Weaverville Joss House
State Historic Park
The mission of California State Parks is
to provide for the health, inspiration and
education of the people of California by helping
to preserve the state’s extraordinary biological
diversity, protecting its most valued natural and
cultural resources, and creating opportunities
for high-quality outdoor recreation.
The characters above
the Weaverville Joss
House entry read,
“Temple of the Forest
Beneath the Clouds.”
California State Parks supports equal access.
Prior to arrival, visitors with disabilities who
need assistance should contact the park at
(530) 623-5284. If you need this publication in an
alternate format, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
CALIFORNIA STATE PARKS
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296-0001
For information call: (800) 777-0369
(916) 653-6995, outside the U.S.
711, TTY relay service
Weaverville Joss House
State Historic Park
630 Main Street • P.O. Box 1217
Weaverville, CA 96093
© 2007 California State Parks (Rev. 2015)
I n the small, historic mining community
of Weaverville, the Weaverville Joss House is
a vivid reminder of the Chinese contribution
to this part of California. Above the front door,
Chinese characters in luminous gold translate
to read, “The Temple of the Forest Beneath
the Clouds.” Located about 50 miles west of
Redding on Highway 299, the Weaverville Joss
House is the oldest continuously used Chinese
temple in California.
The area usually has sunny and crisp autumn
weather. Rain and even snow fall frequently
during most winters. From November through
March, low temperatures range from 30 to 40
degrees, with highs of 40 to 60 degrees. Spring
weather varies, but pleasant days are the rule,
while summers are often hot and dry.
A Taoist ceremony presented by the Ching Chung
Taoist Association of America
Weaverville’s First People
The Wintu people have lived in the Weaverville
area for about 4,000 years. Closely related to the
Nomlaki and Patwin to the south, the Chimariko
to the west, and the Hupa to the northwest,
the Wintu people traditionally lived along the
Trinity River. Here they found everything they
needed to thrive. Seasonally, they hunted deer,
elk, and small game, fished for salmon and
steelhead, and harvested berries, seeds, and
other plants. The Wintu were known for basketry
that was both beautiful and useful; they traded
with various native groups living in coastal and
valley areas of California.
The Wintu way of life was forever changed
with the incursion of trappers and settlers ready
to exploit this resource-rich area. By the early
1800s, nearly three-quarters of the Wintu
people had succumbed to diseases to
which they had no immunity.
The 1848 California gold rush brought
even greater changes for the native people,
most notably the loss of their traditional
lands and culture. Today their descendants
are reviving the old native languages, crafts,
The Chinese Come to California
News of the 1848 gold discovery in
California stirred China as it did the rest
of the world. For some time, southern
China had been experiencing economic
hardships, and emigration to the California
gold fields seemed a solution. Thousands
came, hoping to find gold and return to
China as men of wealth. Chinese immigrants,
mostly from the province of Guangdong,
established claims in Trinity County. Despite
the high ($4 monthly) tax on foreign miners,
most hardworking Chinese were able to
send their earnings back to their families in
China. Unfortunately, not all Chinese miners
flourished in the gold fields. This remote,
unforgiving environment brought many
others to early and often unmarked graves.
A number of Chinese immigrants did
not go to the gold fields. Some became
entrepreneurs, opening grocery stores,
doctors’ offices, barbershops, bakeries,
and restaurants in Weaverville. Before long,
Weaverville had an opera house and a
puppet theater to accommodate traveling
troupes of Chinese entertainers.
Chinese War of 1854
Because of their history of clan associations,
the Chinese banded together in groups
according to the area in China they had
come from. In Weaverville, four separate
companies — the Yong-Wa, Se-Yep, NengYong, and Sam-Yep — were formed. In June
1854, one group was accused of cheating the
others in the Weaverville Chinese gambling
hall. Animosity grew until a battle was called
to settle the dispute. Carrying weapons
crafted by local blacksmiths, the two groups
met on the battlefield. The Chinese War of
1854 saw the smaller group defeat the
larger one, with eight men dead and another
Temple of the Forest Beneath
The term “joss” is believed to be a corruption
of the Portuguese word “Deus,” meaning God.
Thus, a temple where Chinese gods were kept
and worshipped was called a joss house. About
1853, the Chinese residents of Weaverville
erected a small Taoist joss house that they
named Won Lim Miao (Won Lim Temple).
Taoism, which subscribes to the teachings of
Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu from around the third
century B.C., aims at serenity through harmony
with nature. Each individual is expected to
eliminate ambition and attain purity and
simplicity. This belief is also influenced by
Buddhism, Confucianism, and the veneration of
Chinese heroes and sages.
The first temple building, with most of its
furnishings, was consumed by fire in
1861. Local Chinese residents then
contributed generously to build a
new temple. However, an
1873 fire also swept
through Weaverville, completely destroying the
In February 1874, the residents began
construction of the present building in the
Chinese section of Weaverville; however, the
Chinese population in Trinity County had
dwindled to fewer than 2,000 people by 1880.
Gold had become harder to find, and many had
left to work on the railroad. By 1931, only 16
Chinese resided in the town.
Over years, many furnishings from the
third Joss House were stolen. Local resident
Moon Lim Lee was appointed its trustee in
acknowledgement of the temple’s historical
significance. For nearly 20 years, Mr. Lee
tirelessly promoted the temple as a statewide
treasure to be preserved for all Californians
to appreciate. Mr. Lee finally saw his dream
fulfilled when the Joss House became a
part of the California State
Parks system in 1956.
Lion Dance Every February during Chinese New Year and every Fourth of July weekend, the Weaverville
Joss House Association holds a Lion Dance celebration that draws hundreds of visitors to the park.
Offerings from worshippers
The Joss House is a remarkable structure;
except for the installation of protective
railings and electricity, its interior has not
been changed since 1874. Its historical
significance lies in the fact that very few such
temples still survive.
The ornate wooden gate to the porch
and the fanciful gables and cornices on the
building reflect the Chinese presence. The
front of the building is painted bright blue
to replicate the color of the sky, a symbol of
heaven to the Chinese. White lines resemble
the tile work of similar temples in China. On
the temple roof sit two Chow Win Dragon
Fish, thought to keep wooden structures
safe from fire. Just beyond the very high
thresholds of the entrance doors stand two
more wooden doors — “spirit screens” — to
keep out evil spirits. According to traditional
Chinese belief, such spirits are unable to
travel over barriers or around corners.
Inside, three ornately carved wooden
spirit houses contain clay statues of male
and female deities. An altar table holds candles,
incense sticks, oracle fortune sticks, wine cups,
and pictures of immortals painted on glass. A
small wooden table holding food offerings sits
in front of the altar, and a stone urn under the
table offers beverages, including sweet plum
wine. Along the side walls, processional banners,
drums, gongs, and association flags
used in the Chinese New Year parades
A conference room, living quarters for
the temple attendant, and a boarding room
with bunk beds for Chinese travelers are
separately attached to the temple building.
Hundreds of faded orange papers with the
names of contributors and the amounts of their
contributions for temple upkeep hang on the
Helena Weaverville Joss House SHP
State Historic Park
This park is supported in part through a
nonprofit organization. For information,
contact Weaverville Joss House Association
P.O. Box 2608 • Weaverville, CA 96093-2608
Parking, the temple, and the museum are
accessible, but the restrooms are not.
Accessibility is continually improving. For
updates, visit http://access.parks.ca.gov.
Weaverville Joss House
• For current park days and hours of
operation, call the park at (530) 623-5284.
• Temple tours leave on the hour from
10 a.m. until 4 p.m. A nominal fee applies.
• State law prohibits removal of any natural,
cultural, or historical feature.
• Only service dogs are permitted in the
buildings. Pets must be on a six-foot
maximum leash while on the grounds.
walls of the conference room. Worshippers visit
to pray and to place incense, candles, food,
and paper money before the spirit houses and
altars. Any worshipper overheard asking for
such a thing as revenge on an enemy could be
fined by the temple’s attendant.
An interpretive museum tells the story of
the Chinese Americans in California; displays
feature such items as the handmade weapons
from the Chinese War of 1854 and equipment
used by Chinese miners.
© 2011 California State Parks (Rev. 2015)