The root cellar is special in many ways. It is the only surviving camp structure built entirely by Japanese Americans.
History of the Root Cellar:
Construction began on the root cellar in the summer of 1943, as part of the camp’s agriculture program. That year, the incarcerated laborers of the agriculture program accomplished what was known as the “Heart Mountain Miracle,” turning a dry Wyoming desert into verdant farmland in less than a year.
The cellar, built to hold produce from those fields, is more than 300 feet long and nearly 40 feet wide. Yet, it held less than half of the vegetables needed to feed the Heart Mountain camp. Another identical cellar, now collapsed, once stood next to it. Scroll down to learn about the stages of restoration completed so far and the future plans for the root cellar in our walk-through films.
Support the Root Cellar Project:
Without proper restoration, our cellar would suffer the same fate as its twin. Donate to help preserve this unique structure!
Root Cellar Films:
The Japanese Americans of the Heart Mountain camp were the first to farm this area of the Bighorn Basin. Visit the root cellar with Director of Interpretation & Preservation Cally Steussy to learn more about the Heart Mountain farms, and the cellars created to store the crops.
Filmed in 2021
Explore the structure of the root cellar with former Executive Director Dakota Russell and get a sense of the stages of restoration required to bring this root cellar safely back to its original condition.
Filmed in 2020
Root Cellar Returns
The Jolovich family, who had purchased both root cellars after WWII, donate the surviving root cellar and surrounding land to the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.
Restoration Needs Assessed
With the support of a National Park Service grant, the Foundation conducts a detailed assessment of the surviving cellar and begins a preliminary restoration, exploring the challenges and needs of working on such a unique structure.
Global Pandemic Delays
Work that was set to begin in spring 2020 is delayed due to COVID-19 and associated supply chain issues. Temporary stabilization is put in the most endangered sections of the cellar to prevent further degradation, and temporary roofing is installed to protect the cellar from wind and weather until full work can begin.
Needs Assessment and Planning
Grants from the National Park Service and the Aratani Foundation facilitate work with an architectural firm specializing in historic structures to develop plans for a full restoration of the cellar that respects the historic fabric while also accommodating modern concerns of safety and accessibility.
Phase 2 Restoration Begins
The restoration crew breaks ground on the latest stage of the root cellar restoration project. The first steps include earth moving and clearing, making way for the structural work to begin. The state of decay and collapse, particularly of the roof, made this the most important place to start to establish a safe structure in which to work and, going forward, in which to visit and explore.
Original Entrance Restored
The crew sets up a “vent surgery” station inside the cellar, where they are carefully tagging, recording, and dismantling the vents for safekeeping and eventual restoration. The non-historic addition to the entrance is removed, so now, for the first time since the 1950s, the entrance of the root cellar is back to its original layout.
Creation of Accessible Pathway
The concrete is poured to make an ADA-accessible ramp and pathway into the root cellar. This pour establishes broad and stable underground footers for the columns inside, as well as a strong base for the retaining walls on the ramp, which will eventually be covered by wood to retain the original aesthetic. Damaged rafter logs are removed to make way for columns and new extremely heavy and robust logs.
Reassembly of Roof
With the concrete work complete, elements are moved back into place, including earth hugging the outside of the walls and gravel near the entrance. The roof is reassembled as rafters are put back or replaced and the roofing structure is filled in.
Battening Down the Hatches
Insulation is installed to complete the roof, and wiring is set up to provide lighting to the mostly underground structure. Now that the root cellar has been properly protected and sealed from the elements for the winter, work is paused until Spring 2024.
Future Plans for the Root Cellar
Working with Split Rock Studios, the designers behind the interpretive center’s award-winning permanent exhibit, we have begun planning exhibits for the root cellar. They are drawing design inspiration from archaeological sites like the ancient ruins of Greece and Rome to create an interactive exhibit that will allow visitors to actively move through the cellar and experience this incredible piece of history first-hand!