Ogdensburg Library and the Spirit of Liberty Statue

Today we’re looking at the Ogdensburg Public Library located at 313 Washington Street in the downtown historic section of the Ogdensburg, New York. Behind the library is a green open space called Library Park, which is the home to the Spirit of Liberty monument that was installed in 1905.

Such History. Much Wow.

The Ogdensburg Library as an organization dates back to 1828 and throughout the years moved around the city and never had a permanent home. That was the case until the 1890’s, through the efforts of Dr. Fred Van Dusen, the Ogdensburg Public Library saw some significant changes that would have lasting effects to the library’s establishment in the city. Changes included getting the library officially incorporated by the State Board of Regents in 1891 and eventually getting a permanent home for the library: the Clark House at 311 Washington Street.

The Clark House was a private residence built in 1888 for George C. Clark, a New York banker, who has used the house as a summer residence for his family. Prior to construction of the new Clark summer home, the property was originally the location of the Greek Revival home of Joseph Rosseel (also spelled Roselle) stood. Rosseel had been the land agent to David Parish one of the early landowners in St. Lawrence County. Rosseel employed Joseph Jacques Ramee to design his Greek Revival home in 1810. When Clark purchased the property, he had the old house demolished to build his Queen Anne home. By 1895, Clark was beginning to have second thoughts. Given the distance from Ogdensburg to New York City, Clark determined it would be better to have a summer residence closer to the city. Clark offered his home and entire block for the new home of the library for $35,000 ($10,000 of which Clark donated). The home was estimated to be worth $125,000. In addition, Clark gave his dock property (land between his residence and the streets) to be used as a park space in the city- this is today’s Riverside Park in Ogdensburg.

A side note about the Clark House, different sources say slightly different things about the house. One article reporting on the fire dated November 25, 1921 (Ogdensburg Republican Journal) said that Clark, “greatly overhauled and renovated,” the original 1812 structure for his summer residence. While other sources say that Clark completely demolished the older building to construct a completely new home. It’s unclear why there is a discrepancy in the information on what exactly happened but it would be safe to say that if any portion of the library is the original 1812 building still exists it would be difficult to determine given the level of renovations through the years and the 1921 fire.

In early 1921, funding was given from the estate of George Hall and John C. Howard to be used to complete needed renovations of the library’s main building and the library’s annex- George Hall’s house across the street. John West was hired as the contractor for the renovations, which were coming along fine and would have been completed by February of 1922 but a fire broke out on November 24, 1921 destroying most of the interior of the library.

Luckily, all of the collections were safe. The books, records, Frederick Remington paintings, and original bronzes had been placed at either the George Hall residence or in a massive safe in the library’s basement.

The Frederick Remington Museum
George Hall’s residence happened to be the former residence of Frederick Remington. The home is literally across the street from the library and today houses the Frederick Remington Museum. The museum does have a permanent exhibit on Sally James Farnham, more about her below.

The fire was discovered around 7 am by a passerby on the way to the local market. The fire department was alerted immediately and the local firefighters in their response to the blaze, were assisted by sailors from the USS Chillicothe, which was moored at Riverside Park. They weren’t’ successful in putting the fire completely out until noon of that day.

John Wert originally estimated the damages could be anywhere between $25,000-$50,000, and the entire building was gutted. A few weeks later, the damages were able to be assessed and the losses only totaled $15,000, which was covered by insurance. The cause of the fire was determined to be an overheated hot air furnace. The flooring and the roof completely burned but the walls somehow remained in good shape, allowing reconstruction to still be possible. The reconstruction work that occurred resulted in the library that we see today- it was rebuilt as a replica of the old 1812 Rossell Mansion.

The Ogdensburg Public Library
It is a Pokemon Gym for all those planning on Pokemon Going your way across Northern New York.
Front Facade
Front facade of the Ogdensburg Public Library

 

The Back of the Library
A view of the backside of the library while standing in Library Park.

Library Park:

Associated with the public library is Library Park, which is home to the Spirit of Liberty, a sculpture by local Sally James Farnham. The Park is behind the library and was laid out in 1903- the area was also part of the Clark Property.

When the library acquired the Clark Mansion in 1895, it also acquired a fantastic open space that was planned out to be a park for the city. Plans were eventually created in 1903 and not finally completed until the following year. The plans for the landscaping of the Library Park as it was called, were drafted by Arnold E. Smith and Dr. Dusen assisted in getting the authorization to complete the layout around the library.

The Commercial Advertiser on July 5, 1904 reported that the park plans consisted of, “a horse-shoe or semi-circle of, prominent, outlining, the concave facing the river, the library building at the apex, forming the background. The fountain, as now located, the central figure; the proposed soldier’s monument about one hundred feet westerly there- from and a little lower down…” In addition to this description, the park was to have trees throughout the park such as cherry, Persian lilac, and hydrangea and principal walkways were to be laid out from corner to corner of the park, crossing at the center in front of the fountain.

Google Aerial LibraryPark
An aerial view of Library Park via Google Maps. It gives a good overview of the layout of the Park.

The other pathway through Library Park

Pathway through Library Park
The photographs above show what the walkways look like at the Park as well as the Spirit of Library at the Park.

In the same year that finishing touches were made to Library Park, Sally James Farnahm, won her first commission via competition- a Union soldier monument to be placed in the park. Sally had submitted to models to the monument committee of Ransom Post, GAR, “Defenders of the Flag” and the “Spirit of Liberty.” Funding for the monument came from a number of sources: Mr. and Mrs. George Hall, Swe-Kat-Si Chapter GAR, Fortieth Separate Company, Ransom Post GAR, Post Card Subscriptions, and even from Sally Farnham herself.

The Spirit of Liberty:

The Spirit of Liberty was installed at the Park in 1905. The city of Ogdensburg had held a competition for a Civil Ware monument for the Park for the soldiers and sailors from the town of Oswegatchie who died during the Civil War. Sally James Farnham submitted two different designs: Defenders of the Flag and the Spirit of Liberty. Out of 15 submissions, Sally’s Spirt of Liberty was chosen by the City.

A Historic Postcard Showing the Spirit of Liberty

The backside of the postcard
Based on the postmark date of 1909, this shows a pretty accurate view of the Spirit of Liberty after its installation. You’ll notice the statue of the solider at the base. It is no longer a park of the monument due to vandalism and is currently in storage from what I heard.

Sally was born in 1869.  Her mother passed away when she was 10 years old, for this reason Sally was very close to her father and they traveled around the world. While Sally wasn’t formally educated in an art medium, she was exposed to art throughout her travels with her father to France, Norway, Scotland, and even Japan. In 1896, Sally married George Paulding Farnham, who was the design director for jewelry and silver at Tiffany & Co. Yes, THE Tiffany & Co.

Sally’s first experience working with modeling clay was the result of both a personal tragedy- the death of her father- and a serious illness that left her bedridden. Her husband, George, during this time brought home clay for her to work with, hoping it would help improve her spirits. Sally greatly became interested in working with clay as an art medium- she was guided partly by her husband, who was a member of the National Sculpture Society, and more importantly by Frederick Remington, who was another native of Ogdensburg and a family friend of Sally’s. Remington supported and encouraged Sally’s artwork up until his death in 1909. Oddly enough Remington lived in the house across the street from the building that is the city’s public library. It’s fitting that Sally’s sculpture not only stands high in her hometown but also in view of her friend and mentor’s old house. The other unique thing about Sally James Farnham is that she was one of the first women to successfully compete for national sculpture commissions, like the one for the Ogdensburg Civil War monument.

In competing for the Ogdensburg Commission, Sally had a strong connection to wanting to design the city’s Civil War monument, not only was she obviously a local to the city but her father was Col. Edward C. James who commanded the 106th NY Volunteers during the war. Her winning design features a winged Victory with laurel wreath and flag atop of a 35-foot granite column and pedestal (the granite is from the quarries of Barre, Vermont). The pedestal features four bronze war eagles and shields. Originally, the base also had a life-sized bronze soldier, it has since been removed due to damages caused by vandalism. The monument was officially dedicated on August 23, 1905 and was attended by almost 20,000 people including the USA Vice President, Charles Fairbanks. Later in her career, Sally created a similar Civil War monument for Bloomfield, New Jersey, which was dedicated on June 11, 1912- in 2001 the monument was restored by the city.

Spirit of Liberty from BacksideSpirit of Liberty

Close Up of the Statue
The above views are what the Spirit of Liberty currently looks like at Library Park.

Some of Sally’s other sculptures include: The Defenders of the Flag (1908), which is a Civil War monument located in the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY; the Frieze of Discovers (1910) located in the Pan American Union (now OAS) building in Washington D.C.; and the Simon Bolivar statue (1921), which is located in Central Park in New York City.

The Public Library, Library Park, and the Spirit of Liberty make up a portion of the Library Park Historic District in Ogdensburg. Other contributing properties include the Remington Museum and other houses along the square block made by Washington, etc. All of these sites are easily accessible in the historic downtown area of Ogdensburg, NY. The park is also in close proximity to the riverside where there is a walking trail that leads to the Maple City Trail and the Abbe Picquet Trail on Lighthouse Point!

Thanks for reading !

Resources and Further Information

Online Resources:

John C. Howard, “A History of the Ogdensburg Public Library and Remington Art Memorial,” Ogdensburg Journal, May 31, 1938. The Trustees of the Ogdensburg Public Library.

John Harwood, National Register of Historic Places Inventory- Nomination Form, Library Park Historic District, Sept. 1982.

Thayer Tolles and Thomas B. Smith, The American West in Bronze, 1850-1925, (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven, and London, 2013) 154: Sally James Farnham, https://books.google.com/books?id=gRMQAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA154&lpg=PA154&dq=soldiers+monument+ogdensburg,+ny&source=bl&ots=kAr3bPeUkR&sig=aAMifeK_SdEMyHhoWne8Ndo4VG0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjQm9S6povdAhXiz1QKHSbFDZM4FBDoATAGegQIBBAB#v=onepage&q=soldiers%20monument%20ogdensburg%2C%20ny&f=false

Michael P. Reed, “The Intrepid Mrs. Sally James Farnham, An American Sculptor Rediscovered,” Aristos, November 2007. https://www.aristos.org/aris-07/farnham.htm

Lawrence P. Gooley, “The Career of Ogdensburg Sculptor Sally James Farnham,” Adirondack Almanack, April 4, 2016. https://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2016/04/career-ogdensburg-sculptor-sally-james-farnham.html

“Monumental Notes,” The Monumental News, Vol. 16. No. 9, September 1904, https://books.google.com/books?id=RMU7AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA550&dq=sally+james+farnham+spirit+of+liberty&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj2q-TKnvDeAhVFjlQKHUZeALkQ6AEINjAC#v=onepage&q=sally%20james%20farnham%20spirit%20of%20liberty&f=false

Picture of Sally with the Solider Sculpture: http://ww.sallyjamesfarnham.org/sallywsoldier.html

The website: http://www.sallyjamesfarnham.org/ is dedicated to all things related to Sally. Check it out!

Historic Newspapers via NYSHistoricNewspapers.org

“Laying Out New Park: Library Grounds to the Greatly Beautified by the Changes.” The Daily Journal, Ogdensburg, NY, June 10, 1904.

“The Design Accepted for the Union Soldiers and Sailors Monument: ‘The Spirit of Liberty.’” The Daily Journal, Ogdensburg, NY, July 13, 1904.

“Soldier’s Monument,” The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat

“Ogdensburg Library,” Northern Tribune, Gouverneur, NY, March 6, 1895.

“Taxpayers to Vote on the Propositions,” The Ogdensburg Republican Journal, January 22, 1921.

“Public Library Damaged by Fire,” The Ogdensburg Republican Journal, November 25, 1921.

“Fire Did $15,000 Damaged to New Public Library,” The Ogdensburg Advance and St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, December 1, 1921.

“Library and Monument,” Commercial Advertiser, July 5, 1904.

“A Public Library,” The Daily Journal, May 13, 1893.

“Library Park,” The Ogdensburg Advance and the St. Lawrence Weekly Democrat, October 3, 1903.

Westward Bound From Northern New York

This was an unexpected blog post but a few days ago was the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. The Transcontinental Railroad was officially completed at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869 and it connected the county by rail.

A number of years ago, when I was still working part-time at the Potsdam Public Museum, I created a very simple mini-exhibit on the Transcontinental Railroad.  The exhibit showed via railroad maps how, with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, it was possible to get from Potsdam, NY to the West. The mini-exhibit was super mini and I don’t think that many people got to see but hey, this is a different platform and I’m sure someone will be interested in cross-country travel in 1869.

Along those lines, last weekend, I attended a cool tour at the Old City Cemetery in Sacramento, which gave a walking tour related to the Transcontinental Railroad. While few of the key players are actually buried in Sacramento there are a lot of connections to the city.

During the tour, I learned about some of the well-known names involved in the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad. For example, Theodore Judah, who was the brains and architect of the TC railroad; the idea was to get a railroad through and over the Sierra Nevada. He was originally born in Connecticut but lived in Troy, NY with his family for a number of years. On May 10, 1847 he married Anne Pierce. Sadly, though he died before construction began though but not before giving his wife enough information to make sure financing was secured for the railroad. Two of the volunteers with the cemetery acted the parts of Theodore and Anne. They did a pretty good job and the most interesting parts were about Anna to be honest. She apparently did a number of sketches while traveling to California. In additional the other interesting tidbit about them was that the completion of the railroad occurred on what would have been their 22nd wedding anniversary if Theodore hadn’t passed away. Neither are buried in Sacramento but instead in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

Another group of people connected to the railroad, were the Big Four. They were all business, philanthropists, and railroad tycoons who pooled their resources to create the Central Pacific Railroad, which would be the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. In addition they became even more wealthy from their involvement in the railroad and there was a lot of shady business that happened. The Big Four were:

Leland Stanford, born in Watervliet (now Colonie), NY. He was originally a lawyer but moved into business before moving to California.

Collins Potter Huntington, originally from Connecticut but settled first in Oneonta, NY where he established a successful business before moving to Sacramento, CA

Mark Hopkins, originally from Henderson, NY (located in Jefferson County). He is buried in the Sacramento Historic Cemetery.

Charles Crocker, he was originally from Troy, NY. He’s part of the same Crocker Family that established the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.

As you can see, there’s also a lot of connections to New York, which is super interesting! I have also realized, while on the cemetery tour I didn’t take any photos of any of the stopping points on the tour except from the Crocker Family Plot. Charles Crocker isn’t buried here but his brother, Edwin, is buried here. Edwin was also involved in the Central Pacific Railroad and served as the businesses’ legal council.

EBCrocker

The following images are all from maps that are available online and there is bibliographic information for each as well as the website to view the map in whole; all links are still active. The maps show the journey westward leaving from Potsdam, NY and arriving in California via multiple railroad lines across the United States. The portions of the following maps come from larger maps created around 1869, when the transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Point, Utah on May 10, 1869. Sadly, when I moved to Sacramento, CA from Brasher Falls, NY I did not travel by train. I took a plane from Massena, NY to Boston, MA, where I switched airlines and then flew non-stop to Sacramento, CA.

Map1
This map shows the route from Potsdam, NY to Rome, NY via the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg Railroad. This would have been a potential route to get to the West once the transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869. This map is part of a larger map the, “N.Y. & Oswego Midland R.R. Map,” by Van R. Richmond, State Engineer & Surveyor. January 1st, 1869. That map can be accessed from the Library of Congress’s website: http://www.loc.gov/item/98688733/#about-this-item
Map2
This is a portion of the map of the Erie Railway and its connections. The map was created in 1869 and published by G.W. & C. B. Colton & Co. From Rome, a person could head to Syracuse via the New York Central Railroad and then take the Syracuse, Birmingham & NYC Railroad to Birmingham, NY. From Birmingham one could take the Erie Railway headed West. The map in its entirety can be viewed at the Library of Congress’s website: http://www.loc.gov/item/98688655/.
Map3
The Erie Railway moves across the southern portion of New York State and into Pennsylvania. The Erie Railway becomes known as the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad moving west towards Lake Ontario in this map. That line then heads south-west towards Ohio. The map in its entirety can be viewed at the Library of Congress’s website: http://www.loc.gov/item/98688655/.
Map4
Traveling to the West would potentially involve going through Pennsylvania and Ohio. This portion of the Erie Railway and its connections map shows the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad running south-west through those two states. In Mansfield, OH, one would have changed lines to head towards Chicago. The map in its entirety can be viewed at the Library of Congress’s website: http://www.loc.gov/item/98688655/.
Map5
Leaving from Mansfield, OH you would take the Pittsburgh, F. Wayne & Chicago Railroad line. This line heads west through to Crawford, Wyandot, and Lima, the line then travels north-west from Lima, OH towards Fort Wayne. The Pittsburgh, F. Wayne, & Chicago Railroad line would take you all the way to Chicago in Illinois. This is a view from the Erie Railway and its connections map. The map in its entirety can be viewed at the Library of Congress’s website: http://www.loc.gov/item/98688655/.
Map6
This map shows the route from Lima, OH (in the bottom right hand corner) via the Pittsburgh, F. Wayne, and Chicago to Chicago, Illinois (in the top left-hand corner). The route goes through three states: Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. This is a view from the Erie Railway and its connections map. The map in its entirety can be viewed at the Library of Congress’s website: http://www.loc.gov/item/98688655/.
Map7
In this section of the Chicago and Southwestern Railway map from 1869, the route from Chicago to the West is highlighted in blue. The railroad you would be one going West at this point is the Chicago & Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. The Chicago and Southwestern Railway map can be viewed in its entirety at the Library of Congress’s website: http://www.loc.gov/item/98688623/.
Map8
The blue line is still the Chicago & Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. The goal is to get to Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is where the Union Pacific Railroad starts. That is the line that heads west and meets with Central Pacific Railroad from Sacramento, California. The Chicago and Southwestern Railway map can be viewed in its entirety at the Library of Congress’s website: http://www.loc.gov/item/98688623/.
Map9
This shows the Chicago & Rock Island & Pacific Railroad going through Des Moines to Council Bluffs through Iowa. In Council Bluffs, one would change railroad lines and get onto the Union Pacific line headed West. The Chicago and Southwestern Railway map can be viewed in its entirety at the Library of Congress’s website: http://www.loc.gov/item/98688623/.
Map10
This is a section from the Central Pacific Railroad Timetable which was created July 9, 1871. Though it was created after 1869, when the Golden Spike Ceremony occurred and the transcontinental railway was completed, it still shows the route one would have traveled in 1869. This portion of the map shows the railway leaving Council Bluffs, next to Omaha and headed West through Nebraska. The rest of this map can be viewed in its entirety at the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum’s website: http://cprr.org/Museum/Maps/_cprr_map.html.
Map11
This portion of the Central Pacific Railroad map from 1871 shows the continued path of the transcontinental railroad. Promontory Point is where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads connected on May 10, 1869. Promontory Point is located in Utah on the Great Salt Lake. The red arrow points to Promontory Point. From here headed West the railroad line becomes the Central Pacific. The rest of this map can be viewed in its entirety at the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum’s website: http://cprr.org/Museum/Maps/_cprr_map.html.
Map12
This is the last leg of the journey from Promontory Point to Sacramento, California! The route all the way from Potsdam was a long one but worth it in 1869. Going from Potsdam, NY to California, one would have traveled through 11 states and over 2,500 miles and seen a lot of amazing things along the way. The rest of this map can be viewed in its entirety at the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum’s website: http://cprr.org/Museum/Maps/_cprr_map.html.

Resources and Further Information:

Transcontinental Railroad

http://www.cprr.org/Museum/index.html (Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum)

Railroads in St. Lawrence County

http://www.newyorktrains.com/

https://www.dot.ny.gov/divisions/operating/opdm/passenger-rail/railroadsmap

http://russnelson.com/RWnO/www.northnet.org/norwood/railroad.html

http://www.rutlandtrail.org/

National Register of Historic Places In Northern NY 

Lisbon Railroad Depot; Lisbon Depot Museum

New York Central Railroad Adirondack Division Historic District

Library of Congress

Map of the Chicago and Southwestern Railway and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad and their Connections. G.W. & C. Colton & Co. 1869. http://www.loc.gov/item/98688623/

Map showing the location of the N.Y. & Oswego Midland R.R. with existing and proposed connection, Jnaury 1st 1869 (by Van R. Richmond, State Engr. & Surv.). 1869. http://www.loc.gov/item/98688733/

Map of the Erie Railway and its connections.  G. W. & C. Colton & Co. 1869. http://www.loc.gov/item/98688655/

San Francisco’s Chinatown

Hello.

Welcome to Adventure with Courtney. We’ll continue to adventure around and see more historically, dorky stuff in 2019. Hopefully, it’s enough to ensure we know way too much about architecture and history to make us all THE person to have on the local trivia team.

I’ve spent the first couple of months 2019 not posting anything. Surprising, I know. If you closely follow this blog, you’ll know that posts were few and far between in 2018 and have probably assumed that 2019 will be similar. There was a lot going on for me in 2018- a new job, moving from Northern New York to Sacramento, CA, and figuring out how to adjust to a new location that’s totally different than NNY. During that time, I didn’t necessarily quite adventuring, I actually saw a lot of cool, historic places: Solvang, tons of things in San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, downtown adventures in Sacramento, Disneyland, etc. you get the point. I saw things, I just sadly didn’t have as much time as I wish I had to share all of those awesome places and little know history on this blog.

So, for roughly the past few months, I’ve been pulling together notes, researching, and planning posts. In doing so, I’ve realized that I have one too many notebooks. It’s a problem that many of us have yet just won’t admit. The exciting news, other than having too many notebooks, is that I think I have pulled together, (I hope) is a good enough starting point to ensure there are enough new Adventures with Courtney to share.   

Starting the belated new year on Adventure with Courtney – not just the literal new year of 2019 but also the third year of this blog being a thing- Happy Belated Birthday to this Blog which celebrated its third year on April 1, 2019!-  we’ll explore/adventure to one of my favorite cities: San Francisco. I was last in the city near the end of of February to hang out in Chinatown during the Chinese New Year Festival and to see the New Year Parade. It was a lot of fun!

The festival occurred on both Saturday and Sunday along Grant Street in Chinatown, with other festival things happening throughout the neighborhood but I only attended the festival on Saturday. That happened to be the same day as the New Year Parade.

Year of the Pig ParadeYear of the Pig ParadeYear of the Pig ParadeYear of the Pig ParadeYear of the Pig ParadeThe Golden DragonThe Golden Dragon

This was the year of the Earth Pig (previous years of the pig include: 2007, 1995, 1983, 1971, 1956, 1947, 1935). People born in the year of the Pig think logically and are good at fixing whatever problem they’re in. I was actually born in one of the years of the snake. In planning my trip to Chinatown and San Francisco, I figured I would do some research to turn the adventure into a blog post. So, I did some research before my trip to find some cool places to check out while in Chinatown other than the festival and a parade and to learn more about the history of San Francisco’s Chinatown, which is the biggest Chinatown in the US.

A Very Brief History of San Francisco’s Chinatown:

A very brief history of Chinatown goes something like this….

The first Chinese immigrants that arrived in San Francisco were on February 2, 1848. They included two Chinese male servants and a Chinese maid, named Maria Seise. They were all brought to San Francisco by an American merchant, Charles Van Gillespie and his wife, Sarah Catherine. The two male servants have been lost to history because they went to work in the gold rush for Gillespie but Marie stayed with the family for 30 years. (Information from that book).[i] From there other Chinese immigrants settled along Sacramento Street and spread to Dupont Street (now Grant Street) in the mid-1800’s. The area slowly expanded from 6-8 blocks in 1876 to more than 12 blocks by 1885. It should also be noted that Chinatown’s location in San Francisco today was, in the early years of the city, the center of mainstream San Francisco…. being the center of the city also resulted in it being a location for gambling, prostitution, and all other things that might be frowned upon in a city. Even though the city expanded quite extensively, the questionable businesses remained in Chinatown giving the community not always a great name.

Chinese immigration also increased because of the need for laborers during the Gold Rush and the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Chinese immigrants to America faced many hardships that basically stemmed from racism. There’s no nice way to put it but that’s what it was. Periods of economic hardships in the USA resulted in unfair and unjust laws prohibiting and/or limiting Chinese immigrants; those that were here already had problems becoming US citizens as well. In addition, laws even limited opportunities of those Chinese immigrants already here in America, for example there was one law passed in San Francisco that specifically targeted laundry businesses of Chinatown. The biggest law of concern was the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was passed first in 1882 and then again in 1930, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers. On paper, the law exempted Chinese merchants and their families, teachers, diplomats, students, and travelers but in reality, the law gave authorities the ability to stop all Chinese immigrants. The law wasn’t repealed until 1943 (the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act), which also allowed Chinese aliens naturalization rights.

During that time and even beyond 1943, the Chinese of San Francisco’s Chinatown worked hard to change the public’s bias and perception of the Chinese. The first opportunities arose from the Great 1906 Earthquake. The earthquake basically destroyed much of Chinatown, which happened to be the older section of the city to begin with. The destruction allowed the rebuilding of Chinatown to take not only an interesting turn but ultimately into the hands of the local Chinese population. Look Tin Eli, the secretary of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and other Chinese merchants such as Tong Bong and Lew Hing, saw this as an opportunity to rebuilding Chinatown into a “tourist mecca” that could help improve the image of Chinatown and relationship with the San Francisco community.[ii]

Some of the first buildings in Chinatown after the earthquake included Sing Fat Building on the southwest corner of Grant Street and the Sing Chong Building across the street on the northwest corner. The new buildings were eclectic combining Western European building elements, like columns, brackets, cornices, etc. with Oriental rooflines. (Images) Basically, the Chinatown you see today all stems from what was created after the 1906 Earthquake. Throughout this entire time the Chinese brought with them to the USA their heritage and celebrated extensively their culture through events like New Year’s. The first modern Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco occurred in the early 1950’s. The book, Making an American Festival goes into the fascinating history of the New Year festival and parade and how it was in response to Chinese-American leaders of San Francisco’s Chinatown to the political and economic difficulties of the Cold War. One of the interesting quotes from early in the book is as follows, “Chinese immigrants brought old world traditions and rituals- including Chinese New Year celebrations- to the host country. These old world rituals served as a link between immigrants and their home countries and created a sense of community in their adopted country.”[iii] The Chinese Chamber of Commerce was the main push behind the festival and parade. Henry Kwock Wong, a local businessman, and others such as, John Kan, and Paul Louie, saw the festival and parade as a way to change the public image of Chinese Americans and the celebration as an important manifestation of American freedom, “because China had fallen into Communist hands, it was American freedom that preserved Chinese traditions.”[iv]

Basically, the idea was that San Francisco’s Chinatown was “real” tradition China because of the communism in China and again Chinatown’s’ leaders accentuated Chinatown as an exotic and foreign place. “Organizers designed activities that catered to tourists’ orientalist expectations- in other words, their ideas of Chinese American cultures as exotic and different.”[v] Quick example, the fortune cookie was invented in the 1930’s in Chinatown to attract tourists. Though not exactly from the 1950’s it helps show that Chinatown has been catering to tourists for a very long time. Since the 1950’s, the New Year’s festival and parade have grown to be a huge event in San Francisco.

Quick Thoughts:

My knowledge of San Francisco’s Chinatown was pretty limited before researching for my recent visit to see the parade and festival. Researching about Chinatown was an eye opener on a period of history I’m not too familiar with to be honest. It was a lot to think of and also wonder if me visiting Chinatown during the Chinese New Year celebrations would just make me seem like one more person perpetuating all of the bad history surrounding San Francisco’s Chinatown. When thinking of visiting Chinatown to see the New Year Parade and Festival, I was planning on going not because I view Chinatown as exotic but because I think going to Chinatown is a great way to learn more about a culture different from my own. I guess my thoughts on going to Chinatown were not any different than if I had been planning on going to any other new city, town, or place for the first time. I guess being from a small town in Northern New York, any large city or community catches my interest because everything is so different from what I’m used to.

At the writing group I go to on Sundays (Shut Up and Write), I briefly discussed with a few of the regulars the blog post I was writing about Chinatown and how researching the New Year’s festival brought up a bunch of other issues related to cultural identity, cultural appropriation, and racism. How do you combine the history of San Francisco’s Chinatown, its New Year festivities, the fact that Chinatown’s community and people have had to worked hard to promote the community as “exotic” to make US people see them as American citizens, and does me visiting as a tourist or anyone else for that matter, continue the conception that Chinatown is exotic and the underlying history of racism? That’s not an easy combination of ideas to pull together, that’s for sure! It was an interesting conversation to have with other people who helped confirm that there’s a lot going on when acknowledging the history of San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Though it was helpful to talk with some of my co-writers and get their feedback, I’ve realized that there is no easy way to conclude this or even summarize my thoughts. But I guess as someone who likes history and learning about other cultures, all I can do is emphasize how important it is to do research and learn about other cultures, and don’t be surprised when you learn about really crappy things like the Chinese Exclusion Act. Hopefully, learning about those shitty periods in history make you want to be better and more respectful of the hodge-podge of cultures that make up the United States.

How Did My Visit Go:

Did I do the tourist thing in Chinatown? Yes, I think so. At least, I tried to do the things where I got to learn more about Chinese heritage and history. So, things I did included just walking around Chinatown. There’s a lot to see and take in, especially when there’s so many also walking around and enjoying the festivities!

I also went to the Chinese American Historic Society that had some cool events going on to add to Chinatown’s celebrations! I actually didn’t know their schedule but I arrived in time to see the Lion’s Dance!

Chinese Historical Society of America
The building was originally the Chinatown YWCA designed by Julia Morgan.
Lion Dance
The performance started at 11 am and was done by the Kei Lun Martial Arts

Lion Dance

Lion Dance
One of the lions came into performance area by dancing through the audience.

The museum has a number of exhibits related to different aspects of Chinatown’s History. On the lower level are a number of posters related to women’s history in Chinatown. On the main level is a very comprehensive history of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Chinatown. There’s also a lot of personal history and stories documented there.

I also went to the Hang Ah Tea Room for lunch. It’s the oldest dim sum restaurant in San Francisco- again, if there’s historic restaurants to hit up, I’m there! The restaurant is located at 1 Pagoda Place; best way to explain that thought is it’s technically in an alley on the backside of buildings located on the corner of Stockton and Sacramento streets. My best advice is to follow the signage to get to the restaurant, which is going to start at the corner of Stockton and Sacramento and point you down Sacramento Street and then point you again into the alley. Google Maps kind of confused me and I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to go until I saw those signs pointing me in the right direction. Trust me, Google Maps will say you’re there but LOL you’re not. Look for the signs!

The Hang Ah Tea Room

The Hang Ah Tea Room
It is the oldest dim sum restaurant in Chinatown.
The Hang Ah Tea Room
Interior when you first walk in.
Dim Sum: Round 2
These were the xiao long bao, also known as the soup dumplings.
Dim Sum: Round 1
These were the ha gow, which are shrimp dumplings. They were very good.

The place, when you find it, will most likely be packed. Being by myself meant it was easy for the servers to seat me. YEA! To Solo Dining. I had no idea where to start on the menu and when my server showed up less than 5 minutes after sitting down, I just asked her what she would suggest to get. Her choices were great and are what I would suggest to you!

Resources:

General information on the Chinese New Year can be found here: https://chinesenewyear.net/zodiac/ .

Additionally, the following books were not at my local library but I found on Google Books and had a lot of interesting information on Chinese celebrations:

Good Luck Life: The Essential Guide to Chinese American Celebrations and Culture, Rosemary Gong, 2005, Published by HarperCollins.

Mooncakes and Hungry Ghosts: Festivals of China, Carol Stephanchuck and Charles Choy Wong, 1991, Published by China Books and Periodicals, Inc.

Chinatown’s Website that gives a timeline of the community: http://www.sanfranciscochinatown.com/history/index.html

This website also has a lot of information on the history of the Chinese in San Francisco. Scroll about half-way down to the page to the find the section on Chinese topics: http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist1/index0.html

PBS also has a fantastic website with more information about Chinatown: https://www.pbs.org/kqed/chinatown/resourceguide/story.html

This website not only gives a brief history of Chinatown but also highlights some of the really awesome things to do and see while visiting Chinatown:  https://www.inside-guide-to-san-francisco-tourism.com/chinatown-history.html

Some news articles Related to San Francisco’s Chinatown:

“Chinatown’s Grant Avenue: A look back at one of San Francisco’s oldest streets,” Alex Bevk, July 24, 2017, https://sf.curbed.com/2017/7/24/15995166/chinatown-grant-san-francisco-sf-history

“San Francisco Chinatown: A Guide to Its History and Architecture: An Excerpt, Philip P. Choy, December 6, 2017,  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/philip-p-choy/san-francisco-chinatown-_b_1728529.html

The Chinese Historical Society of America: https://chsa.org/exhibits/online-exhibits/ .The website has a lot of information about their current exhibits that include: Chinese American Exclusion/Inclusion and there’s a lot of resources about Chinatown and the Chinese experience.

The books I reference below can be found hopefully at your local library but there are portions that can be previewed at Google Books:

San Francisco Chinatown: A Guide to its History and Architecture: https://books.google.com/books?id=mWAI-F80RW8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=chinatown+san+francisco+history&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwipv9_jx4XiAhWqrFQKHcH7AlkQ6AEIKjAA#v=onepage&q=tourist%20mecca&f=false

Making an American Festival: Chinese New Year in San Francisco’s Chinatown: https://books.google.com/books?id=7RwBDcc4CM8C&printsec=frontcover&dq=chinatown+san+francisco+history&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjskYeozrHgAhU2HDQIHbm4DmcQ6AEIQDAE#v=onepage&q=chinatown%20san%20francisco%20history&f=false

End Notes:

[i] Choy, Philip P., San Francisco Chinatown: A Guide to its History and Architecture, (San Francisco: City Light Books, 2012), 30-31. And information from the San Francisco Chinatown website timeline.

[ii] Choy, 45.

[iii] Yeh, Chiou-ling, Making an American Festival: Chinese New Year in San Francisco’s Chinatown, (Berkeley and Los Angeles:  University of California Press, 2008), 15.

[iv] Yeh, 33.

[v] Yeh, 39.