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Author: Joyce Thompson and Harry Critchfield
Publisher: The El Dorado Museums Foundation and the El Dorado County Historical Society, 2013, soft-cover, 146 pages
Chinese joss houses, bordellos with tunnels, burning churches, livery stables, saloons and funeral parlors that also sold furniture — downtown Placerville had all kinds of business in the 1850s.
A pictorial comparison of Placerville businesses on Main Street in the late 1800s and early 1900s and the current businesses that occupy the same space was the idea of Doug Walker, long-time volunteer for the El Dorado County Historical Museum.
“Doug thought a book like that would be a great idea and he wanted to do the current day photographs,” said Joyce Thompson.
Thompson did the research and wrote the text that describes Main Street and adjacent streets. After spending years cataloging and indexing the museum’s collection of 25,000 vintage photographs, Thompson knew there were plenty of photographs of downtown businesses through the years.
When Walker had to bow out of doing the current day photographs due to health issues, Thompson set the project aside.
Enter Harry Critchfield, a professional photographer and volunteer with the El Dorado Western Railroad.
“He was taking pictures of the restoration of the caboose and of people who ride the railroad and I asked him if he would be interested in taking photos for the book,” said Thompson.
Critchfield jumped into the project enthusiastically, taking hundreds of photos of downtown businesses and talking to the merchants.
The book takes the reader down Main Street at Sacramento Street, up to streets like Goldner and Pacific where one of the second largest Chinese communities in California lived, to the Bell Tower and beyond to Bedford, Cedar Ravine, Spanish Ravine, Broadway and the Bee-Bennett House.
As familiar as Thompson was with downtown Placerville, having grown up here, she was still surprised by some of the information that came out of her research.
“I never knew we had a hamburger place called Hamburger Jack’s downtown next to the Round Tent Store,” said Thompson. “And I never knew that the reason we had two joss houses was because of warring factions of Chinese.”
“Placerville Then & Now” can be purchased for $25 at the El Dorado County Historical Museum, 104 Placerville Drive in Placerville, at the Fountain-Tallman Museum, 524 Main St. in Placerville.
The book is a fundraiser for the El Dorado County Museums and the El Dorado Historical Society.