Salem Pioneer Cemetery Chinese Shrine Project

​Did you know that Salem had a Chinatown? In the mid- to late- 1800’s, Chinese immigrants came to the Willamette Valley. Records show they had businesses, homes, and a school. By 1903, Salem’s Chinatown was a half block of rundown buildings and the Salem City Council ordered the entire area burned to the ground.

A Chinese Shrine in Salem Pioneer Cemetery may be the last remnant of Chinese American’s presence in Salem. Identifying and interpreting this historic place is an important part of preserving Salem’s history.

​Project updates

December 2017—The Salem Pioneer Chinese Shrine Advisory Committee met on November 29 and made the following decisions:

  • Additional excavation will be done at the Pioneer Cemetery site to try to determine if there is something under the concrete pad such as an earlier shrine.
  • The project team will collaborate with the Chinese Benevolent Association and a local Buddist organization to identify what religion is associated with the Shrine. This will help the project team coordinate a blessing of this sacred place in the spring of 2018.
  • The project team will work with Willamette University to contact an expert in Feng Shui to understand why the shrine is oriented to the southwest.
  • The committee will work with experts associated with the Chinese Benevolent Association to translate the characters on the marble tablet. Early work on the translation indicates that the characters are of Toisan dialect and the shrine was to honor a group of burials, not a specific individual. 

The committee will meet next at 4 p.m., January 31, 2018 at the Willamette Heritage Center, 2nd floor of the Mill Building, 1313 Mill Street SE.

November 2017​—Education is a key component of historical preservation. The project was introduced at the November 7, 2017 meeting of the Mayor’s International Council. The following day, a public open house was held at the site of the shrine.

​Project goals

As a Certified Local Government (CLG), Salem has access to grant money to fund research and preservation activities.

Project team

The project team includes representatives from Willamette University, the Chinese Benevolent Association, the Friends of the Salem Pioneer Cemetery, and other interested parties.

  • Other project contacts include:
    Project Manager: Kimberli Fitzgerald, City of Salem Historic Preservation Officer
  • Project Archaeological Permit Holder: Jamie French, Oregon SHPO Archaeologist
  • Project GPR and Student Archaeologist Field Manager: Dr. Scott Pike, Willamette University
  • Research Assistant: Kirsten Straus, City of Salem Historic Planning Intern
  • Project Staff Assistant: Sally Long, City of Salem Planning Division


Chinese Americans along with African Americans and Native Americans are considered underrepresented communities. One of the priorities identified by the National Historic Preservation Act is to identify and interpret historic places associated with these communities.


  • 1841​—Earliest burial in Salem Pioneer Cemetery
  • 1903​—Salem Chinatown burned to ground
  • 1952​—Capital Journal news article references a Chinese altar
  • 1963​—A Statesman-Journal article links the shrine to a 1916 flu epidemic
  • 1985​—City of Salem took ownership of the cemetery
  • 2013​—Salem Pioneer Cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places by Elisabeth Potter

Contact us

Kimberli FitzgeraldHistoric Preservation Officer
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