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Visit Fiddletown

The Chew Kee Store Museum in Fiddletown will reopen for regular Saturday hours from 12 noon to 4 :00 pm, or for special tours, this June through October. 

The small hamlet of Fiddletown is resonant with vestiges from its Gold Rush past. Several vintage structures still stand, evoking the time when Fiddletown was a bustling place. As you stroll through the town, imagine what it must have been like with horses and wagons stirring up dust on the unpaved main road, the sounds of hammers striking anvils from numerous blacksmith shops, ladies dressed in finery of the day, men clutching pouches filled with gold dust, merchants inviting you to purchase their wares, music from dance halls and gambling joints, and people speaking German, French, Spanish, Chinese, as well as English in its variant forms.

Fiddletown began as a mining camp during the height of the Gold Rush, with ample placer gold deposits that attracted miners from all parts of the world. The story goes that it was named by early settlers from Missouri who fiddled during slow times when there was no water in the creeks for mining, a frequent occurrence in the summer. Music was always a part of this town, but so was fiddling around.

By 1853 Fiddletown evolved into a trading center for nearby mining camps and for farms in the neighboring Shenandoah Valley. Its commercial area during this period of growth featured fifteen to twenty stores, four hotels, several blacksmith shops, a carpenter’s shop, four taverns, a couple of bakeries, two or three restaurants, dance halls, and even public baths. With a church, post office, and school, it was quite a civilized town. In its heyday, the town’s population was about 2,000.

Chinese miners and merchants also gravitated to Fiddletown, occupying the southwest part of the town. By 1880, half of Fiddletown’s population was Chinese. Though the Chinese departed in the first part of the 20th Century, they left behind several early gold rush buildings that make Fiddletown unique among Sierra foothill towns. The Chew Kee herb store was inhabited for more than 100 years by Chinese residents. It is now open as a museum, containing fascinating objects from the lives of its occupants.

Fiddletown never developed the deep quartz mines present in other parts of the county. By 1878, logging and agriculture took over. The town even lost its identity after a wealthy citizen, Columbus A. Purinton, became embarrassed by the melodious name when signing hotel registers in San Francisco. He along with some townsfolk convinced the state legislature to change the name to Oleta, the name of an unidentified woman. This change lasted until 1932 when residents petitioned the U.S. Postal Service to restore the original gold rush name, and so once again the town became known as Fiddletown.

Fiddletown maintains a rural charm that melds old with new. Small as it is, the town hosts two active community organizations, the Fiddletown Community Center and the Fiddletown Preservation Society. The town limits are the same as they were during its early life. Fiddletown is still surrounded by farms and ranches; there are many vineyards and wineries nearby. And local musicians continue to entertain and substantiate the town’s musical name.

Town tour map

1. State Historical Marker

2. Chew Kee Store

3. Chinese Gambling Hall

4. Chinese General Store

5. Mining Water Ditch

6. The Forge

7. Community Center

8. General Store

9. Schallhorns Wagon Works

10. Cooper House

11. Fiddletown Schoolhouse

12. Fiddletown Cemetery

14. Head House

15. Post Office Lobby

16. Chinese Adobe

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