Japanese American Incarceration Camp in Colorado Receives Federal Protection

The Granada Relocation Center, also known as Amache, grew to become the state’s tenth largest city at its peak during World War II

Old green building at the site of the former Granada Relocation Center in Colorado
Today, Amache is mostly barren grassland dotted with crumbling foundations and a few historic buildings and replicas. Sarah Kuta

Between 1942 and 1945, the United States government incarcerated more than 10,000 Japanese Americans at the Granada Relocation Center, an internment camp in southeastern Colorado that was also known as Amache.

Almost 80 years after the end of World War II, the site is finally receiving federal protection. Per a statement from the Department of the Interior, a law signed by President Joe Biden on March 18 designates the former relocation center as part of the National Park System (NPS). Thanks to the legislation, Amache is now eligible for federal assistance, reports the Colorado Sun’s Kevin Simpson.

Amache, located just outside of the town of Granada and roughly 20 miles from Colorado’s border with Kansas, was one of ten internment sites that the U.S. government built to confine Japanese Americans and people of Japanese descent during World War II.

After Japanese troops attacked the U.S. naval base of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created a new federal agency, the War Relocation Authority (WRA), and directed its staff to construct internment centers across the country. The WRA forcibly relocated roughly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, many of them U.S. citizens, over fears they might aid Japan in the war.

Historical image of Granada Relocation Center
The Granada Relocation Center, also known as Amache, had cramped Army-style barracks that housed thousands of Japanese Americans and people of Japanese descent. National Park Service

“It’s a part of American history that for many years, people wanted to sweep under the carpet,” Derek Okubo, whose father was incarcerated at Amache, told KRCC’s Shanna Lewis in February, on the 80th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the relocation.

Built in the summer of 1942, Amache featured cramped Army-style barracks, mess halls, laundry areas and bathrooms. According to the NPS, the 10,500-acre site, which grew to become the tenth-largest city in Colorado at the time, also had a school, hospital, recreation center, post office, store, barbershop and other shared facilities, all of which were surrounded by barbed-wire fencing and tall watchtowers manned around the clock by armed guards. Internees farmed more than 9,000 acres on the compound, growing a variety of crops and raising livestock.

Even after being removed from their communities and forced to abandon their property and nearly all of their belongings, nearly 1,000 Japanese Americans incarcerated at Amache joined the U.S. war effort; thirty-one of them died serving their country. A memorial to the fallen soldiers, as well as to the 120 internees who died while incarcerated at Amache, stands near the site’s cemetery.

After the war ended and internees were allowed to leave Amache, which officially closed on October 15, 1945, the site went dormant. Federal officials sold or demolished Amache’s buildings and materials.

Memorial to 31 Japanese American soldiers from Amache who died during World War II
Left: A memorial to the 31 soldiers from Amache who were killed during the war, as well as to the 120 internees who died while incarcerated at Amache, stands near the site’s cemetery. Right: Amache's reassembled water tower Sarah Kuta

Today, the site is mostly barren grassland, save for crumbling concrete foundations, dirt roads and trees planted by the internees. Since 1993, social studies teacher John Hopper and his students at Granada High School have been working to preserve and maintain the site via their Amache Preservation Society. The group’s grassroots campaign ultimately helped Amache win federal protection.

Working in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Colorado Preservation, Inc., the society built replica barracks, reassembled Amache’s water tower, and returned the former recreation hall (which had been dismantled and relocated) building to the site. Current and former students also gathered artifacts, interviewed former internees and created the nearby Amache Museum.

The site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

“The story needs to be told so we don’t repeat a wrong,” Hopper tells the Denver Post’s Bruce Finley. “It was wrong then. And it is wrong now. Hopefully, preserving sites like this will teach our youth, our future leaders, that it is wrong.”