The Columbia press. (Astoria, Or.) 1949-current, May 22, 2020, Page 5, Image 5

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    May 22, 2020
T he C olumbia P ress
Oregon’s Chinese focus of award-winning heritage project
The Columbia Press
and news services
Emigrants from China were
an essential part of rail ex-
pansion and other large pub-
lic works projects in the Unit-
ed States during the 1800s.
The role of Chinese Orego-
nians in the state’s history is
at the forefront of an archae-
ology project underway in the
Cascade Siskiyou National
Buck Rock Tunnel, high in
the mountains on Bureau of
Land Management land, is
being excavated by students
from Southern Oregon Uni-
versity under the supervision
of BLM Archaeologist Lisa
Rice has worked for years to
increase public access to the
rail tunnel – a project aban-
doned before completion – as
well as awareness of the Chi-
nese laborers who built it.
Rice, in partnership with
Chelsea Rose of SOU, has
hosted summer field schools
for archaeology students. The
immersive programs provide
field experience excavating
and preserving the tunnel
and associated history. The
site features a trailhead and
kiosk with plans for interpre-
tive signs that help connect
visitors with the past.
The tunnel is one of several
parts of the Oregon Chinese
Diaspora Project. In April,
the project was recognized
with a 2020 Oregon Heritage
Excellence Award. Renova-
tion of the Astoria YMCA, un-
related to the diaspora proj-
ect, also earned an award last
Contracted Chinese labor-
ers began excavation of the
Buck Rock Tunnel in August
Anti-Chinese sentiment be-
gan to grow and the federal
Chinese Exclusion Act be-
came law, restricting Chinese
laborers from entering the
to the past.
Building upon work by
BLM and university archae-
ologists, last summer’s field
schools have uncovered clues
about the Chinese laborers
who built the tunnel, the era
they lived in, and their links
Above: A student holds
an old whiskey bottle
found last year.
Top right: How Black
Rock Tunnel looks today.
Right: Chinese laborers
working on the O&C line
in 1880.
United States.
Work on Buck Rock ended
in February 1884 when the
Oregon & California Railroad
Company exhausted its cap-
The rail line ultimately was
finished with much fanfare in
December 1887, but along a
different route.
Long since abandoned, the
1,750-foot Buck Rock Tunnel
was rediscovered in 1966 by
Mark Lawrence, a BLM for-
ester. In 2014, the federal
government purchased the
surrounding land and added
it to the BLM-administered
Cascade-Siskiyou National
After acquiring the prop-
erty, BLM began studying
the tunnel and quickly rec-
ognized its historical impor-
Today, 135 years after con-
struction ceased, Buck Rock
Tunnel functions as a portal
t o leArn More
More photos and the story
of the Buck Rock Tunnel can
be found at
to other sites within the Chi-
nese diaspora in Oregon.
Informational signs and a
gravel parking lot now wel-
come visitors at the trailhead
for the 4.5-mile trek to the
From the parking lot, a steep
climb along a logging road
through a canopy of oaks –
and, as the elevation increases,
conifers – offers cross-canyon
glimpses of the I-5 corridor
and the rail line on the course
it ultimately took.