Olympia's Chinese Community

In 2004, a marker commemorating Olympia's earliest Chinatown and the Olympia Chinese Community was dedicated on grounds owned by the City of Olympia adjacent to the Heritage Park Fountain in downtown Olympia.

Following is the information displayed on the marker:

Olympia's Chinatown

Soon after the first Americans settled Olympia in the mid-1840s, Chinese immigrants arrived in the city. Many found work as contract laborers. They built bridges, pulled stumps and graded streets in downtown. Others worked in lumber camps and harvested shellfish. Many Chinese became cooks, house servants, operated hand laundries, or cultivated vegetables and delivered them door to door.

Early on, Olympia emerged as a "Locke Town." Olympia's Chinese residents were predominantly from the Lok family villages near the town of Seulbo in Toisan County of Guangdong Province in southern China. Most of these sojourners were male and they relied on family surname associations to provide lodging, meals and social life.

Olympia's earliest China town was on 4th Avenue between Columbia and Main (Capitol Way) where several buildings housed a hand laundry, stores and lodging for residents.

The Chinese Stay in Olympia

Jobs grew scarce during the 1880s economic downturn and spurred anti-Chinese sentiment. Federal Chinese exclusion laws, passed in 1882, curbed immigration but violence flared in 1885 and 1886 in Tacoma and Seattle, where Chinese were focibly ousted. In February, 1886, agitators tried to drive out Olympia's Chinse population. While many favored expulsion of the Chinese, then-Sheriff Williams Billings joined with other residents to uphold order. Despite harassment, the Chinese stayed in Olympia and were joined by refugees from other cities.

In the 1880s the Hong Yek Kee Company, Quong Yeun Sang Company and the Hong Hai Company relocated to the waterfront at the corner of 5th Avenue and Columbia Street. Still later, five buildings were moved to the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and Water Street, which was the third and final location of Olympia's Chinatown.

Due to restrictive immigration laws, by the 1920s there were few new arrivals to replace the aging population. Many Chinese moved to larger cities or relocated to their families in China. By the early 1940s, Chinatown buildings were vacant. They were razed in 1943, the same year exclusion laws were repealed.

Although there is no Chinatown in Olympia today, many descendants or the original Chinese pioneers still make their homes in the region. In 1996, Gary Locke, grandson of Suey Gum Locke, who came to Olympia in 1890 as a teenager and worked as a servant, was elected Governor of the State of Washington. He was the first Chinese American elected Governor in the United States.