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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

100 years ago in Spokane: Longtime Chinese businessman feels pull of his homeland

Ah Yen, one of Spokane’s most prominent Chinese residents, announced that he was returning China for a visit. (Spokesman-Review archives)

Ah Yen, one of Spokane’s earliest and most prominent Chinese residents, announced that he was returning to his native town in China – at least for a while.

“After 28 years of absence from my native land, I have grown lonesome to see it again,” he said. “Fortune has been kind to me in the land of my adoption and I intend to return to America, for I know I’d never be contented away from this part of the world, although it has changed a lot since I used to ride over the Northern Pacific in a private car, and occasionally a special train, when the West was new.”

Ah Yen arrived in Spokane in 1878, and he remembered seeing the “first house on Riverside Avenue.” He said in those days Broadway was no more civilized than a cow pasture.

The Chronicle said that Ah Yen “held large contracts with the railways in early days, furnishing Chinese labor, levying a tax of 10 cents a day each on the laborers for the job.” After the railroad construction boom ended, Ah Yen operated several downtown stores specializing “in oriental goods.”

Fortune was not always kind to him in his adopted country. Four years earlier, “a thug entered his store on Division and Riverside, bound and gagged him and his wife, and robbed and rifled the place.” The thief was never apprehended.

From the war beat: Austria’s armies were in full retreat and talk of an armistice was in the air.

However, heavy fighting continued along the German front. General Pershing’s U.S. forces captured 3,000 prisoners near Verdun.