Quantcast
Advertisement

Camp Amache: Students work to preserve internment camp's history

GRANADA, Colo. — Moving through a strange forest of twisted trees on a hillside that was Camp Amache, visitors are struck by how quickly it must have happened.

And how long it’s taking to restore, in an effort by the Japanese-American families of detainees and local residents to memorialize a dark chapter of U.S. history.

In 1942, Japanese-American families living in Hawaii and the West Coast were evicted from their homes with no notice. They left most of their possessions, even pets, behind. Most of them were assigned to relocation camps.

The Granada Relocation Center, or Camp Amache, was the smallest of internment camps. It grew to 7,567 people at its peak and was the 10th largest city in Colorado during World War II. It had its own water service, police force, fire department, schools and hospital.

And it was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and six guard towers, even though there was never an escape.

In 1945, when the war ended, the camp was dismantled as quickly as it was built. The young trees transplanted from the river bottom took over the deserted city.

The only buildings that remained were some of the foundations of the 560 buildings that were built in just a few months on a square mile of land. Some concrete slabs, concrete frames that had been filled with bricks and a small building at the cemetery survived after everything else was sold, scavenged or scrapped.

Until recently.

A project to restore a water tower and one of the guard towers was completed in September.

The water tower, with an orange-and-white checkerboard pattern is immediately noticeable at the highest point at Camp Amache.

“It’s changed the skyline of Granada,” mused John Hopper, a local high school history teacher whose students have worked with the families of former Japanese-American detainees to preserve Camp Amache history for the past 20 years.

For Hopper, the effort began in 1993 as a project for gifted students.

“It was surprising how little information was available,” Hopper said.

Research, action

The first goal of the class was to write a book, but the project has become much more. Local students not only research history, but share it through presentations worldwide — some have traveled to Japan.

Since they began their work, the National Parks Service has made it a Historic Landmark. About $700,000 in grants students helped to write have been awarded for research and site improvements, Hopper said.

There is a museum on U.S. 50 in Granada that contains furniture, artifacts, news clippings, reports and books about Camp Amache.

Students keep it open six days a week in summer.

One item displayed tells about the 1943 high school football game between Amache and Holly — the only game played on Amache’s home field. Future Gov. Roy Romer was a member of the Holly team.

At the camp itself, one sign indicates exactly where the field was located, while another describes the national controversy over spending $310,000 to build a high school for the Japanese-American students.

A website (www.amache.org) provides a wealth of information about the camp’s history, operation and activities such as the annual pilgrimage of Japanese-American families to the site.

But with the newly constructed towers, visitors can touch the past as well.

Restoring towers

The original water tank was found at the Fletcher Ranch, 20 miles south of Granada and donated to the Amache Preservation Society in 2010.

The bolts and plates that fastened the wooden frame of the tower were in a scrap pile near the tank and used in the construction project that began in 2012.

The guard tower is an accurate reconstruction, based on historical research and photographs.

The improvements are just the beginning of an effort that will restore some of the barracks that were at the site as well. The barracks probably will be erected at the southern end of the camp, near the towers and cemetery.

By 1947, all of the camp’s buildings had been sold or demolished, and equipment parceled out.

“We found the barracks all over the place,” Hopper said, flipping through a 2011 study that catalogs where the buildings went, their current use and condition.

Plans are being made to bring a couple of the buildings from a ranch east of Springfield near the Kansas border.

“We are really just the stewards,” Hopper said. “I get phone calls from all over the country. Donations (of camp artifacts) are coming in all the time.”

A long wait

The push for the reconstruction really has come from Japanese-American organizations and families, Hopper added.

For them, it has been a very long wait.

The United States made small reparations — 10 cents on the dollar — in the years immediately after World War II, but no formal apology for their treatment was made until 1988.

According to Chieftain archives, reaction of Japanese-American visitors who made the annual pilgrimage to Amache ranged from anger to sadness to stoicism, as the families moved on with their lives.

Returning next year, they will find a couple of new pieces that help make a more tangible connection to that tragic era.

Join the conversation and share your voice.

Show Comments

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement