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Establishing Local Churches on South Hill In The Early 1900s Was Difficult

By Paul Hackett

Religious worship has always been a priority of people living on South Hill.  Unfortunately, in the early days, the establishment of congregations was difficult.  The reasons had primarily to do with the distances people had to travel and the density of the population.  Clearing the land and building homes occupied most of the time of pioneers.

Individual families conducted early religious services.  But with the coming of automobiles in the early 1900s, many Hill residents began to seek out worship opportunities in other communities where flocks has already been established.  Families  of German descent tended to go to the German Lutheran Church near Tacoma, or the Immanuel Lutheran in Puyallup.  Eventually, the establishing of “home” churches became a priority.

Just when the first church was built on the Hill is unknown.  The clue we have to such identification comes from a 1986 Pierce County Planning Department effort that attempted to locate historic buildings.  One finding was a “single story wood frame” building on the northwest corner of 112th Street and 66th Avenue East.  It had been identified in 1959 as the Woodland Gospel Temple.

Some church structures were converted from other uses.  The Rabbit Farm Building at 117th Avenue and 122nd Street was first converted to a store, then to a Sunday School.  It became a church in 1948.  It was first known as the Highlands Community Church and later as the South Hill Full Gospel Church.  Today, it is the Living Hope Church.  A number of ministers have been identified as leading this congregation:  Pastor Rupp, Reverend Ike Mardock, Reverend Joe Finley, and the Reverend Joe Finley, Jr.

The Hill’s Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation began in the Puyallup Valley.  A church building was eventually constructed at 113th Street and 78th Avenue.  Our Savior Lutheran Church formed in 1962 after a survey showed promise of growth. Puyallup Valley Baptist Chapel was originally organized with Omer Hyde, Metropolitan Director for the Mt. Rainier Association.  In 1962, Southern Baptists met in the Hill Funeral Home and in June 1967,  moved to 79th Avenue and 112th Street.  It was subsequently renamed the South Hill Baptist Church.

The Firgrove Community Baptist Church was also an outgrowth of a survey.  Under Reverend Eugene Bartells, the church was incorporated in 1967 and moved into a structure at 136th Street and Meridian Avenue.  Later that year, the Presbyterian Church USA appointed the Reverend Paul Hackett to organize a church.  That house of worship, named Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church, met in the Fruitland Grange until a building was constructed at 84th Avenue and 112th Street.

Ballou Junior High School once served as a place of worship for the Pilgrim Lutheran Church.  That congregation now meets in its own facility at 105th Avenue and 136th Street.

There are now about 25 churches on South Hill.  The South Hill Historical Society would like to document the history of each.  A contact by a representative would be appreciated.

Paul Hackett, is Public Relations Coordinator for the South Hill Historical Society.

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