Visiting the Market Street Chinatown and History San Jose

Visiting the site of the Market Street Chinatown.

On February 1st, our class visited San Jose. Our first stop was the Fairmont Hotel downtown. The Market Street Chinatown covered multiple blocks downtown, but the part of the collection we are currently working with in this class came from the block where the Fairmont Hotel stands today. At the site we saw two signs marking the former site of the Market Street Chinatown and the fire that destroyed it. Walking around the hotel, we were excited to see how much of the plan of the Chinatown still exists at the site: several of the surrounding streets retain their original names, and with the help of a nineteenth-century insurance map we were able to begin to envision the layout of the Market Street Chinatown. Our visit also impressed upon us how central the Market Street Chinatown’s location was in nineteenth-century San Jose. This was not a hidden community, but was in the middle of the city.

The reconstructed Ng Shing Gung temple from Heinlenville, located in the History Park.

We next visited History San Jose, where Sarah Pluckitt and Paula Jabloner led us on a tour of the facility. We saw the collections storage units where this collection will ultimately be curated. Once the Market Street Chinatown archaeological collection is fully cataloged, it will join History San Jose’s extensive collections documenting the history of the Santa Clara Valley, and will be available for researchers to study. After touring these facilities, we met Anita Kwock and Lillian Gong-Guy of the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project at the Ng Shing Gung temple museum in the History Park of San Jose. They kindly took the time on the first day of the Chinese New Year to guide us through the exhibits at the museum, and also answered some questions we had about the history of San Jose’s Chinese community. These experiences really helped to bring the collection to life! After experiencing so much hospitality, we are happy to welcome visitors to our open house on February 8th!

Artifact of the Week

Medicinal bottles 85-31/2-34, 85-31/2-33, and 85-31/33-11.

This week our classroom instruction focused on the processing of glass artifacts. The study of glass can often yield a great deal of information about consumption and economic activities. Because it is often broken or discarded after its contents are used, glass is often quite useful in determining the date of an archaeological deposit. Among the glass artifacts from the Market Street Chinatown collection are several medicinal bottles and vials, such as those shown here. The smaller vials are often found associated with overseas Chinese sites, and contained a variety of medicinal compounds. According to its embossed label, the larger bottle in this picture contained medicines from a local San Jose druggist named R. E. Collins. The presence of both types of bottles in this collection are another indication of the way that life in the Market Street Chinatown incorporated both traditional Chinese practices and also practices of the larger San Jose community.

2 thoughts on “Visiting the Market Street Chinatown and History San Jose

  1. The medicinal bottles of the type shown are common artifacts from early Chinatowns. It is important to remember, however, in calling them, correctly, medicinal bottles, that these are bottles for manufactured medicinals, usually imported, and that the contents were most often simple tonics -bu- and rarely the complex compounds of the traditional Chinese herbalists (who would occasionally sell these bottles, to be sure, in addition to their formal prescriptions, but usually did not). Medicinals from these local herbalists are different in that they would usually have been dispensed in paper, or wax, or even leaf wrapped. The recipes were also more complex. It is sometimes difficult, by the way, to distinguish between Chinese and Western medicinal liquids of the period. So anything found is not especially Chinese, as indicated.

  2. Hey I visited the beautiful Ng Shing Gung Temple yesterday! I wish I brought a camera so I can take photos to put into my research paper.

    This is a beautiful site!

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