What they saw changed the history of Kam Wah Chung. Instead of it being torn down, the city sought to honor Bob Wah’s wishes and turn the building into a museum. To help raise funds for renovations, the city sold the property to the Oregon Department of Transportation which operated Oregon State Parks at the time. A lease agreement was signed between the state and the City of John Day, allowing the city to operate and maintain the building as a museum.
After several years of renovations, the building was opened as a museum in 1976. Renovations included adding concrete footers under the building, reconstructed the stairs and front porch, reconstructed Lung On’s bedroom, and took inventory of the 70,000+ artifacts and nearly 20,000 documents found in the building. For years the City of John Day and their appointed curator, Carolyn Micnhimer, gathered and researched the collections.
During the 1990s, it was becoming clear that the City of John Day could no longer afford the operational cost of the museum. Since the property was owned by the state, John Day City reached out to Oregon State Parks to see if they would agree to have total control of the property. Oregon State Parks formally took control of the operational and maintenance needs of the property, officially renaming it Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site. During the process, with the help of the Friends of Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum, the property became a National Historic Landmark in 2005. Carolyn Micnhimer was the first museum curator, holding the job until 2005 when was turned over to the state.
During the time John Day operated Kam Wah Chung as a museum, much of the archives were in the procession of the Oregon Historical Society. The City of John Day had neither the facilities, staffing, or expertise to handle the boxes of archival materials. After state parks took full ownership, all the archives were sent back to Kam Wah Chung State Heritage site, were museum curator Christy Sweet began cataloging and inventorying the archive collection, and recataloged the artifact collection as well from 2006 through 2016. Most of the nearly 20,000 archival documents were found in the second floor rooms of Kam Wah Chung. A few of the documents were translated into English, but very little information is known from the Chinese written documents. The translation project is an ongoing mission of Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site.
Kam Wah Chung & Co. Museum is really two buildings and the property they sit on. The building we sometimes refer to as the museum is what we call the historic building or Kam Wah Chung building. Thus, when we say museum, we are referring to the entire site, for the Interpretive Center is also part of the museum experience, show casing information through information panels and artifact displays. Sounds confusing, but we are making an effort to distinguish our terminology for the future.