The Sorrowful Tale of the Nakashima Barn

The Nakashima barn is located in Arlington at the end of the Centennial Trail or the beginning depending on the way you look at it.  It is a great place to go for a walk or take a bike ride.  The Centennial Trail is nearly 30 miles long and growing every year. You can bike from Arlington to Snohomish. Before you take off on your adventure make sure you stop and check out the Nakashima barn at the trailhead.

The Nakashima’s Story

The story begins with Kamezo Nakashima born to a farm family in Kyushu, Japan in 1886, he came to the United States in 1907 to cut shingle bolts for Bass Mill.  The mill eventually closed and upon its site Thomas Bass, owner of Bass Mill, and Kamezo partnered to build a dairy farm.  Thomas imported Gurnsey cattle from the Island of Gurnsey in England and Kamezo worked the dairy.  Eventually Kamezo returned home to Japan to marry and bring back a wife, Miye.  As the years passed the farm prospered and Kamezo took over full-time management of the farm and Thomas moved to Seattle.

Kamezo tilled the fertile land, planted his crops, and milked his cows day after day.  He sweated through the summer to bring in the hay to feed his growing herd and toiled through the winters providing for his growing family. As the farm prospered so did the Nakashima family, they were blessed with  eleven children.  The children helped milk cows and worked on the farm.

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The Nakashima’s were the only Asian dairy farmers in Snohomish County. Despite their minority status the Nakashimas became part of the community as they pursued and achieved their American dream. At first they sent their children to Japan to be educated, but as the years passed they sent their children to the local McMurray schoolhouse and then on to Arlington Highschool.  The children were active in sports and acted in plays.

I imagine their American farm life was not much different than my own upbringing on a German-American farm. I’m sure the children played similar games and enjoyed exploring the woods and streams of their own farm as much as my siblings and I. The freedom of the outdoors and so many acres of woodlands at your feet for exploration is thrilling to a youngster. Nothing better to a kid than chasing frogs or crickets.

Due to laws discouraging Asians from owning property the Nakashima’s had not been able to purchase the farm, but had worked the land for nearly 30 years. It must have been a proud day when the Nakashima’s oldest son, Takeo, purchased the 1,200 acres farm and it’s Gurnsey cows in 1937.

The farm also grew to employ other members of the community as the Gurnsey herd numbered more than 70 and milking was done by hand until electricity came to the remote McMurray community.

Unfortunately, the families success and way of life would be cut short following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Nakashima’s American dream was stripped from them when in 1942 the U.S. Government rounded up all Japanese Americans and their descendants sending them to concentration camps.

It would have been April when word came that they would have 10 days to vacate the land and report for  internment. Kamezo was 56 years old and had spent the majority of his life laboring on and growing their family farm. In a vain desperate attempt to save his farm and family from internment, Kamezo made the long journey to Seattle taking his guns and dynamite (commonly used on farms) to Seattle’s City Hall to turn over to the government and plead his case to be allowed to continue dairy farming.

As I write I think of my own father and the joy that Spring on the farm brings him. The crops would have been barely poking up in the garden, the hens would be setting on their nests, and young calves would be playing in the fields. This must have been a bitter sweet view for Kamezo as the family packed the small parcels they were allowed to take and left their beloved farm. Much would have been on Kamezo’s mind.  Where were they going? Would they return? How long would it be?  Who would milk his cows?

Due to misguided patriotism people were discouraged from helping. The family only had 10 days to sell everything. They managed to sell the 1,200 acre farm to a man who had stopped to buy a bull.  The farm and all it’s livestock and equipment were sold for a mere $10 an acre.

“They gave the farm away,” said George Nakashima, son of the Nakashimas, in a 2007 interview. “They didn’t have that much time to sell or anything and no one really came forward at that time because that was a bad thing to do.” (The Everett Herald Article)

When the family was divided and sent to separate internment camps. Kamezo, Miye, and their son, Mosato would go to the Tule Lake camp in California while the remainder of the family was sent to Mindako camp in Idaho. The Nakashima’s spent the next two years corresponding only by letter. I can not imagine what the confines of a prison camp and the pains of separation must have felt for a farm family.  The children no longer had room to roam and the parents had nothing to work for. Day after day in a dusty camp with no lands to till, no cattle to feed, no crops to grow.  The next two years of their daily life had to seem monotonous in comparison to what they were used to.

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By this time George was serving in the U.S. Army stationed over seas. As George was serving his country he was helpless as his family was being stripped of their property and imprisoned by his own government.

“I thought it was a terrible thing really, but there was nothing you could do at that time,” George Nakashima said. “You’re good enough to be in the service, but you’re not good enough to stay there (on your land)…” (The Everett Herald Article)

The family remained imprisoned in separate concentration camps from May of 1942 to February of 1946.  The Nakashima’s would never come back to live together on their little farm in the woods. Kamezo and Miye, now nearly 60 years old, went to work managing a hotel in Seattle and their children scattered finding work and start families of their own.

May we never forget and never let this dark history repeat.

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Bibliography

http://densho.org/

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/barn-lost-in-wwii-internment-proposed-for-historic-registry/

http://www.historylink.org/File/8509

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. We spend a lot of time on Centennial Trail, and love reaching Nakashima Barn at the end of the trail. Thank you keeping its history documented. Good read!

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