Yama & Nagaya
Imagine leaving your native country and travelling across the ocean to new land you have only heard about. You don’t know the language of this new country and you don’t know anyone around you. How easily do you think you could adapt to the change and succeed?
Most Japanese immigrants who arrived in Seattle during the 19th century were not able to arrange for a job or living quarters ahead of time. But, when some of these men began to work at the Port Blakely Mill, they built a strong and supportive community.
Captain William Renton established the Port Blakely Mill Company in 1863. The mill flourished by the 1870’s and became one of the largest mills in the world. A high demand for labor in that industry grew in 1882 when the U.S. government implemented the Chinese Exclusion Act. This forced all Chinese nationals in the country out of the labor force and prevented further immigration from China. The mill then recruited new immigrants, including Japanese, to help fill the increased demand for labor.
The mill’s workforce lived in barracks and neighborhoods immediately surrounding the mill’s buildings. Unlike the Port Madison Mill, the Scandinavians, Croatians, and Japanese workers at Port Blakely’s lived in segregated housing. The mill rented out a tract of land to the increasingly large group of Japanese millworkers so they could build their own barracks. The first structures housed single men and the community was called Nagaya. Later, as more men married or brought their wives from Japan, the settlement was extended up the hill and grew into the settlement known as Yama.
After the mill closed in 1923 the residents scattered to find other work, and in many cases became farmers on the island. Many of the buildings were dismantled and the materials used elsewhere. Over time what was left was overgrown with vegetation. The Japanese pioneer families continued the legacy of Yama by remaining here and becoming an integral part of the Island culture.
The Museum recently collaborated with other community organizations to commence an archaeological study of the Yama site. The project evolved into a three year program directed by Olympic College in Bremerton. Learn more about Yama and see artifacts found from the archeological digs by visiting our Museum!