Mankind has always counted on a few creature comforts, even in the most rugged of conditions. Traditionally, these include liquor, companionship, and remedies for what ails us. The first two have never presented much of a problem. But the last one is another story altogether.
The “Chew Kee” Store was one such attempt to provide the medicinal remedies so frequently pined for by fussy humans during the California Gold Rush.
Constructed using a traditional “rammed earth” technique, the now-worn down building is a quaint and striking example of old-world style architecture built largely from clay, gravel, and other commonly found natural materials compacted together through force alone.
In its heyday, the medicinal shop mostly sold herbs and other holistic medicines to miners and frontiersmen who had little access to other types of medical treatment. It was founded by Dr. Yee Fong Cheung, a Chinese immigrant who traveled to America for the express purpose of serving Chinese laborers with the traditional Chinese medicine they were accustomed to.
From the 1880’s to the early 1900’s the shop served a small but loyal community of Chinese immigrants in Fiddletown, California. The proprietor during that stretch was known only as “Chew Kee,” a nickname given by local Fiddletown residents. But by 1910, the Gold Rush fever had largely broken and subsided, and records show just four Chinese Americans remained in the town at that time.
From 1922 to 1965, Chew Kee’s adopted son, Fong Chow Yow (aka “Jimmy Chow”) continued to operate the store. Now primarily a historical site and tourist novelty, the store remains largely intact and is open for business on Saturdays. It serves as a pleasant and enduring reminder of the once-robust community of Chinese laborers and immigrants that occupied much of Fiddletown.
Know Before You Go
Fiddletown is 45 miles southeast of Sacramento. Take Highway 16 (Jackson Highway) to Highway 49 towards Plymouth and head six miles east of Shenandoah Road. It also can be reached from Placerville by going 20 miles south on Highway 49 and turning left on Shenandoah Road. The Chew Kee Store is at the entry to the town.