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Rural South Hill

By Carl Vest

Newcomers to South Hill certainly don’t think of it as being rural. There are strip malls along Meridian Avenue from Puyallup to Graham.  And, if one venture’s off Meridian there is row after row of houses, jammed together like textbook illustration’s of old European industrial towns of the 19th-century. But it hasn’t been too long ago when South Hill was in fact very rural.  Wild animals roamed about.  Bears were common and other large wild creatures such as elk and deer were seen regularly.  Additionally, there were large numbers of farms with their collections of domesticated animals.  Some of this diversity is recognized by the artwork now in the transit bus shelters along Meridian.

Don Glasser, at age 70-plus, has lived on South Hill all his life.  He remembers that herds of wild horses once roamed the area.  He once encountered what he calls the “Ghost Horse of South Hill.”  It was during the summer months of the late 1940s when he and a group of his friends were exploring the backcountry of South Hill, in an area we now call the Sunrise community and Emerald Ridge High School.  It was late in the day and almost dark.  They had no lights on the 1917 Model T truck they were driving.  As they made their way down a heavily wooded trail they suddenly saw running along side of them a herd of horses, one of which was white and shimmered like a ghost in the poor light.  Ever since he has called it the Ghost Horse of South Hill.

Ben Peters, a Hill resident since 1970, remembers moving into his home near the former Amphitheater.   He maintains that quite often he would be aroused in the morning by cattle mooing outside his bedroom window.  The cattle were running free and regularly would wander by.  His neighbors would from time-to-time hold a roundup to capture both horses and cows that had not been confined.

Ben also recollects seeing thousands of native squirrels – little brown tree dwellers – that have since been driven out by the “grays” that now populate the area.  He recalls hordes of wild rabbits everywhere.   In fact a large rabbit warren was located near his house and it produced them by the hundreds.  Ben recollects that weasels were widespread, mainly because of a “chicken ranch” at the NE corner of 152nd and Meridian.  It was not uncommon to see deer.

Patricia Drake, who taught school at Firgrove in the 1970s, recalls that goats would often wander by the school and look at her students through the windows.  She was always calling someone to get the goats moved.  She notes that it was common for students to ride horses to school.  Also, that on occasion a type of show-and-tell event would be held which would include horses.  Pat considers South Hill and the area around the Firgrove School to be very rural in the 1970s.

Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.

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