Kam Wah Chung circa 1909.
About Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site
Originally built in 1865 as a trading post, the building became the Kam Wah Chung & Co in 1871. The business served both the Chinese and American populations in John Day, and included a small shop, an apothecary, and a doctor’s office, as well as a boarding house for migrant workers. This building also served as a religious and community center for the area's Chinese population.
The property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005. And today, we learn more about the history via continuous research on artifacts, documents, and additional archaeological sites. The original building is open as a museum to visitors. Guests not only get to see the historic building, but also learn about the history of Chinese arrival and contributions throughout the Pacific Northwest in an interpretive center two blocks from the building.
Interpretive Center and Collections Building
The project includes building a new, larger facility for the visitor/interpretive center and collections near the museum. With a new facility, we can better interpret the historic museum and provide an environmentally controlled storage area to protect and preserve the historic collection.
Why we need the project
- Kam Wah Chung is now an international destination about 10,000 visitors a year. Visitors come from abroad and all 50 states. The new facility will accommodate larger groups in the interpretive area and create a better visitor experience for sharing the museum story and early Chinese history in the John Day area.
- The current interpretive center is located two blocks from the historic museum and consists of two leased buildings.
- Without the project, we would need to remove the interpretive exhibit and the artifact collection and find a secure and appropriate storage facility.
The new approximately 8,500-square-foot building will be built at the north end of the park on property acquired from the city of John Day. The new interpretive center will include:
- collection and artifact storage.
- gift shop and restrooms.
- classroom and work area for collection conservators.
- a small theater room and equipment to show current and future educational documentaries.
- high efficiency features such as solar panels, as well as increased fire suppression and climate control for archives and artifacts.
- improved visitor parking and access.
The expanded park will continue to serve as a community greenspace with landscaping and picnic areas for both visitors and locals to enjoy. The grounds will likely include a Chinese medicinal herb garden.
Short-term visitor impact
- Awarded architectural contract to Cole Architecture.
- Awarded landscape architect contract to Szabo Architecture.
- Acquired the adjacent John Day City park property to expand Kam Wah Chung park and build the new visitor/interpretive center and collections facility.
Tentative construction timeline
Groundbreaking fall 2024.
Building completed Dec. 2025.
Opening Spring 2026.
Draft Site Concept
Cole Architecture design. Link to open pdf of draft site plan drawing
A singular structure with large sweeping roof design inspired by the traditional Chinese Chuan-Dou architecture.
A double-sloped roof building with architecture features common throughout historic Eastern Oregon.
Deputy Director of Field Services Matt Rippee (left) shows plans to Governor Tina Kotek (center) and First Lady Aimee Kotek Wilson.
Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) staff welcomed Governor Tina Kotek and first Lady Aimee Kotek Wilson to Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, July 20, 2023. Both were greeted by Deputy Director of Field Services Matt Rippee, Park Ranger and Museum Curator Don Merritt and Resource Program Manager Bridget Tinsley, as well as Grant County Chamber of Commerce President-elect Taci Philbrook.
OPRD staff shared a planning and development update about the future Interpretation Center. The center will be located on property acquired via a valued partnership with the City of John Day and Grant County. Southern Oregon University, the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine, Oregon Historical Society and the Oregon Diaspora Project and others will collaborate with OPRD on the design and development work. All partners are committed to protecting the tangible and intrinsic value of the heritage site during the center's creation and strengthening relationships with all stakeholders.
They scheduled their stop during a tour of
Grant and Harney counties. We appreciate the Governor and First Lady including the park in their trip, supporting OPRD, and recognizing this important project.
Last updated November 2023. Additional updates as information becomes available.