Chinese American Heritage in Hailey

P R O S P E R I T Y     M O U N T A I N

Join us for the unveiling of a new sculpture commemorating the heritage of local Chinese immigrants. The unveiling ceremony will take place on the corner of Main St & Walnut (near Hailey Coffee Company) on Wednesday, October 25th at 4:15PM. The sculpture was commissioned by the Hailey Arts and Historic Preservation Commission and created by local artist Gemma Valdez Daggatt.

Some of the Chinese adoptees who arrived in the Wood River Valley between 2002-2007. Photos courtesy of private collections. Photos Courtesy of Private Collections.

“When I was a baby, I was abandoned. Someone found and delivered me to the Chaohu Children's Welfare Institute in Chaohu, China. My mom adopted me at 18 months, and I started my life with her in Idaho. Since then, I've lived in a small town, Ketchum, and never looked back on my brief, forgotten life in China. However, my mom gave me the chance to visit my old orphanage at age 14…I love to travel and was eager to visit China.

Coming into the trip, I was picturing a full and lively orphanage…My original orphanage was torn down and replaced. When I arrived at a ghostly building, it was quiet, with no children in sight… There were only around ten orphans and each one had a disability. These kids are called "waiting children," and will most likely never be adopted. This simply broke my heart.

…I have an incredible life with a home, friends, family, and opportunities. I take too much for granted in my life, like snowboarding in the winter… school with passionate teachers and engaged students, and having easy access to clean water and air. The children in that orphanage will most likely live there permanently and never get to experience what others like me have. Remembering this stops me from getting self-involved with my first-world problems and keeps me grateful for what I have.

While this trip left me with a complicated mix of emotions, it continues to fuel me with determination to educate, advocate, and help solve the many issues concerning the lack of care and empathy humans have toward each other…makes me grateful for everything, inspires me to give back to those less fortunate than me, and fills me with urgency to change the world.”

- Etienne Blumberg, Wood River Valley, 2022


Starting in the late 1840's, thousands of Chinese men, desperate to escape war and famine in Guangdong, came to America. When they didn’t find the legendary Gam Saan “Gold Mountain” in California, they migrated further inland in search of prosperity.

The 1870 Idaho Census lists almost 30% of the state population as Chinese. By 1885, there were approximately 150 Chinese households in Hailey. The 1888 Sanborn Insurance map shows Chinatown along River Street and further west between Bullion and Carbonate. Chinese-owned businesses extended onto Main Street and southeast. The area west of River Street, south of Walnut, was nicknamed China Gardens for the truck gardens along the Big Wood River.

Most had been farmers back in China. Here, they labored for the Oregon Short Line Railroad, or at the Bullion, Red Elephant, Carrie Creek & Triumph mines. They delivered vegetables, or picked up laundry, from homes by wagon in summer and dog sled in winter. They worked as live-in domestic servants and woodcutters. Over time, they opened restaurants, opium dens, and gambling halls. Hop Chung, a prosperous laundryman, founded the Hailey Chinese Masonic temple with 75 members.

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Hailey Anti- Chinese League convened in 1886; two laundries were heavily damaged in explosions. Later that same year, the community boycotted the local paper for expressing anti-Chinese sentiments. However, that did not slow the departure of many.

Ads in local newspapers show that some Chinese remained long into the 20th century. The Star Cafe, located on Main Street near Bullion, opened in 1895. The Hailey Times billed its sale in 1956 as the “last of the Chinese” businesses.

Immigrants from many countries including China continue to join our community, all in pursuit of their versions the American Dream. From Chinese restaurateurs, artists and college students in the 1970’s to 2000’s, to the more recent group of adoptees who arrived between 2002 to 2007.

Wah Kee Lea and Tom Boo photos courtesy of The Community Library

Star Cafe photo, matchbook cover and menu courtesy of the Blaine County Historical Museum

Newspaper Articles Courtesy of Chronicling America and

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At the NW Corner of Walnut at Main Street in Hailey, “Prosperity Mountain” is welded from mostly salvaged material, including vintage grizzly mesh used in the Wood River mining industry. Both the top “Lu” round shape signifying wealth & prosperity, and the lower mountain outline are derived from traditional, ancient Chinese symbols that predate the characters of the more modern Chinese alphabet.


Gemma Valdez Daggatt is a Community Builder and Designer. She is a multi-media creator, and retired commercial construction project manager (specializing in historical renovation). As an Asian American, she has focused on empowering under-represented populations as payback for the American Dream she has been able to live on the back of hardworking immigrant ancestors. Her earlier career as a set and costume designer for theatre and film prepared her for dumpster diving for scrap material for this project!

Thank You to the Hailey Arts & Historic Preservation Commission; all the incredible Wood River Valley Museums, Regional History Archives and Libraries and their passionate employees and volunteers; the welding community for donated materials, labor & invaluable advice: Burke Brothers Bronze, Wiederrick’s Custom Metalworks, D. Swaner Welding, T. Streib, Red Star Ironworks, Mr. Z; Paul Bates; Tom Teitge; 史国勤 & 史佳文 for their invaluable research in China and the U. S.; and many local families willing to share their photos & stories. Prosperity Mountain” is part of an artist series “We are All Immigrants."

– G. Daggatt, 2023

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