Oleta – Old Fiddletown (No. 35 California Historical Landmark)
Photo © Noehill.com
Fiddletown was a bustling Gold Rush town in 1853. Streets were filled with dust from horses and carriages, the clang of a blacksmith’s hammer and other wild behavior characteristic of miners enjoying their evening in the saloon. It is located off the beaten track near Dry Creek.
With a population of 2,000, the size of Fiddletown was smaller than the average mining town of the Mother Lode. To meet the needs of its expanding population, 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.
The town got its name because miners took to fiddling during the summer when creeks ran too dry to mine. Current residents and visitors in Fiddletown continue the musical tradition by attending Tuesday evening dances and listening to local musicians. Bret Harte brought fame to the town by writing “An Episode of Fiddletown,” in 1858.
During the peak years of Fiddletown, it evolved in a major trading center for nearby mining camps. The town started its slow decline in 1878 as gold mining camps ran dry. The Chinese immigrant population continued to grow. By 1880, Fiddletown was home to the largest Chinese population in California outside of San Francisco. Many immigrants stayed through the early 1900s, long after other settlers had moved on. The buildings constructed by the Chinese remain virtually intact.
The former Chew Kee herb store is now a museum, displaying objects that tell the Gold Rush story from the perspective of the immigrants. Visitors can take a walking tour past the Chinese Gambling Hall, the Foo Kee General Store and the Chew Kee Grocery Store.
In 1878, Fiddletown’s Gold Rush boom ended. Logging and agriculture replaced gold mining as the town’s new economic base. A leading town official commenting that he was embarrassed by the name of his home town, changed the name to Oleta, after his daughter. The town resumed the name Fiddletown in 1932.
Although the voices from the wild Gold Rush era of Fiddletown are long silent, visitors can still experience the character of the old west by taking a historic walking tour through town. The tour blends town history with new structures.
Today the landscape of Amador County is blanketed with vineyards creating distinctive opportunities for other scenic tours.
The historical landmark is located on the south side of the street from Dr. Yee’s Chinese Herb Shop in Fiddletown.
Amador County was one of the most productive of the “Mother Lode” counThe eastern slope of Amador County begins at Kirkwood’s historic stage stop known today as the Kirkwood Inn. The eastern slope of Amador County begins at Kirkwood’s historic stage stop. The relatively narrow county is aligned between the Mokelumne and Cosumnes rivers and roughly follows an important emigrant trail route. Gold rush camps and boomtowns abound in the history of the area. Amador County is also recognized for its dozens of vineyards and wineries.
California Historical Landmarks Program
Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:
1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region
2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California
3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder.
California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.
In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.
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Time Period Represented: 1850s-1880s