About the Joss House

So, who was "Joss," anyway?

The term "Joss House" makes it sound like this building was built by, or for, someone named "Joss." In fact, there are many Joss Houses in California, and all share their name from the same linguistic misunderstanding.

Portuguese people living in California saw that the Chinese community centers were also places of worship, and called them "deus" houses, from the Portuguese word for God (it's also similar to the Spanish word dios). English speakers heard the Portuguese speakers using term the term "deus house" to refer to these buildings, and began to pronounce it "joss." Eventually it was written down often enough that the term "Joss House" has survived and is now the regular term used for these historical buildings, which served as community centers, houses of worship, schools, hostels, and more.

The Old Town Auburn Joss House

 The current Joss House was built in 1920 by Charlie Yue to replace the original building, which was destroyed by fire in the late 1800's. Auburn had become a bustling town since the Gold Rush, and many Chinese immigrants flocked here and built a rich community.

The Joss House was built to educate children, provide a place of worship for those who practiced Buddhism and Confucianism, and even serve as a hostel for travelers who were new to town and needed a place to stay temporarily, or for those who were passing through town on a longer journey. There is a large kitchen, much larger than you'd find in any person's home (especially for the era when the Joss House was built), indicating the house regularly hosted community meals. There are several rooms on the main floor that were rented out to new arrivals, visitors, or other travelers. Guests would stay in the rooms for anywhere from a few days to a few months. 

Today, the Joss House remains as a historic monument to preserve the past for the future, protect the legacy of the ancestors, and inform and educate visitors about the many contributions the Chinese made, and how their customs and cultures helped shape this country. We hope you will come by and see us soon.

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