Chinese Bunkhouse 

Preservation Project

The Chinese Bunkhouse Preservation Project was thrilled to be part of the Gathering exhibit in 2019-2021 at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City. We sent materials from our project including this photograph. Several of the team traveled to the opening week.

Our goal is to preserve the Chinese Bunkhouse at Shinn Park so that it may be used to tell the stories of the early Chinese immigrants who helped build our community.

What is a "Bunkhouse" and "China Camp"?

Many people do not know what is a bunkhouse. Today in our suburban towns, there are few who remember when there were vaqueros, cowboys, ranch laborers, nursery workers, salt and sugar workers, and migrants - who lived where they worked. Many of these workers were single men or men whose families lived elsewhere - back east or across the seas. It is part of our past and the history of the growth of California, now forgotten by many.

Many ranches, farms, vineyards, and nurseries in California had a "China Camp" where workers from China lived. The camp contained buildings for sleeping (bunkhouse), cooking (cookhouse), and doing business (often in the bunkhouse), as well as an outhouse. 

Chinese immigrants worked for the Shinn Family and lived at a China Camp located along Alameda Creek. There were two bunkhouse buildings for sleeping, one building for cooking, and an outhouse.  The census records show men who are married and unmarried living in proximity to the Shinn family. Probably the married men had family at home in China. The Shinn workers worked for the Shinn family during the time period that the Shinn family had a nursery in the 1870s and 1880s and when they had a fruit ranch from the 1880s onward. 

A "China Boss" contracted for extra workers during busy periods on the ranch, such as harvest, fruit-drying, and pruning. The workers could also contract for seasonal jobs at adjoining farms, ranches, and nurseries. 

How do we know the history of the bunkhouse?

Only fragments of the history of the Shinn's China Camp exist. There are ledgers from the Shinn family, memories jotted on the back of pictures, prepared remarks, letters from family, census records, aerial photos, and hand-drawn maps. 

We are very lucky to have a first hand account by neighbor, Joshua Fong, who grew up along Alameda Creek as well - further down the creek from the Shinn Ranch, Stevenson Ranch, and the California Nursery. Joshua's family had a farm and also contracted out work for work at the nearby ranch and nursery. 

Who lived in the China Camps?

Later in life, Dr. Joshua Fong wrote about his early years in the Washington Township. He described the China Camps that he knew when he was growing up in the 1930s in the Washington Township.  "Social life on the farm ... [more]

"... involved visits from our distant relatives working for the California Nursery, owned by George C. Roeding,  Jr. or the ranch of Joseph Shinn Sr.  There was a Chinese camp on each of these ranches that had a kitchen building with a large wok on top of a brick stove, bunk rooms with hard bunkbeds, such as those found in China, an outhouse and a small vegetable garden. 

 The Shinn camp, situated on the edge of Niles Lake had a fish trap fashioned out of rice sacks, much like those observed in later life on a trip through China. Among those cousins and uncles I remember were Fong Day Ngin, served as the camp barber in his spare time; Fong Buck Ngee, the camp cook; two Fong Gwei Mao, one being called Big Mao and the other Small Mao; and Lum Wa Sung, who eventually brought his wife over from China and established his own family unit and farm in Niles. The Camp the California Nursery was often our resting point as it was midway on our one-mile trek to school each day. [note it was actually 3 miles!] From the Shinn camp was Fong Hung Bong, who was the labor camp leader because he could drive and speak English. He used to drive his old 1929 Dodge truck the five miles to visit us. Fong Hung Bong was an envied one because he was the only one to own a real automobile. We later inherited that old Dodge, but it was sure hard to drive, because there was no power steering in those days and it burned so much gas. 

Also living in Southern Alameda were several other Chinese families during those years of the 30's. Our nearest Chinese neighbor was the Yan Lira family consisting of six boys and one daughter, Joan. The Fong Wah Yo family lived in eastern Niles, the Low Gum Bong family lived in Newark and Cheng Wah Sung farmed the Patterson Ranch.  From Joshua Fong's memoirs. Dr. Fong was also interviewed about his early days with local historian, Phil Holmes. 


Preserve: To stabilize and preserve the Shinn bunkhouse so that it may be used by park visitors and schools.

Tell stories: Who were the people who worked for the Shinn family and other local ranches, nurseries, stores, and their own farms? Where did they come from? Where did they go? What was life like in the Washington Township?

Document: Why is the bunkhouse significant? Many people have no idea that people came from China to our area as early as 1864. Buildings such as these housed ranch workers and are the physical evidence of their lives here. We continue to collaborate with local museums and descendants to record and present the history of the Chinese people who lived and worked in the Washington Township - for the Shinn family and for other ranches, farms, and nurseries. 

Collaborate: Bring the stories alive - of immigration, struggle, and success - by creating sustainable partnerships with museums, parks, schools, universities, and other agencies. The "Chinese History Project" is a subcommittee of  the Washington Township Museum of Local History. We wish to create partnerships with schools to help support curriculum for local history. We will create exhibits, talks, and events about the Chinese who worked with the Shinn family.

Preserve and Sustain: To plan and fundraise for the preservation of the bunkhouse, its continued use, and future maintenance of the bunkhouse. 

Where is the Chinese Bunkhouse at Shinn Park?

The Chinese Bunkhouse sits between a barn and a packing shed at the back of the Shinn Historical Park & Arboretum in Fremont, California. The Bunkhouse was once part of a complex of buildings along Alameda Creek - for sleeping, eating, and washing - for the Chinese workers at the Shinn ranch. Four studies of these buildings were made between 2003 and 2007 in preparation to tearing them down.  Only the Bunkhouse and an outhouse remain now.  

Read more about the bunkhouse...

 Shinn Park holds many stories of the early history of the Washington Township. The park tells the story of the pioneering Shinn family who came to the area shortly after the Gold Rush and lived here until the 1960's. The family was important in the growth of the early fruit industry as well as child psychology and forest preservation.

Why should the bunkhouse be preserved?

Less obvious are the stories of the many workers who lived here and worked for the Shinn family. Chinese immigrants and other immigrants worked for the Shinn family. With the help of immigrant workers, the Shinn family and Washington Township became an important agricultural area, producer of salt and sugar, and a link in the original transcontinental railroad.

Descendants of these early Chinese pioneer families still live in the area. Some of their stories have been written down and we hope to discover more stories as we progress.

The Bunkhouse, a rare remnant of an earlier time,  is a physical reminder of the Chinese immigrants who worked with the Shinn family. The Bunkhouse and the other Shinn buildings will allow us to explore our shared heritage.

Fong Gan, the cook for the Shinn family with J.C. Shinn, Jr.

Rare Remnant of the Early Chinese in the Washington Township

In the National Register of Historic Places, Asian/Pacific Islander places account for only 0.1% of properties. That's only 94 of 85,000 sites! If we preserve this building, it will help to give a voice to these forgotten people who helped build our community.

Meet the Team

The Project members are sometimes called the "Bunkmates"

We are also members of the Chinese History Project at the Washington Township Museum of Local History.

Our project will support Fremont's General Plan

Policy 4-1.11: Cultural Diversity and Place; Recognize Fremont’s cultural diversity as an asset that may be expressed through its community design and architecture. The City has an opportunity to strengthen its identity by creating new or reinvented places that celebrate the architectural traditions of its diverse population and international community. This diversity is reflected in the built environment in structures such as the Thai Buddhist Temple in Niles, the Masjid Mosque on Old Canyon Road, the Sikh Temple on Gurdwara Road, and the Hindu Temple on Delaware Drive.

How Will We Use the Bunkhouse?

Imagine an outdoor classroom at Shinn Park where students can learn about the shared history of the Shinn family and their Chinese workers and neighbors. Imagine cooking a meal over a wood-fired wok with Chinese vegetables grown in a plot nearby. Imagine pulling a hot apple pie and cookies from the traditional clay oven, the same kind of oven that created after-school treats for the Fong children, walking home, past the China Camps on the Shinn Ranch and the California Nursery. Imagine what it must have been like to live and sleep in a drafty bunkhouse, like this one, talking about your family back home.  Imagine that your wife and children are living in China and you cannot visit them. Imagine 40-50 seasonal laborers, contracted by Fong Sing, ranch foreman, coming to harvest and dry the apricots. Imagine the growth of the Washington Township and our cities from 1853 to 1960, from agricultural to suburban.

This is how we wish for this modest building to be used - to create better understanding of our shared history as a community of immigrants.

Who are we aligned with?

The Chinese Bunkhouse Preservation Project is aligned with the Mission Peak Heritage Foundation. MPHF has been taking care of the "Big House" of the Shinn family for many years. Shinn Park contains several buildings from the Shinn family's ranch: the original small cottage, the "Big House", the bungalow, a packing shed, and the remaining "China Camp" bunkhouse. The MPHF is a non-profit 501C3 organization and the EIN is 94-2846937.

Our sister project is the Chinese History Project

The Chinese History Project is special project of the Washington Township Museum of Local History  The museum preserves the history of Fremont, Union City, and Newark. 

Chinese immigrants came to all of the historic towns in our township. The first project "Chinese Roots: Sketches of Life in the Washington Township" gave the bunkhouse an historical context. 

The bunkhouse was "discovered" by the present group when Janet met James Shinn and Rick Jones at an ice cream social in 2015 or 2016.