When gold was discovered in the Sierra foothills in 1849, thousands of fortune hunters came to California from all over the world, including hundreds of Chinese. Then in the 1860's thousands of Chinese were recruited to contribute cheap labor to building the western portion of the Central Pacific Railroad. When the ceremony of the "golden spike" signaled the end of the project, some returned to China but many elected to stay in the United States, and by the 1880's there were "Chinatowns" in every California city of any size - including Tulare. Ours was limited to the 200 block of South K Street.
Ling Joe, born in China as Ling Haw in 1845, arrived in Tulare in 1886, just as the little fourteen year old town was recovering from the third fire to ravage its business district. He soon became a hard-working and successful businessman, winning the admiration of all. One night in the early 1890's, a rowdy group of vigilantes, probably fortified with "liquid courage" from the saloons on Front Street, rounded up all the Chinese, herded them onto boxcars on an outgoing train, and sent them on their way. Every Chinese family but one, that is. Members of the Joe family were respected citizens.
Upon Ling Haw's arrival in Tulare he formed a partnership with a man whose surname was Joe. Together they opened a restaurant on the north side of the 100 block of East Tulare Avenue. Partner Joe soon left town, but apparently Tulareans couldn't tell one Oriental from another and Ling Haw became known forever after as Ling Joe.
After two years on Tulare Avenue, Joe moved his restaurant to busy Front Street (J St.). He named the enterprise the Good Cheer Restaurant, and his loyal customers had good reason to be cheerful. Railroad workers and others crowded into the place daily for ham or steak or pork chop dinners with all the trimmings - and all for only 25 cents. Joe never served what we know as Chinese food, only stick-to-your-ribs American cuisine. He installed a gong in Railroad Park directly across the street from the Good Cheer. Each day he would beat on the gong at mealtime and the throngs would come running.
By 1888 the 43-year -old bachelor decided he needed a helpmate. In keeping with his tradition he found a "picture bride", a 14-year-old San Francisco native named Chan Sing Toy. She dutifully came to Tulare to marry the much older restaurateur, and from that date she became known as Mary Joe. Six children were born to the couple, but only four survived childhood. One daughter, born Gum Haw Joe, was well known to Tulareans as Daisy Joe Fung. She lived most of her 106 years in Tulare.
Together Ling and Mary operated the Good Cheer for 23 years. In 1911, at age 66, he sold his restaurant and retired, but not for long. Within a few months he purchased the Coffee Cup, a few doors south of the Good Cheer on Front Street, and changed its name to the Pioneer. A stroke in 1914 forced his permanent retirement.
But Mary was not through. In that same year she purchased property on the west side of the 200 block of South K. There she operated three enterprises - the Shanghai Café, a small gift shop, and a rooming house where beds were rented for 50 cents a night.
Mary Joe operated the Shanghai Cafe until Ling's death in 1924. During his funeral the whole town closed down for half a day. The pallbearers were some of Tulare's leading citizens and included Harry Crowe, Charles Del Re, and George Linder. The funeral procession took the body to the Tulare Cemetery, but it was not buried there. Instead it was sent to a mausoleum in San Francisco to await transport to China.
A few weeks after Ling's death, Mary opened a little café on the east side of the 300 block of South K Street. In 1936 she traveled to China to visit a daughter and her husband's grave. Back in Tulare Mary found herself once again in the restaurant business. She rented an old restaurant at the north east corner of Alpine Avenue and South K Street. She operated this café, which she called "Mary Joe's", until about 1945 when she retired for the last time. Mary Joe died in 1953 at age 79.
Derryl Dumermuth is a retired TUHS mathematics teacher, author of "A Town Called Tulare", and co-author with his wife, Wanda, of "Tulare Legends and Trivia from A to Z". Both books were written as fund-raisers for the Tulare Historical Museum and can be purchased in the museum's gift shop.