The Chew Kee Store in Fiddletown, once a Chinese herb store during the Gold Rush, gives the visitor a rare glimpse into the lives of early Chinese immigrants to California. The building is unique for its rammed earth construction of thick mud-packed walls and for the authentic objects of daily living contained within, representing 100 years continuous habitation by Chinese. It is now a museum.
The store was founded during the Gold Rush by herb doctor Yee Fung Cheung. The front room of the building was his store and living area, filled with the wares of Chinese herbal medicine, an altar, decorated tea boxes from China, baskets, jugs, and hundreds of other items. The merchant Chew Kee, who operated the store from the 1880s until 1912, added his merchandise: cigar boxes, rice in large containers, patent medicine, opium and Chinese foodstuffs. The last resident was Chew Kee’s adopted son, “Jimmie” Chow (Fong Chow Yow), a master carpenter, who lived in the store until he died in 1965. Chow retained what was already in the store, adding what he needed to work and live. He was the last Chinese person to live in Fiddletown.
The store served as a business and home for its residents. Step behind the double doors into the tiny bedroom and office. From there cross the marble threshold into the hand-hewn back rooms, a summer bedroom and two kitchens with implements including cutting boards made from logs, dishware from China, and a built-in wok. Everything in the store was constructed, imported, and used by the people who lived there.
Fiddletown is 45 miles southeast of Sacramento. Take Highway 16 (Jackson Highway) to Highway 49 towards Plymouth and head six miles east off 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 town.