Pon Yam House

The Pon Yam House is named for its long-standing inhabitant, Pon Yam. Born in Guangdong Province China, Pon Yam immigrated to the United States in the 1850’s and made his way to Idaho City in the 1860’s where he established himself as a merchant. It’s believed he was a principle in Wong Chong & Co. who purchased this building in 1873 and is known to have taken over the business when Wong Chong & Co. dissolved in 1875. There was a large Chinatown here at the time with the 1870 census reporting 1,751 Chinese residents, over 45% of the total. Pon Yam lived in this building with his family and from here sold herbs, Chinese foods, traditional clothing, liquor, utensils, fireworks, mining equipment, and lottery tickets. He also leased and operated several gold mines in the area. Besides being a successful businessman, he was a respected leader in the community, contributing to the building of the school, hosting celebrations of Chinese holidays, and mediating disputes among the Chinese residents. Pon Yam lived in this building until he returned to China in late 1904. From the available documentation it appears he intended this to be a visit and planned to return to Idaho, but he died in China in June of 1905. He was approximately 69 years old at time of death.

This house was sold and used as a storehouse for the Boise Basin Mercantile and eventually became a private residence. Thanks to generous help from donors and grants the Idaho City Historical Foundation was able to purchase the building and property, the only remaining building from Idaho City’s Chinese population, in 1996 and worked over the next several years to stabilize it. As part of the stabilization the floor was removed (carefully numbered) plank by plank and the ICHF hosted an archaeological dig, inside and outside, in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Idaho. Learn more about the archaeology, Pon Yam, and life in the gold camp of Idaho City by watching Dr Renae Campbell’s presentation to the ICHF membership at the 2023 Annual meeting, From Merchants to Miners.

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