McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan front doors and reflecting pool
Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

Minidoka National Historic Site
Jerome County, Idaho
 
Rows of residential barracks at Minidoka, 1942
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

On December 7, 1941, on what seemed to be a relatively calm Sunday morning for the residents of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu, two waves of Japanese warplanes appeared out of the clouds and attacked the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor as well as other military sites on the island. Described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "a date, which will live in infamy," the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor prompted the U.S. to enter World War II. On December 8, the U.S. declared war with Japan. Americans were fearful that people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. might aid the Japanese, which prompted President Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942. The Order authorized the establishment of military areas encompassing most of the West Coast of the United States, "from which any or all persons may be excluded." This allowed for the removal from from all of California and parts of Alaska, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, and New Mexico of Japanese Americans and those of Japanese ancestry. Managing the relocation was the job of the War Relocation Authority (WRA), which the Federal Government established to construct and administer relocations centers to house the evacuees. Through Executive Order 9066 came Proclamation No.1 which was initially a policy of voluntary participation to relocate; however, the relocation soon became mandatory forcing some 120,000 Japanese Americans and those of Japanese ancestry to move to 10 inland war relocation centers across the nation.

Established in south-central Idaho, 10 miles north of the town of Eden, Minidoka opened on August 10, 1942, and remained in operation until October 28, 1945. During this period, 10,000 evacuees from Oregon, Washington, and Alaska lived at Minidoka, which the WRA and the Bureau of Reclamation built to mimic a small American town. The camp had a 600-bed hospital, schools, a library, fire station, food and retail stores, barbershops, salons, and recreational areas, such as theatres, ballparks, swimming pools, and social halls. In addition to the recreational and service buildings, the camp had 35 residential blocks, each of them consisting of 12 sleeping quarters. All of these blocks included a central H-shaped building, where residents could shower and do their laundry. Although the 946-acre camp mirrored a fully functioning town, the five miles of barbed wire fencing, eight watchtowers, and the overall military presence separated the Minidoka Relocation Center from neighboring communities.

Adult education class in auto mechanics at Minidoka
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Initially, the WRA planned to turn the Minidoka into a farming community, but over time, as the number of residents and facilities continued to grow, the evacuees began doing jobs to support the camp. They worked as doctors, nurses, mechanics, dentists, draftsmen, surveyors, and laborers. Despite holding respectable positions at Minidoka, the Japanese evacuees earned very low wages for performing these jobs compared to the minimum wage available to Americans working in the same professions outside of the relocation centers. Most of the workers at Minidoka earned between $12 and $19 per month; meanwhile prisoners of war during this time earned on average $19.50 a month.

Although the internees at Minidoka did not suffer from physical abuse, the working conditions combined with the living conditions did cause psychological hardships. The lack of privacy and the communal living changed the relationships in and between families. As they learned to live under government control, the younger internees began to ignore the authority of their elders who, up until the war, had strong familial control over the younger generations. Eventually, some of the younger internees began enlisting in the U.S. Army. Eventually 26,000 Japanese Americans from all 10 relocation centers served in the U.S. military, of which 25% came from Minidoka. By the end of the war, Japanese Americans in the armed services had suffered over 9,000 casualties, with Minidoka having the largest casualty list of all the relocation centers. On October 6, 2010, nearly 65 years after the Minidoka Relocation Center closed, President Barack Obama signed legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation's highest civilian awards, to the Japanese Americans who served in World War II.

After Minidoka was closed in October of 1945, a large number of the buildings were removed for various uses, including housing, migrant labor camps, meeting halls, or for salvage value. The land was divided into small farms. Forty-three of these small farms were allotted in 1947 to World War II veterans, whose names were drawn in a lottery. In 1949 another 46 small farms were allotted. Each veteran also received two barracks.

Remains of the Minidoka Relocation Center entrance
Courtesy of the National Park Service

To learn more about Minidoka National Historic Site, tourists may visit the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument Visitor Center, where they can view an exhibit on the Minidoka Relocation Center. They may also walk the 1.6 mile interpretive trail at Minidoka. Twenty three outdoor exhibit panels, audio units, and diagrams along the trail tell the story of the people, the historic structures, and the cultural landscape that is preserved at the site. Visitors may walk through the remains of the entry station, waiting room, and rock garden. At the entrance area, visitors can read the historical commemorative plaques that list the names of the Japanese American troops from Minidoka who served in World War II.

Additionally, the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is a satellite unit of the Minidoka National Historic Site. Located on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, the memorial stands at the former location of the Eagledale ferry dock. On March 30th, 1942, two hundred twenty–seven men, women, and children (two–thirds of them American citizens) were forcibly removed from their homes and ferried from the dock to the nearby city of Seattle. They were the first people of Japanese descent removed from the west coast during World War II and were initially relocated to Manzanar Relocation Center, located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. A year later the majority were transferred to Minidoka. More information can be found on the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community website.

Plan your visit

Minidoka National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located 10 miles north of the town of Eden, ID between Twin Falls and Jerome, ID. The site is open year round during daylight hours. There is a 1.6 mile interpretive trail at the site with markers. Many buildings and features that were part of the center are located on private property which visitors may not enter. Although Minidoka National Historic Site does not offer visitor services at the site, an exhibit about the relocation center is on view at the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument Visitor Center. Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument is located at 221 N State St. in Hagerman, ID. The visitor center is open every day from 9:00am to 5:00pm during the summer, and closed every Tuesday and Wednesday during the winter. There is no admission fee. For more information and directions, visit the National Park Service Minidoka National Historic Site website or call 208-933-4100.

Minidoka National Historic Site is featured in the National Park Service Places Reflecting America's Diverse Cultures Travel Itinerary and also in the National Historic Landmark Theme Study Japanese Americans in World War II. The Minidoka Relocation Center Warehouse has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.

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