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. Fiddletown is charming for being what it is, a rustic whisper from the days when mining, logging and agriculture prevailed in the 19th Century.
Fiddletown is located off the main track along a picturesque hilly wooded road that follows the curves of the north fork of Dry Creek, just six miles east of Plymouth and historic Highway 49. Fiddletown is designated as California Landmark No. 35 with seventeen sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The best way to see Fiddletown is to take a leisurely stroll along the Main Street block. If the town library is open, you can get a walking tour of the town. The schoolhouse and historic cemetery are located on American Flat Road to the south. Then explore Jibboom Street, parallel to Main Street on the north, where the lobby to the U.S. Post Office contains historic photos of the town and the families who settled there.
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 had several blacksmith shops, a carpenter’s shop, four taverns, a couple of bakeries, two or three restaurants, fifteen to twenty stores, and four hotels. With a church and school, it was quite a civilized town.
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 Chinese Gambling Hall and the Chinese General Store have been recently preserved. The Chew Kee Store, seasonally open as a museum, contains fascinating objects from the herb doctor who founded it in 1855.
Fiddletown never developed the large 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 and other folks in town 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 is now deceptively quiet. It lacks retail businesses on Main Street, but hosts two active community organizations, the Fiddletown Community Center www.fiddletownca.org and the Fiddletown Preservation Society www.fiddletown.info. For a virtual picture tour, see the websites of both organizations.
Beyond “downtown” Fiddletown, travelers can go north on rural Ostrom Road, where they can link up with the vineyards and wineries of the Shenandoah Valley, or continue east into higher country, passing by farms, creeks, orchards, and areas wooded with oaks and pines.