Strawberry Fields Forever

For most of the first half of the 20th Century catching the early morning ferry from Vashon Island to Tacoma meant sharing the main deck with wagons full of fresh vegetables, cut flowers and most unforgettable, crates and barrels of fresh sweet strawberries. Like the produce grown in the Fife Valley, the fruit and flowers were headed to Tacoma’s busy public markets where the best restaurant chefs and pastry bakers were waiting each morning when the Japanese American grown delicacies arrived. It was the Vashon strawberries that went first, unmatched for their sweet flavor and firm, plump size. Most prized of all were the berries from Mukai Gardens.

vashon school

This Vashon School photo is from 1927 and its a pretty safe bet that the Japanese American kids in the class are from farm families. Denichiro Mukai came to the island in 1910 and became renown for barreling fresh strawberries using a special method that concentrated flavor and moisture in the fruit and permitted long distance shipping. In time Mukai designed and built his own home and elaborate garden and then constructed a sturdy timber framed barreling plant. During the peak years, ice cream, jam and preserve makers across the West were customers of Mukai, relishing the oak barrels for their lingering flavor and mythologizing about the island of strawberry fields.

vashon mukai-then-mr2Mukai’s garden, home, barreling plant and rolling strawberry fields have survived, not easily, into the current century and recently have been undergoing a remarkable restoration effort. The hand made buildings and surrounding cultural landscape is one of those places that is settled in its big story. Quiet and almost unmarked, it is a sweet discovery for people who ride over to the island on the ferry. Sweet like the strawberries you could get before anyone waiting at the morning market almost a century ago.


Vashon MukaiPlant89Ag


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This site is about the way history, in this case of a city and it's surrounds, is remembered or recorded in stories and small bits of memory. It's also about the way images and stories go together, how they inform and enrich each other and how we as thinking people fill in the content between a narrative and a visual document. So here is my city in time past, the way it looked and the people and events that create its character. For more than 20 years I have taught a 5 credit course on the History of Tacoma at the University of Washington Tacoma. With an average of 30 or 40 students a year, each doing a research paper as their primary focus for the course, I have benefited from many paths of inquiry and many researched and assembled stories. Here are some of them in the retelling along with the treasures of photographs and images in the collections of the Washington State Historical Society, Tacoma Public Library, University of Washington Digital Archives, Washington State Archives at the Office of the Secretary of State, Library of Congress, Washington State University, Alaska State Library, and many other archives, libraries and private collections.

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