Historic Chinese sign found in NC | TheUnion.com
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Historic Chinese sign found in NC

Eileen JoyceWallace Hagaman (right) explains an old Chinese sign to Dan Carli (left) at Pine Street Market in Nevada City Thursday. Carli found the sign when he renovated a shed on his property.
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A rare historical artifact turned up in Nevada City this week – one of the few remnants of the town’s Chinese heritage.

The 7-foot-long wooden sign from a Chinese fraternal organization is only the second artifact to turn up from Nevada City’s Chinese quarter, said Wallace Hagaman, a local expert on Gold Country Chinese culture.

“It’s a significant find in that we don’t have any relics from that time,” said Hagaman. “A lot of things that were wood were burned, recycled or just disappeared.”



The sign once hung above an association house – a sort of Elks lodge for Chinese men in the 19th century. Its characters spell out the words “Sum Yee Kum Saw,” which have not been translated into English yet, said Hagaman.

Although the Nevada City Chinese community centered around Commercial Street grew to as many as 600 people in 1880, most of their cultural artifacts have disappeared, said Hagaman.




Hagaman is volunteer curator of the Chinese section of the Nevada County Historical Society’s Firehouse Museum at 214 Main St., and a participant in restoration projects.

The sign will be donated to the museum, along with a temple seal that turned up a few years ago during a Nevada County Historical Society talk.

A woman surprised Hagaman when she pulled a temple seal from her purse.

Hagaman said it was impossible to put a value on the sign, which could date back to sometime between 1880 and 1900.

The board was uncovered by Dan Carli when he and his brother, Dave, were fixing a garage at their home on the 400 block of Zion Street more than two years ago. They tore out the sign, which was used as a step from a shed to the garage, and Dan Carli noticed the Chinese lettering.

He brought it to the Chinese owner of a gift shop, who was not interested in it. But Carli thought enough of the sign to keep it in his basement until a few days ago, when he was talking to local historian David Comstock and mentioned the sign. Carli then had Hagaman over to take a look at it.

“It’s actually quite beautiful,” Carli said.

Anyone with old local Chinese artifacts, photos or information they would like to pass along to Wallace Hagaman can call 265-3937.


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