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Stockton, California

In the summer of 2000, ASC conducted archaeological excavations in downtown Stockton. Detail from 1870 Bird's eye view of StocktonThis block had been developed since the early 1860s, and by the 1890s it contained working-class cottages, a saloon, a brewery and two Chinese laundries. Several of these lots backed on to a tidal channel that historically bisected the block from east to west. Significant archaeological deposits were recovered in the backyard areas of two of the cottages and one of the Chinese laundries. The project included both a technical report and an interpretive Web site.

The deposits found in the cottage backyards date from the 1870s until the early 1900s. These deposits offer the opportunity to study working class household assemblages and the history of slough reclamation. The Chinese laundry consisted of a small, one-story building, part of which contained a boiler that produced the hot water for washing clothes. Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show that from at least 1894 the laundry’s back yard was occupied by a raised wooden platform for clothes drying. The laundry workers used the underfloor area of this platform as a dumping ground for both boiler ash and household detritus. ASC’s excavation uncovered a deposit of interspersed layers of ash, charcoal and household rubbish, at least 3 ft. deep across the lot. The deposits date from the 1890s to the 1930s.

bird bones and bottleLaundry work was an important part of the Chinese immigrant experience in America. Chinese laundries catered to the broader community, and so became a strong symbol of Chinese immigration. During the 1870s and 1880s, laundries were the targets of anti-Chinese vandalism and government bans. As a result laundry workers and managers were at the forefront of much of the Chinese community’s political resistance and activism. The archaeological deposit of the Channel St. laundry is unusual both for its richness, and relatively late time frame. The artifacts relate not only to the work of the laundry men, but also to how they adapted traditional diet and medicines to new surroundings. The laundry site presents a valuable opportunity to examine the development of Stockton’s Chinese community as it sought to reestablish itself following the anti-Chinese attacks of the late 19th century.