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Crewport Labor Camp

Texto en español.

In the early 20th century, the Yakima Valley’s dispersed, rural population made it challenging for commercial agriculture to meet labor demands at peak times, such as harvesting. Large farms relied on non-resident farm laborers. For instance, to harvest the annual hops crop, some ranch owners recruited and encamped Native Americans on their property from as far away as British Columbia, Canada.

While local communities welcomed these non-resident workers during peak labor times, they urged the laborers to move elsewhere as soon as the crops were in. During the Great Depression, displaced and impoverished Midwestern migrant white families also began migrating to the county. During World War II, agricultural production increased to meet wartime demand. Farm labor was once again in short supply.

Two federal labor camps were established to meet the pressing need for farm worker housing. In 1939, the new federally constructed Ahtanum Migrant Labor Camp opened. Located near the site of an old Yakama Indian Mission in Union Gap, this camp welcomed the impoverished white migrants. The site had 41 homes, 200 cabins, and 142 concrete slabs for tents. For 10 cents a day, families could rent safe, decent, comfortable homes or temporary tents in a camp complex with its own child care center, recreational facilities, post office, and small grocery store. The next year, the federal government (via the Farm Security Administration) announced the construction of an identical camp, Crewport, in the Lower Valley at Granger. The Crewport camp provided similar housing and living conditions. When space was not available at the two public government camps, migrant families simply camped in appalling conditions along the river, highways, or other open spaces.

After the war’s end, Mexican American families were recruited as migratory laborers to the Yakima Valley from south Texas, particularly Rio Grande Valley border towns. Some of these new arrivals, referred to as “Tejanos,” obtained temporary housing in tents or fixed shelters in Crewport, the camp previously constructed to house white migrant families. In 1944, Guadalupe Gonzales is credited with bringing the first Mexican farm workers from Edinburg, Texas to Crewport. Soon, others began contracting migrant laborers from Texas towns for employment on Yakima farms.

Upon arrival, some of the families, referred to as “Tejanos,” obtained housing in temporary tents or fixed shelters at Crewport, the Farm Security Administration camp previously constructed to house white migrant families. A discrete community of Tejano families quickly emerged at Crewport. By March, 1946, Crewport had 685 residents. When space was not available at Crewport, incoming Tejanos took what shelter was available on employers’ land. Housing affected the migrants’ welfare — those that lived in Crewport were free-wage laborers, able to choose where and for whom to work. The camp also comprised a social network. In contrast, those living in private housing had to work for the property owner, under the owner’s rules and authority. Farm labor housing ranged from basic shelters to large row house complexes owned by corporations or company farms, such as Golding Hop Farms Corporation and Yakima Chief Hop Farms (see Golding Hop Farms entry). Latino families moved out of Crewport as soon as they could afford to purchase homes just north of Granger’s city center.

According to a 1974 survey of the site, the Crewport camp once included a gymnasium, meeting hall and mess hall. The camp closed in 1969 after failing to meet health regulations.

Images

1968 image of the Crewport Labor Camp soon before it closed.

Courtesy of the Yakima Valley Library, image 2002.850.876.

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