Built in 1878, the Old Chinese Herb Shop is the last remaining original building in what was once Truckee, California’s Chinatown.
Truckee’s Chinatown was thriving from 1878-1886, and Chinese American laborers are credited with providing most of the labor that went into building the transcontinental railroad through the Sierra Nevada mountains.
“The Chinese, numbering around 10,000, were brought over the summit by Charles Crocker, one of the “Big Four” who, along with Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Collis P. Huntington, provided financial backing for the Central Pacific Railroad,” according to an article on http://www.sierrasun.com.
“According to the 1870 census, approximately 1,400 Chinese people lived in Truckee, most of them men. They worked as lumberjacks, mill hands, ice cutters and teamsters, woodcutters, as well as a number of other trades. At the time, Truckee was said to have the second largest Chinatown on the West Coast.”
Even though Chinese Americans helped build the town of Truckee and eventually worked other nearby towns, racial unrest was prevalent. Chinatown was set on fire numerous times, in an attempt to get Chinese Americans to leave. In August 1874, a series of four fires were unleashed over the course of 10 days. Unfortunately, this was a regualar way of life for the Chinese, who originally lived in ramshackle shanties about Brickelltown.
Another devastating arson fire took place in 1875, but of course, nobody was officially found responsible. A whole bunch of other horrible mistreatment of the Chinese and their homes went down, and eventually, with the help of several sympathetic citizens, Chinatown was moved across the river in 1878, with new structures being erected. It took five weeks to move the population of 2,000 people.
The Herb Shop became the cornerstone of Truckee’s new Chinatown, and remains its only surviving building. Racists continued to set the new Chinatown aflame and after a mostly encompassing blaze in 1886. This time, Chinatown was never rebuilt and the Chinese left town. The asshole town racists held a torchlight parade in celebration.
“The Chinese experience in Truckee is one of the most important ethnic histories in California,” says the article. “For nearly 20 years the Chinese struggled, to no avail, to make Truckee their home. The torment and hatred they experienced must be known and understood as a part of a time and place in history so that it is never repeated.”
From the 1890s to the 1960s, the building was Truckee Bottling Works, which was operated by the Englehart family. It supplied soft drinks such as Coca Cola to the area.