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BY MIKE AVITT
I had another article planned, but I was inspired by a man asking about the Chinese laundry in Creston. I realized I had a photo and the information, so, let’s look at Mount Ayr’s only Chinese laundry.
In July 1914, cousins Charley and Ben Chung (sometimes spelled Chong) came to Mt. Ayr looking to open a laundry business. They were assisted by Fred Luce and Bert Huff. A location was secured in a building owned by Lee Timby at about 112 N. Taylor Street. In August 1914, Ben and Fong Youe were installing equipment in their newly acquired building.
At this time, Charley was operating the Chinese laundry in Creston. Ben seemed to be working for his cousin and it was presumed Ben’s son, George would be associated with his father in the laundry business at Mt. Ayr. But then I read George was enrolled in school at Creston. At any rate, Ben moved to Mount Ayr and stayed one and a half years.
Another article tells how Ben came to Iowa. He was working at a Chinese newspaper in San Francisco when the earthquake of 1906 destroyed his place of business. Ben first went to Waterloo seeking employment and later moved to Creston.
Ben was more than a businessman. Hayes Main’s restaurant was next door, and through this cafe, Ben introduced Mount Ayr to Chop Suey. So popular was this dish, Ben was hired to prepare special meals for guests and visitors.
Ben was also mentioned at the dedication of the First Baptist Church in Mount Ayr on December 13, 1915. Mr. Chung had made and donated the dedication banner. In the article, Ben is identified as a member of the church.
Ben had help at the laundry because he made many trips to Leon, St. Joseph, Mo., and Creston. Ben’s son George and a man named Bo seemed to work part time.
In June 1916, Ben participated in an art exhibit at Timby Hall displaying jewelry, foreign currency, and other oriental items.
In December 1916, Ben and George sold the business to cousin Charley. Ben was returning to China to visit relatives and George was going to work in San Francisco. The last mention I see for the Chung (Chong) clan is an advertisement in the April 18, 1917 Record-News. The ad states Charley and Bow Chung would appreciate your business at their steam laundry.
There was at least one dry cleaning business in Mount Ayr at this time. The onset of World War I and the establishment of running water may have contributed to the steam laundry’s demise, but we may never know why the business closed. The steam laundry in Creston continued operation beyond April 1917 with Charley as the proprietor.