In 1869, 22 samurai and their families emigrated from Japan to San Francisco. They traveled east and arrived at Gold Hill on June 8, 1869 to establish an agricultural settlement. They purchased land from Charles Graner with help from John Henry Schnell to begin the first and only tea and silk farm in California at that time. The Wakamatsu Farm was the first Japanese Colony in North America.
The farm had a promising beginning, but failed after two years due to a lack of irrigated water and funds. Most of the Japanese colonists had left the farm by 1871, and the land was purchased by the Veerkamp family. Two Japanese colonists, Matsunosuke Sakurai and a young woman named Okei Ito, stayed at the site as caretakers for the Veerkamp family. Okei died shortly thereafter at the age of 17, and her grave is on top of a hill at the farm. Her marker is in both English and Japanese, and has been well-maintained and overlooks the Gold Trail School. Matsunosuke Sakurai served the Veerkamp family the rest of his life until February 23, 1901, and is buried at the Vineyard Cemetery in Coloma. Prior to ownership by both the Japanese colonists and the Veerkamp family, the Nisenan tribe inhabited the site until miner’s began working the land for gold. Tailings from the gold rush still line some of the creeks.
The Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony is significant because it is the earliest Japanese settlement in North America, and marks the beginning of Japanese history in California. The maker was dedicated in 1969 by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Japanese American Citizens League, the El Dorado County Historical Society, and the Friends of the Centennial Observance.
The Veerkamp family farmed the land for 125 years. In 2010, they sold the 272-acre land to the American River Conservancy. The National Park Service places the farm on the National Register of Historic Places. The land is now managed by the American River Conservancy and the Placer Land Trust. The American River Conservancy has received funding from Tourism Cares, REI, The Natural Resources Agency, and the California Conservation Corps to make improvements to the land, including the Veerkamp barn, farmhouse, and dairy. The American River Conservancy also provides tours of the land, and is working to further restore the farm. The American River Conservancy is also preparing a Wakamatsu Farm Festival to be held April 27-June 23 to celebrate the rich history at this site.
The marker for the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony is near the Gold Trails Elementary School at 1336 Cold Springs Road in Gold Hill. The Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm Colony is located at 941 Cold Springs Road outside of Placerville.
El Dorado County
Stretching from oak-studded foothills and the shores of Folsom Lake to the western shore of Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County is probably best known for the 1848 gold discovery at Coloma. “Old Hangtown” sprang up during the Gold Rush and was later renamed Placerville. The county name comes from the mythical land rich in gold sought by Spanish explorers. The first inhabitants of El Dorado County were the Maidu and Miwok Indians, followed by miners attracted to the area by the Gold Rush.
El Dorado County was one of the original counties in California. The Pony Express Trail ran through the county approximately where Highway 50 is today, from April 3, 1860 to October 26, 1861. The first county seat was Coloma, and it was superseded by Placerville for this position in 1857. El Dorado means “the gilded one” in Spanish; a fitting name considering the mines in El Dorado County produced millions of dollars of gold.