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Day tripping: Fiddletown is a piece of history

By: Ken Larson, Folsom Lake Entertainer
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Day tripping, traveling to national parks, hiking and going on exciting adventures, has been a big part of my life for more than 40 years. As I say goodbye this week and retire from my position as publisher of the Folsom Lake Entertainer and Telegraph newspapers, I am happy to report I will continue to follow my passion of exploring as I drive off in my truck and RV to become a full-time traveler.

My first stop will be the Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada and then north to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Glacier Park in northern Montana.

But, for my final day tripping story for the Folsom Lake Entertainer, I decided to stay close and drive just over the hill to Amador County to visit Fiddletown.

This is definitely a step back in time and a wonderful way to spend a few hours – or all day.

Fiddletown is located just seven miles from Plymouth, close to Placerville, Jackson and a multitude of wonderful wineries.

Fiddletown was a bustling Gold Rush town in the mid-1850s. The road to Fiddletown heads east for seven miles from Plymouth. If one stays on Fiddletown Road they will eventually run into Highway 88, the highway that connects Jackson with Lake Tahoe over the Sierra Nevada.

Driving into Fiddletown, a community with about 2,000 people, you will soon see the signs of the past.

The old buildings still dot both sides of the road and if one has an imagination they can picture what it was like a 150 years ago as the streets were filled with dust from horses and carriages with miners milling about in the shops.

As one put it on an on-line listing, “The town featured amenities typical of other Gold Rush era communities. Residents frequented taverns and bakeries. They choose between one of three restaurants, danced in the dance halls and visited public baths. Fiddletown served families with 20 different stores, a school, post office and a church.”

Even though the town started to declined in the late 1870s, the Chinese immigrant population grew. By 1880, Fiddletown was home to the largest Chinese population in California outside of San Francisco and may immigrants stayed into the 1900s, long after other settlers had left. The buildings constructed by the Chinese remain virtually intact and line both sides of the street.

One of these buildings people can still find the former Chew Kee herb store. The store, now a museum, is open from noon to 4 p.m., on Saturdays between April and October. For appointments, call (209) 245-6489.

For history buffs, the store is incredible. It displays objects that tell the Gold Rush story from the perspective of the Chinese immigrants. Dr. Yee Fong Cheung, an herb doctor who was operating the store in the early years, came to America to administer to the medical needs of the Chinese miners, later tending the needs to those working on the railroad. In the 1880s, a man known only by his store name of Chew Kee, owned the shop and provided groceries and supplies to the community. By 1910, according to an on-line source, only four Chinese Americans resided in Fiddletown and in 1922 Chew Kee deeded the property to his adopted son.

On the hill side just east of town is the old school and directly across from the school is a community cemetery. The grave markers also tell the story of the community, many dating back to the mid-and late-1800s.

I want to thank my loyal readers for joining me on my many adventures through day tripping. I encourage all my fellow day trippers to continue following your own adventures around the Folsom Lake region.