Walnut Grove History
Early Japanese immigrants described travel through the Sacramento Delta area as going “down river,” leading the Issei (first generation Japanese settlers) to call the area around Walnut Grove, “Kawashimo”.
Chinese immigrants had harnessed the delta’s fertility in the 1870-80s by creating a network of levees and inland islands that controlled flooding in what had been a marshy swamp. White landowners reaped the primary benefits from this major project of land “reclamation” and dominated the local economy, along with the multiethnic population of immigrants who arrived in succession from China, Japan, East India, the Philippines and Mexico to work the fields around Walnut Grove.
Unlike other Japanese agricultural settlements, where some immigrants were able to purchase land and establish independent farms, Kawashimo remained wholly owned by a few white landholders. Walnut Grove emerged as a hub for Japanese in the delta area and by the 1930s, over 100 Nikkei families farmed around Walnut Grove. Kawashimo’s Japantown had a bustling commercial area to serve their recreational and material needs.
In 1915, a catastrophic fire consumed Walnut Grove’s Chinatown and a portion of the smaller Japantown. Tensions between these communities led the Japanese immigrants to rebuild on adjacent blocks owned by Alex Brown, a farmer, banker and major landholder who helped amend the Alien Land Laws to maintain his profitable relationship with Japanese immigrants. Japanese builders and carpenters came from as far as San Francisco to lend their expertise and labor to the task of rebuilding Kawashimo’s Japantown.
During WWII, the Japanese of the community were sent to internments camps and scattered throughout the U.S. and the town fell into a state of disrepair. The United States government discouraged their return to their communities although some did return. Now there are less than ten elders left.