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Vashon Heights

Prior to 1920, Japanese American farmers from Vashon Island used a variety of docks to transport their produce, via the swarm of steamships crossing Puget Sound popularly known as the “Mosquito Fleet.” With the rise of the north-end ferry service to Seattle, however, Vashon Heights became the most popular transit point for strawberry farmers like the Matsuda and Fujioka families. The Mukai family shipped its strawberries in barrels for freezing and further shipment in Seattle via the dock, and the Hoshi family used it to bring their flowers to Pike Place Market and to their shop on Jackson Street.

Although Vashon Heights was passed over when voters chose Portage and Des Moines as the sites for the new King County ferry service opening in 1916, its boosters never accepted defeat. In 1919, a new ferry dock was built at the north end, replacing one that served the old Mosquito Fleet steamers, and service began from Vashon Heights to Harper and Seattle. Within two years, with the construction of the paved Leif Hamilton Scenic Highway from Center, Vashon Heights had supplanted Portage as the island’s major ferry dock. In 1922, the Des Moines route was suspended, and in 1925 the Vashon Heights service added the Fauntleroy dock in West Seattle along with its existing stop at Marion Street.

Preferences for the two stops on the Seattle side were debated for years, but a 1939 poll of islanders led to their eventual settlement in favor of Fauntleroy, the location still in use today. 1939 also saw an extended ferry strike, which inspired the so-called “Vashon Vigilantes” to temporarily seize the ferry Elwha. Nine years later, the Vigilantes figured in another colorful scene, after voters approved a new Vashon Ferry District to replace Captain Alexander Peabody’s unpopular Black Ball Line. When Peabody attempted to reestablish service, he was thwarted by a group of Vigilantes, who successfully prevented the landing of the ferry Illahee by using long-handled tools to shove it away from the dock.

For many Japanese Americans, however, the Vashon Heights dock was the site of their final departure from the island—a forced removal that opened a notorious chapter in U.S history. On May 16, 1942, at the order of the War Relocation Authority, the entire community was gathered at Ober Park, and transported under armed military guard onto a special ferry to Pier 52 in Seattle. From there, they were marched to King Street Station, where a train with covered windows would carry them all the way to a detention center at Pinedale, California.

Author: Vince Schleitwiler

Images

Vashon Heights dock with firewood, c. 1901.

Photo from the Japanese Presence Project.

Vashon Heights ferry dock.

Japanese American man watching Vashon Island Ferry from Lincoln Park, Seattle, 1933.

Photo from Densho, Frank Kubo collection.

Stories

Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market opened to the public in 1907, and Japanese American farmers soon became a fixture. Estimates of the percentage of Japanese American farmers run as high as 70-80% at their peak. The Japanese American presence at Pike Place Market reflected their significance in the broader area, with farmers from Vashon Island joining concentrations in the White River and Puyallup valleys and in the Bellevue area. In addition to strawberries and other fruits and vegetables, they also sold flowers—the Hoshi family, for example, had a stall for their Vashon Garden Company.

In 1910, the Seattle City Council considered a resolution against noncitizen farmers at the market—understood to target Japanese immigrants who were already excluded, on racial grounds, from becoming citizens—but it was defeated by pressure from the Chamber of Commerce and the Japanese Consulate. Nonetheless, disputes with white farmers and anti-Japanese members of the public persisted through the 1910s and 1920s, with vendors like the Hoshis organizing to lobby the city government on their own behalf and with the support of the Japanese Association of North America.

On the eve of their mass incarceration during World War II, Japanese American farmers were still a majority at the market, and their sudden forced removal in 1942 was powerfully registered. After the war, Japanese Americans never regained their prominence at Pike Place Market, but their history is commemorated by a beautiful five-panel mural by the artist Aki Sogabe, located at the main entrance near the corner of Pike Street and Pike Place.

Vashon Island vendors with produce

Petition of Japanese American farmers in regard to assigning stalls at public market, entered December 22, 1913. It includes the signature of "Vashon Garden Co." (Hoshi family) on the second page.

Japanese flower vendors at Pike Place Market.

Shuttered Pike Place Market stall, “G. Oishi, Wholesale Produce”, 1942.