Friends of Kam Wah Chung andamp; Co. Museum and the City of John Day.
They've already raised $400,000 and now they're $7,500 closer to their goal.
On Thursday, Micnhimer delivered her historic spiel to a few special visitors, among them Dick Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation based in Washington, D.C., and Oregon's first lady Mary Oberst, who is leading the campaign efforts for the restoration.
andquot;I visited here 22 years ago and fell in love with it, and I've been back many times since then,andquot; Oberst said.
She took on the Kam Wah Chung project after her husband became governor in 2003 and she was approached to support a variety of causes.
andquot;I thought, 'I need to do something I just love,'andquot; she said.
This was Moe's first time stepping through the low doors of Kam Wah Chung.
andquot;I've wanted to come here for a long time,andquot; he said. andquot;Historic sites are at the core of what the Trust is all about. It's key to our mission to keep places like this key and vital.andquot;
And to prove it, Moe awarded a $7,500 grant to Oregon State Parks to help fund interior restoration of Kam Wah Chung.
andquot;We just wanted to do our part to help what you are doing,andquot; Moe told his audience of State Parks employees, members of Friends of Kam Wah Chung andamp; Co. Museum and other individuals involved in the restoration of the historic site.
andquot;I was enormously impressed (with the museum) this is real history. It was so evocative when I walked into Kam Wah Chung and saw authentic artifacts. These stories should not be forgotten,andquot; Moe said. andquot;And so many people in this community care about it and are doing so much about it.andquot;
This spring Kam Wah Chung will be considered for a National Historic Landmark.
andquot;That's the highest designation in the land, and it has to be a truly intact plac,andquot; said Anthea Hartig, western office director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She said the museum andquot;is spectacular. It's such a rich and unique site. If those walls could talk could you imagine?andquot;
And Baker County has an interest in this restoration even though Kam Wah Chung is located 80 miles to the southwest.
The board for the Friends of Kam Wah Chung includes Myllisa Jensen, marketing director for Baker County Unlimited, and Baker City architect Jim Van Duyn. Barbara Sidway, co-owner of the Geiser Grand Hotel, is the Oregon advisor to the National Trust and helped organize Moe's trip to John Day.
andquot;I don't see the county line painted as I drive south we have a shared heritage,andquot; Sidway said. andquot;Grant and Baker counties share a rich legacy of gold mining history and Kam Wah Chung is a marvelous example of that heritage.andquot;
According to information compiled by the Baker County Historical Society, Chinese miners purchased water rights from the Auburn Ditch in 1865 and by 1869 there were 200 Chinese laborers building a 40-mile section of the El Dorado Ditch.
The Baker Chinese population peaked in 1900 at 264. They worked as miners, laundrymen and cooks, and had their own section of town near Auburn Avenue and Resort Street. Approximately 46 people were buried at the Chinese cemetery located at the east end of town, and most of the remains were later exhumed and returned to China for burial.
Only one marked grave remains at the cemetery Lee Chue, 1882-1938.
A pavilion was erected at the cemetery in 2002 in recognition of the Chinese contributions in early Baker County.
By 1862, the John Day area was home to about 1,000 Chinese immigrants.
andquot;They did a lot of hard labor and were paid 25 cents a day. They worked from sunup to sundown,andquot; Micnhimer said.
Doc Hay and Lung On whom Micnhimer refers to as andquot;our menandquot; bought the building and opened Kam Wah Chung andamp; Co. in 1887.
andquot;They never met each other until they came here,andquot; she said.
Doc Hay established an herbal medicine practice and became known throughout eastern and central Oregon.
andquot;He'd take your pulse, tell you what was wrong and give you the herbs to get better,andquot; Micnhimer said.
Lung On, who was fluent in English and Chinese, was the businessman.
andquot;He knew business, he knew money, he was a gambler and he made money,andquot; Micnhimer said.
When the building was initially restored for the museum's opening in 1977, uncashed checks totalling $23,000 were found under Doc Hay's bed.
andquot;Perhaps he was saving for a rainy day, and I don't think Lung On knew they were there or else we wouldn't have them,andquot; Micnhimer said with a smile.
Kam Wah Chung andamp; Co. opened as a museum in 1977 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The building had been boarded up for 20 years.
andquot;Everything was just as it was it was like stepping back in time,andquot; said Anita Lanning, vice president of the Friends of Kam Wah Chung.
A fragile Wheaties box sits on the kitchen shelf, full of cereal and offering bored breakfast eaters an identification game of World War I Air Force badges.
It is in the kitchen where Micnhimer picks up a cleaver with a wide rusted blade.
These hefty knives were found in every room of Kam Wah Chung and are Micnhimer's favorite piece of this preserved history.
andquot;I always talk about them,andquot; she said. andquot;I don't believe (Doc Hay and Lung On) ever used them on anybody, but if someone gave them a bad time, they could pick up one of these and say 'Go home.' There's even one of these by the doctor's bed.andquot;
The building's general store a small room that also contains the shrine from the worship house is still stocked with groceries.
In 1905, you could buy marshmallows in a can and candles for decorating a Christmas tree.
There's even an unopened container of Maxwell House coffee.
andquot;'Good to the last drop,' just like today,andquot; Micnhimer said with a chuckle.
Doc Hay's medical office was essentially a glassed-in corner room stacked with packages of herbal remedies.
He left behind 500 different Chinese medicines all contained in boxes inscribed with Chinese characters.
There's deer antlers, turtle shell, bear paws, ground lizard even a rattlesnake coiled in a glass jar.
andquot;We do know what 220 of them could be used for,andquot; Micnhimer said. andquot;From what I understand, their Chinese medicine is still the same that you see here.andquot;
As an end to her tour, Micnhimer points to the front door lined with pockmarked metal.
andquot;They say the cowboys would shoot at Chinatown once in a while. I like to think it was a prank, but one bullet did go through,andquot; she said, touching a hole in the upper portion of the door.
Micnhimer knows Kam Wah Chung's history by heart, and she's made sure to record stories told by visitors who remembered Doc Hay and Lung On.
She's filled 25 notebooks with memories, and she's never heard a negative word uttered about Doc Hay.
andquot;A lot of them went to the American doctor and weren't cured, so they went to Doc Hay and he cured them,andquot; she said.
Micnhimer recounts one story of a woman who tried to fool a then-blind Doc Hay by seeking a diagnosis even though she felt just fine.
andquot;She put her arm on the pillow and Doc hay took her pulse in one arm, and then the other. Then Doc Hay said, 'You're not sick you're lovesick. Go home.'andquot;
Micnhimer smiled as she glanced at the photograph of Doc Hay that hangs in the museum.
andquot;To me, that's amazing. He could tell if you weren't sick as well as if you were sick,andquot; she said.
She plans to compile the collected stories into a book to preserve the memories, many told to her by people who have since passed away.
andquot;I believe the two men and the building deserve a remembrance of what the people said of them,andquot; she said.