Boxer Introduces Bill Seeking to Preserve Wakamatsu Colony

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WASHINGTON.—Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Thursday introduced the Gold Hill-Wakamatsu Preservation Act, legislation which authorizes the Bureau of Land Management to acquire and manage the Gold Hill Ranch near Coloma, Calif. This site was the location of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony from 1869 to 1871, recognized by the State of California and the Japanese American Citizens League as the first Japanese settlement in the United States.

Sen. Boxer said, “This legislation will protect this historic site in California’s Gold Country, where a small band of immigrants established the first Japanese settlement in the nation more than a century ago. I am proud to introduce this bill, and I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to preserve the story of the Wakamatsu colonists for future generations.”

In 1869, seven Japanese citizens and a European expatriate fled turmoil in Japan and sailed across the Pacific to San Francisco.

The group made their way east and purchased land in Gold Hill. Within two years, the colony grew to 22 Japanese settlers and began producing traditional Japanese crops such as tea, silk, rice, and bamboo. The Japanese colonists and surrounding community learned about each others’ cultures and agricultural techniques.

Drought and financial problems forced the group to disperse and settle throughout California beginning in 1871, and the property was purchased by the Veerkamp family in 1875. Though the colony was short-lived, many of the original structures on the site remain intact. The 272-acre ranch encompassing the original colony site has been passed down for generations through the Veerkamp family.

The site has been preserved for visitors to come and learn about the history of the Wakamatsu colonists and Japanese American culture. It also provides wildlife habitat, hiking trails and picnic areas, and grazing and pastureland.

This project is supported by the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Japanese American Historical Society, the Consul General of Japan, the Governor of Fukishima Prefecture and the Mayor of Wakamatsu in Japan, People-to-People International, the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, numerous elected officials including Assemblyman Ted Gaines, who represents this district, and numerous other members of the local community.

The gravesite of Okei, a young girl who was a member of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony in El Dorado County, Calif.

The gravesite of Okei, a young girl who was a member of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony in El Dorado County, Calif.

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