By MARG JACKSON
Like many communities that formed as part of the famed California Gold Rush, Fiddletown had its heyday over 165 years ago.
But it remains a viable community still today and, according to Alice Kaiser, president of the Fiddletown Preservation Society, there are plenty of reasons to take a step back in time and visit the Amador County location.
“It’s a town on the scale of a village and it has had roughly the same footprint since the Gold Rush,” Kaiser explained. “There were thousands of men crawling over the hills looking for gold, then it settled down to be more of an agricultural area.”
A blacksmith shop, three to four markets, a gambling hall and more dotted the community in the mid- to late-1800s and the region also had a large Chinese population. The bustling community brought about by the search for gold thrived as a ‘service center’ of sorts for gold mining camps and then made the switch to agricultural interests once the gold dust settled. Roughly 20 miles from the Shenandoah Valley, Fiddletown now also boasts several wineries, with grapes and wine among the county’s most prolific products.
Today, visitors can learn about the storied history of Fiddletown by stopping at the Fiddletown Museum, which is open Saturday afternoons, noon to 4 p.m. from April through October.
“The house I grew up in was built in the 1800s,” added Kaiser. “My mother and my grandparents were founding members of the Fiddletown Preservation Society, among many others.”
The society has received some state grants in their efforts to preserve some of the town’s historic buildings, such as the one-room schoolhouse and brick buildings that were in severe disrepair.
A stroll along the streets now will offer visitors a glimpse into the past, with a handful of the 1850’s era buildings still standing, including a Chinese gambling hall, a general store and more. At its height, about half of the town’s population was Chinese and the museum itself is in the former Chew Kee Chinese herb store. Though officially a ‘Census Designated Place’ or CDP as opposed to a town, Kaiser said Fiddletown is registered as a California Historic Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 2010 census, its population was listed at 235 residents and Fiddletown is at 1,683 ft. elevation.
Local historian Elaine Zorbas has published a couple of books about the community, including ‘Fiddletown From Gold Rush to Rediscovery’ and ‘Banished and Embraced: The Chinese in Fiddletown and the Mother Lode’ that offer a glimpse into the history and uniqueness of the region.
“We’re about an hour from either Stockton or Sacramento,” Kaiser said. “The Post Office serves about 200 houses in town, 300 more in the surrounding area. We have a volunteer library, a Community Club, Jackson is the county seat and Sutter Creek nearby is the most picturesque.”
There wasn’t as much gold in Fiddletown as in some surrounding areas but the community still holds a place in history. Even its name bears reference to that.
“The first white settlers to come here were from Missouri and the story goes they brought their fiddles with them,” Kaiser said. “They fiddled when it got too hot or the creek got too dry to look for gold.”
Fiddletown is also home to a ‘Fiddler’s Jam’ each fall, which brings huge crowds to the Amador County community.
“That’s the only time the main road is closed off to traffic,” Kaiser said of the festival. “Vendors set up, there’s lots of music, it is a really delightful, unpretentious event that’s a lot of fun.”
The community of Fiddletown lies along the Fiddletown Silver Lake Road and is six miles east of Highway 49 from Plymouth.