Tofu House closer to a new home

By Pat Jenkins The Dispatch Big plans for a small building are getting closer to cementing a piece of Eatonville's history. The South Pierce County Historical Society has been awarded a $6,500 grant from the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation to help the local historians move and preserve what they describe as the last physical part of Eatonville's long-ago Japanese American community. The two-room former farm building is known as the Tofu House. Fund-raising by the non-profit Historical Society is making it possible for the structure to be relocated to a new permanent site and restored. The Greater Tacoma Community Foundation grant comes from its Building Capacity fund, which supports expansions of existing programs. Bob Walter , president of the Historical Society, "has moved us a giant step closer to our goal of moving and preserving the Tofu House.GÇ¥ The move is scheduled for this fall. When the project is completed, "this little, historic building will be the vehicle for telling the story of a largely forgotten period of our town's history,GÇ¥ Walter said. The period includes the forced internment of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans GÇô Eatonville residents among them -- by the U.S. government in 1942. "The greater lesson is this was a mistake. Let's not let it happen again,GÇ¥ said Walter. For the financial backing of the Tofu House project, the Historical Society has raised about $2,600 in individual donations through a campaign, last year received a $500 grant from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, and earlier this year got another boost when the Ben B. Cheney Foundation in Tacoma pledged a $6,000 capping grant. The Cheney aid is contingent upon the society raising $8,000 to $14,000 for the estimated cost of moving the building across town to the group's leased museum property which is the original location of the Tofu House. Already at the site is the Van Eaton cabin, the first residence in Eatonville's earliest days. Walter, who also is an Eatonville Town Council member, said enough money has been raised to cover the initial stage of the project. Presidential Homes, owner of the land where the Tofu House now sits, will allow the Historical Society to take possession of the building and move it. Walter said Chet Tomczak of Chet's Housemoving has pledged a discount on the moving cost. The building eventually will house interpretive exhibits that will relate the stories of Japanese-Americans who lived and worked in Eatonville until their relocation and internment. The Historical Society gives this account of the Tofu House role in that history: Japanese-Americans helped build the Tacoma Eastern Railroad to and through Eatonville, opening a rail route for lumber to port and beyond. The Eatonville Lumber Company, which employed-Japanese Americans, owned a dairy that was run by a Japanese family and supplied the company store and the town with dairy products. The dairy closed in the 1930s, so the people living beside the milk house, with its constant supply of cool water diverted in a flume from the Mashel River, converted it into making tofu, or bean curd. After the Japanese-Americians' relocation in 1942, the farm buildings were torn down or moved GÇô all except the milk house, now known as the Tofu House. The Historical Society learned of the building's existence in 2005 and has been intent on preserving it ever since.


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