Driven from Japan as a result of the civil wars of the mid 1800's, a small group of Japanese colonists left Aizu Wakamatsu on an epic journey.
It started with a voyage across the Pacific on a Chinese schooner to San Francisco, continued by steam ship to Sacramento and concluded by wagon to the Motherlode.
Chasing the dream
They arrived in Gold Hill in 1869, just a mile above the historic mill where John Marshall discovered the precious metal just over twenty years earlier. They came with mulberry trees, silk worms, tea, rice and all of the tools necessary to start a new agricultural colony.
They comprised the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony, the first Japanese to colonize North America.
Initial success gave way to disappointment, as struggles for California's other great resource - water – left the colony with out irrigation for their crops. Their crops withered and died and the land the colony had purchased was sold but they held fast to their dream.
Some of the initial colonists scattered, but several stayed in the area to work on neighboring farms and businesses. Nineteen-year-old Okei Ito stayed in Gold Hill as a nanny for the Veerkamp family, the new owners of the colony site and an adjoining ranch.
The story is told that she would walk to the top of the hill and look toward her native Japan as the evening sun dipped in the West, homesick and lonely in a foreign land.
Tragedy struck not long after and she died of fever. Resting beneath a marble headstone on that same hill, she became the first Japanese citizen to be buried in U.S. soil.
A broad group of Japanese American citizens, The American River Conservancy and the California rice industry are working diligently to save this cultural and historic site-which has been called the Japanese Jamestown. Efforts are focused on purchasing the ranch that encompassed the Wakamatsu Colony site. Okei's grave and the original farmhouse used by the colonists stand to this day.
You can help preserve this important, unheralded part of California's history. Your contributions will help the effort to acquire this ranch and build an interpretive center, showing future generations the crops and products the colonists dreamed of producing and sharing their courage and determination to make it in a new land.
The California Rice Commission is a proud supporter of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony Project.
To date, project supporters have raised $2 million toward the purchase of this historic site, restoration of the farmhouse and development of an interpretive center that will show what the colonists hoped to achieve. You can learn more about the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony online at www.arconservancy.org and click on the Gold Hill Wakamatsu page. Donations can be made at the Web site.
"Hidden History on a Gold Country Ranch"
History books are filled with epic journeys and dreams fulfilled. For the members of the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony, their unheralded quest to find a better life in California’s Gold Country carried no such storybook ending ... Read Article
American River Conservancy Acquires First Japanese Colony Site
Major step taken to preserve historic Wakamatsu site. View News Release (pdf)