Approximate Site of "Little Canton"
In early October, 1885, more than 500 people, emboldened by the events that took place in Rock Springs, Wyoming, marched through the streets of Tacoma shouting “The Chinese must go!”
For months the local citizens had been reading invectives against the Chinese in the local newspaper, the Tacoma Ledger. The anti-Chinese diatribes were endorsed not only by the paper’s editor but by the Mayor of the city as well. The Mayor, Jacob Weisbach, established a “Committee of Fifteen”, made up of prominent local businessmen, who issued a proclamation on October 14 that all Chinese must leave the city within three weeks.
On November 3rd, one day after a jury in nearby King County acquitted three men accused of murdering Chinese farm laborers, a large mob forcibly rounded up most of the Chinese in Tacoma. Leading the mob were the mayor, the sheriff, a judge and other city officials.
They went to each home in what the white citizens called “Little Canton”. Most of the homes there were built on pilings over the water with the entrances connected to the land. They were substantial buildings, some three stories high, and all were interconnected. If the mob found someone at home, they dragged them out and took them away. If they did not find someone, they broke in and ransacked the place.
The day after the Chinese were forced to leave the city, a fire erupted in the now empty Chinese homes. All of the homes burned to the pilings. The nearby mill and trestle were saved by the local fire department, but no one attempted to put out the fire in the Chinese area.
“The houses were of no value,” said the Tacoma Ledger newspaper, “except to the Chinese.”
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About this site: A photograph at the Washington State Historical Society shows the Chinese dwellings on pilings directly next to the Hatch Lumber Mill. The address and location of the mill were found on old city records at the Tacoma Public Library. In addition, the 1885 Sanborn Fire map, also at the Tacoma Public Library, shows the Hatch Mill with the notation "90 ft. of bay between lumber yard and Chinatown." By correlating the old address with current maps, I was able to determine that the original site of Chinatown along the water was covered over by a massive fill in order to accommodate the growth of the Burlington Northern railroad yards.