On February 9, 2008 a group of people gathered to fill the Carriage House at the Folger Estate Stable in Wunderlich Park, Woodside, California. They were there for the dedication of a plaque honoring the Chinese builders of walls that were built on the property in the 1870s.
Susan Lang, Co-Chair of the Folger Estate Stable Committee, was one of the featured speakers. Ms. Lang's speech gave the audience some background on the events that lead to this day's dedication. Here is a summary of her speech.
Susan Lang along with other member from the community formed the Folger Estate Stable Committee, which was an affiliate of the non-profit organization called the Friends of Huddart and Wunderlich Parks. Their mission at first was to renovate the Folger Estate Stable. They eventually expanded their renovation and preservation efforts to include all the surrounding buildings and element of the site which included the Chinese walls. Their mission has grown further to include creating programming that educates children and adults about the history and legacy of the site.
The walls and other elements of the site are listed on the national registry of historic places. How the site got this designation began as an effort to raise money for their renovation mission. After an aborted attempts at writing the application they eventually hired an architectural historian to do the writing. He recommended that the whole site be registered under a historic district designation. His findings helped enlightened the Friends of Wunderlich Park about the walls' historic significance.
The application was accepted in 2004 and the site is now officially named the Folger Estate Historic District. The historic designation protects all the elements of this district, including the walls, from removal and alteration.
They have brochures that provided a self-guided walking tour of the site.
Throughout the whole process of the project, Susan Lang and her organization knew that they wanted to introduce the Chinese community to the treasures of this site and most especial to the wall. They eventually made contact with prominent Chinese members of the community including Rosalyn Koo, Wade Loo, and historian Connie Young Yu. Connie Yu helped research the history of the site and worked to educate everyone about her findings.
After an entertaining performance by musician, storyteller, and author Charlie Chin, historian Connie Young Yu spoke to the audience about her research on the wall. Here is a summary of her speech.
Simon L. Jones was the original property owner who hired the Chinese workers that build the wall. Simon Jones was in the import export trade and had a Chinese partner named Fung Tang. Amazingly, more may be known about Fung Tang than Jones. Connie Yu commented about how she was able to get information on Fung Tang by just Googling him on the Internet, whereas she was unable to even find a picture of Jones.
Jones was born in 1813 in Cowbridge, Wales England and immigrated to Texas as a teenager. During his time in Texas, he was a Texas Ranger, a cattleman, a businessman, a politician, and eventually married the daughter of the governor of Louisiana. In 1852, a friend of his encourages Jones to move to California. At the time, Jones was in his 30s and was relatively old compared to the other fortune seekers that headed to California.
Jones started an auction house that sold tea and other commodities. There he met and eventually partnered with a young Chinese merchant named Fung Tang who established the Hong Kong branch of the S. L. Jones Co. Such relationships were atypical for this time period, because there was a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment during the post-Civil War era.
In 1872 Jones purchase 1500 acres of timberland in Woodside. In order to develop this large property, he needed lots of labor, so he asked his partner Fung Tang to help him find contract Chinese laborers.
Contrary to common perception, during the early days, there were lots of Chinese people living in Woodside. Many of Woodside's early residents were often wealthy San Franciscans that moved out of the city to live on big estates. Each of these large estates required a lot of labor to maintain them. The Chinese made up a great deal of this labor force.
With the help of the Chinese laborers Jones was able to clear his land for roads, cattle grazing, raising horses, and growing grapes and fruit trees.
The S. L. Jones Company became a big exported of dried fruits to China. One of the common items that Chinese travelers took with them on their journey back to China was raisins.
Chinese railroad workers built some spectacular walls in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Connie Yu speculated that some of those wall-building skills were utilized to build the walls in Woodside.
Next up was Daniel Quan - the designer of the plaque. Daniel Quan is an architect and historian. Here are Daniel Quan's own notes for his speech.
The overarching theme, around which these Chinese walls, and many other similar achievements, are focused, is the theme of "great accomplishments put forth by everyday people." It is not just about these stone walls, but about the great body of work that was collectively done by the many immigrant laborers who came to America. These laborers contributing to the building of this country and helped form the backbone of California's economy through their efforts. Many brought skills and ideas from their homeland and adapted them for use in this country.
We can see evidence of stone wall construction by Chinese laborers in retaining walls in the Sierra along railroad right of ways, We can even find them in Hawaii in agricultural terraces where stone lined irrigation canals exist that were built by Chinese laborers. In the 1800s, Chinese ingenuity and inventiveness were used in the salt ponds around San Francisco Bay to move water. The same was true in mining. At the same time, the majority of farm labor in California was Chinese. Experimentation with new species of fruits and vegetables, irrigation systems and the development of the flower industry were all connected to Chinese efforts. Even road building was an industry once employing Chinese labor.
This event celebrates these collective accomplishments and honors all the unsung heroes that labored tirelessly to enrich our lives today.
Daniel Quan mentioned that he is collaborating with Connie Young Yu on other Chinese American related historical projects and that they hope to write a book about it some day.
Here are my follow-up questions answered by Connie Young Yu.
Do you have any specifics about the dimensions of the walls - highest point, number of stones, approx. weight of one of the stones, length of the longest section, etc.?
The most striking looking wall, draped in fern in the Spring, is behind the stable, the highest point being nearly 10'.
There are other pathways and walls in the park and estate area that are part of this network built by Chinese. I do not have specifics on length, height etc. There is a long stretch of wall, shorter than the one behind the stable, that leads to the mansion (that was Folger's, then Bushnell's, and now another owner who lives in Texas) and it is off-limits (private property).
Do you have any idea about where the stones were quarried from? How far did they have to move the stones? Was the material used all sandstone? Do you have any ideas about the tools that were used to build the walls?
The material is sandstone, locally quarried. Note the boulder to which the plaque is affixed, it is from Huddart Park, a couple miles down the road. No other material is used. No mortar, which is what makes the wall so special.
Pickaxes, shovels were the tools for fitting the stones.
Any idea about how long it took them to build the walls?
I have no idea how long it took to build the walls -- work on the property began when Jones bought it in 1872. (walls may have been constructed over a period of years.) It took a while for all the timber to be cleared. Grapevines take 3 years to bear fruit. So it may not be accurate to say the walls were built in 1872 -- work might have began then.
Are there any bookkeeping records, like how much each worker was paid and how many people were hired on? Did the builders leave any artifacts, maybe some graffiti?
No bookkeeping records at all. No artifacts. No archeology has been done on the site.
What other information do you have on Fung Tang?
The information on Fung Tang came from one brief page in "A History of the Sam Yup Benevolent Association in the United States." He came with his uncle from China. His uncle started a general merchandising store (with partner from Kowkong) called Tuck Chong Co. at 739 Sacramento St. Very brief background.
But I Googled Fung Tang and got the excellent photograph dated 1870, which is amazing. It is at the California Historical Society. Jones was very prominent in San Francisco commerce, but I have spent countless hours seeking his photo in vain. I found his obit in the SF Main Library and his biography in Bay of San Francisco, published in 1892. Newspapers (Chinese papers, too) carried ads for S.L.Jones Co.
How far along is your book project with Daniel Quan? Will it be coming out this year?
Daniel may have indicated to you that we're just at the beginning stages of our project on Chinese laborers, still researching, with many areas to investigate. We have no projections on completion date. (We're also working on other history projects.)
Is there anything that still needs to be done to help restore, preserve, and maintain the wall? Are funds still needed and if so where should people donate the money to?
Our "Friends of the Walls" project is completed. The historic marker to Chinese workers is in Woodside permanently. An awareness of the contributions of Chinese to the development of the area-- has been made that did not exist before. As Susan Lang said, the Walls have endured better than the stable. They do not need to be restored or improved upon, but left the way they are for all to appreciate. The finishing touch is the plaque.
Could you tell me when CHSA got involved with the wall? Is the Friends of the Walls a separate organization?
"Friends of the Walls" are the supporters /donors to this, an informal title, and CHSA is our (non-profit) sponsor.
"The Chinese Walls" project started when Susan Lang contacted the Chinese Historical Society of America about the Walls in the fall of 2006, asking for interpretation, since the Stable & surrounding area is listed on the National Registry of Historic Sites. As a board member of CHSA and historian, I volunteered to take on the task. I also live in nearby Los Altos Hills.
I first saw the walls in Oct. of 2006, at a meeting with Susan Lang, who also contacted San Mateo residents and OCA members, Rosalyn Koo & Wade Loo. In Jan. of 2007 I called Sue Lee, Executive Director of CHSA and Anna Naruta, an archeologist with CHSA and Daniel Quan, designer, to come look at the Walls. (also David Crosson, exec. director of CHS)
All were impressed. I was very excited to learn of the partnership of Jones and the Chinese merchant, Fung Tang and making the connection with the walls. The Folger Committee co-chairs Jill Daly & Susan Lang were most encouraging about making the history public. They pointed out the Folger Stable plaque and suggested that there be a plaque to the Chinese Walls history also, and that I get a group going to make it happen. The "Friends of the Walls" was informally formed by myself, Daniel Quan, Roz Koo, and Cynthia Wu Wilcox. CHSA was the sponsoring group and helped to promote the project.
Our fund-raiser was "Celebrating the Walls" supper and history program on 9/30/07. Daniel produced a design for the plaque -- everyone had an idea of the purpose. Donations & support came from local residents, the Folger Stable Committee, CHSA board, "friends" who love history. An exciting event held right at the stable with the CHSA exhibit "Remembering 1882" created an awareness of Chinese American history.
That was also the spirit of the Dedication event, the first weekend of the Lunar New Year. Many of those who were present on 2/9/08 were contributors from the start, and it was significant that many people -- not just one big donor -- gave towards the marker and historical recognition of Chinese workers.
Walls built by Chinese used to be visible in the gold country and many agricultural areas, but most are gone now. Here in San Mateo Country, "Chinese Walls" are standing for all to see.
The Folger Stable Project continues, and the Stable will soon be restored to its former glory, and the surrounding Walls, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, will remain protected and standing proud.
What are some of the things that CHSA is doing related to the wall? Will there be other events, maybe an exhibit at your museum for the people that can't get down to Woodside?
Sue Lee announced in her talk that there is a newly opened exhibit "The Chinese of California" co-sponsored by CHSA at the California Historical Society on Mission St. (in San Francisco) that gives an excellent & extensive historical background.
The walls are not featured in the exhibit, but the viewer can put the life of the 19th century worker into context of the Exclusion Law and struggle to survive in California. People can support continuing work on this history by joining the Chinese Historical Society of America.