Friday, February 2, 2018

A Matter of Convenience

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
I’m sharing a couple of my photos and stories of the life in Placerville, California during the gold rush era that began around 1849 and, in some circumstances, is still alive now. These two buildings 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.

12 comments:

  1. Absolutely fascinating. I cannot imagine walking through that tunnel. Ugh. Sounds quite scary to me. And thanks for the photos...oh, how I love vintage photos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Celia. You're right - those tunnels are scary, narrow, and I'd be afraid of a cave in.

      Delete
  2. I don't think I could walk through that tunnel. When we have visited caverns, I have enough problems and they've been wide. You're a brave woman, Paisley!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :) Just curious, Caroline. It helped when I described them in my stories.

      Delete
  3. This is so interesting! I love the pictures, too, Paisley. I'm like Celia--love those vintage photographs!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I do have more photographs I will have to share with stories. We lived in gold country for 21 years and I loved all the stories I heard.

      Delete
  4. Now I'm going to have to visit Placerville sometime! It looks fascinating. My only prior trip to California's gold mining area, my husband and I visited a mining works that a friend of our older son was working. He thought he had purchased mining rights there, only to learn later--after he'd put quite a bit of work into it--that the person he'd bought the rights from actually didn't own them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of our houses was built over a deep gold mine. We only owned so many feet down, which I found interesting. So many interesting places to see in Placerville and surrounding area.

      Delete
  5. Love the Gold Country and hope to return later this year. As everyone notes, the photos are lovely, the tunnel scary and the lifestyle harsh...the makings of great stories!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes, great history for stories. My first series - Paradise Pines - has six books centered around right after the gold rush. They were so much fun to write.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I didn't know carbonated water would take pollution from the water. I loved the pictures of those historic buildings.
    I'm glad to hear at least the men were expected to shower before visiting the girl in the cubby. Sounds awful just the same.
    A lovely and well researched article as always, Paisley.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Sarah. There were so many historical places to visit in Placerville. I loved being able to become part of the gold rush while going into the old buildings, tunnels, and such.

      Delete

Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West!