By Paisley Kirkpatrick
I’m sharing a couple of my photos and stories from the life in Placerville, California, during the gold rush era that began around 1849 and, in some circumstances, is still alive now. The Soda Works and Chinese Bordello have quite an interesting history as one gave immediate gratification in the form of a drink and the second in the form of lust fulfilled.
The Soda Works building was constructed in 1852 and is one of the oldest buildings in Placerville. Soda water was bottled using a carbonation machine — which is still on display — and sold to miners because ordinary water was polluted due to the placer mining in the area. The building is still open today and over the years it has seen many different types of businesses inside its doors. I had the opportunity to enter the tunnel that still remains open at the back of the building. It is narrow and has cold rock along the edges. The ceiling is so low that I had to stoop to keep from banging my head. There's a cool draft as you proceed deeper into the dark. I imagine it might have been an unnerving experience for the men who walked through it to get to the Chinese bordello. Up until a couple of years ago when there was a rockslide at the bordello end, the tunnel was still fully functional. The tunnel started at one end of town and went nearly the entire length of Placerville’s Main Street, inside a mountain of rock. If you didn’t know about the tunnel carved inside the mountain, you'd never suspect it was there.
I stepped inside the building that was formerly the bordello several years ago to have a video copied. It was the current business operating in the building.
The owner showed me their historical holes. I wish I had taken photos, but at the time didn’t think to do it. Along a hallway there were niches about five foot long and maybe 2 1/2 to 3 feet deep cut into a rock wall. It is rumored that when the men finished with their drinks at the Soda Works, they would walk the length of the tunnel to visit the bordello. I'm not sure how long that walk was, but I’d guess at least a quarter of a mile. When the gentleman reached the end of his walk, he was expected to shower before spending time with the girl in that small cubbyhole. What can I say except that they had to be tough and they had to be a bit desperate. The saving grace of visiting the girls in that manner was that nobody knew who was visiting, if that was something a person wanted to keep to himself.