Red Bluff Celebrates Chinatown’s Heritage
24 Jan 2023
This year marks the 125th anniversary of Red Bluff’s Chinese American history. Chinese immigrants called Red Bluff home as early as 1852 during the Gold Rush era. By 1875, there were 2K Chinese living in what is now known as Red Bluff’s Historic District. Back then, due to segregation, it was simply called Chinatown.
Chinatown’s Rise and Fall
Until 1875, Red Bluff was the last steamboat stop on the Sacramento River. Many Chinese immigrants continued their travels throughout California and beyond, while others called Red Bluff home.
While segregation was a problem, it didn’t stop Chinatown from thriving. Because they were so close to the river and railroad, Chinese immigrants were able to ship and receive goods fairly easily. Chinatown blossomed through the 1970s until the construction of the I-5 freeway changed the dynamic causing many to relocate.
The Chew Family History
Of the 2K migrant settlers, the Chew family claimed the longest residence and business owners dating back to 1888. Yet it was 1899 when roots were planted, giving them 125 years of heritage.
It was in 1888 when Chinese merchant, Bo Do Hong (Dr. Chew) made Red Bluff his home. Being a doctor and merchant, Dr. Chew had visited Red Bluff many times dating back to 1865. Though segregation and racism were prevalent, Red bluff was the most liberal allowing the Chinese to own and sell land. Dr. Chew leased a building and opened the Bo Do Hong store at 838 Rio Street, Red Bluff, where he lived upstairs and sold Chinese herbs and medicine.
Bo Do Hong later expanded his medicinal store to include groceries, banking, general merchandise, and a restaurant. In 1899, he sent for his foster son and nephew, Chew Yuen, to help run his business. Ten years later, Bo Do Hong passed away. Chew Yuen kept the business running, expanded, and later moved locations to 202-204 Walnut Street, Red Bluff. This location was also his residence. In 1915, Chew Yuen renamed the business to Chew Yuen and Company.
Chew Yuen went on to help other Chew family members and descendants open the California Cafe at 619 Walnut Street and Ming Terrace restaurant at 860 Main Street, which is now Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant.
Bo Do Hong is the great-uncle of Joe Chew, a World War II veteran and the last member of the Chew family to be born, raised, and forever rest in Red Bluff. At 99 years of age, Joe Chew passed away on June 1, 2021. You can learn more about the Chew’s landmark history by visiting the Helen & Joe Chew Foundation’s website.
Saturday, January 28, 2023
Saturday, January 28, 2023, signage will go up marking Red Bluff’s Historic Chinatown Alley. Chinatown’s district once spanned between the four points of Main Street, Rio Street, Hickory Street, and Pine Street.
Join the celebration from 8 a.m. - 10 a.m. where you will enjoy a Chinese Lion Dance, and meet and hear from descendants of four of the first five Chinese families that settled in Red Bluff in the 1800s: Chew, Foey, Chin, and Lim.
Admission is free and all are invited to attend.
Commemorating Red Bluff’s Chinese Heritage
January 28, 2023, is only the beginning. The Helen and Joe Chew Foundation has a list of events throughout this year to commemorate and celebrate Red Bluff’s Chinese heritage and culture. Visit RedBluffChew.org/creatingaHistoricChinatownAlley and mark the dates so you don’t miss the festivities planned.