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Image is detail of cabinet with bottles in Chew Kee Store in Fiddletwon

The Chew Kee Store in Fiddletown is one of the most interesting buildings in the Mother Lode. This image, a detail of a cabinet inside the store, was made in 1977.

The store was constructed in 1850 of rammed earth with walls 2 1/2 feet thick. Dr. Yee Fung Cheung, the original owner, was an herbalist (herb doctor). Besides being a store this building also served as Dr. Yee’s office and home. It was also a place where the large population of Chinese in the area would socialize. In 1895 the parents of a neighbor boy, Fong Chow Yow (known locally as Jimmy Chow), returned to China. Ten year old Jimmy was too ill to make the journey and he was left in Dr. Yee’s care. Dr. Yee returned to China in 1900 and was succeeded by his assistant, Chew Kee, who was also an herbalist and storekeeper. Jimmy lived with Chew Kee until 1913 when Chew Kee also returned to China leaving the building to Jimmy Chow. Jimmy was the last resident of the building and the last Chinese resident of Fiddletown. Jimmy lived in the rear of the building leaving the store untouched. He worked locally as a blacksmith, carpenter, butcher, hunter and miner and was well liked in Fiddletown. Jimmy’s death in 1965 at the age of eighty was the end of an era. After his death the building with the contents of the store and Jimmy’s living quarters were left largely intact. The building was restored in the late 1980s.

Thanks to Jimmy Chow, the Fiddletown Preservation Society, California State Parks Department, Dr. Herbert Yee (great grandson of Dr. Yee Fung Cheung), and other local and Chinese organizations this fragment of Chinese Gold Rush history, frozen in time, has been preserved for us all. It is now a museum with artifacts of Chinese life in 19th century California.

Link to Wikipedia page on Fiddletown.

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