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South Hill About 40 Years Ago

By Carl Vest

The genesis of grass-roots community development on South Hill can be traced to the hard work of a citizens group known as the Township Nineteen Association (T-19-A).  It was organized in the late 1960s and disbanded about two years later.  However, from the ashes of this group a new association came into being, the South Hill Community Development Organization.

The core group of people starting the South Hill Community Development Organization had also been members of the original T-19-A.   From this relationship they chose to carry on some of the plans and activities of their past union.  One of the more important tasks they continued was the completion of a questionnaire for surveying the citizens of South Hill.   The idea was to determine a profile of the community and to ascertain the kind future development the people desired. 

The community survey was completed during March 1972.  About 150 volunteers did the work.  A total of 1,532 households were targeted.  Questionnaires were eventually completed by 1,112 of these family units.  Since each unit consisted of several people, the total population count was 4,362.  About 7,000 people lived on the Hill at the time, so the number responding was about half of the total population.

The obtained data established a fact that the Hill was no longer populated by small farms and people living off the land.  Thirty-seven percent of the head of households, for example, described themselves as being professionals, technical workers, holding management positions, and the like.  Another 25 percent declared they were craftsmen. Other data also showed that South Hill had become a bedroom community.   It was revealed, for example, that residents mostly commuted to jobs in nearby communities:  Tacoma (32%), Puyallup/Sumner (13 %), Seattle (6%), and other neighboring locations.  Only six percent of the respondents stated that they worked on South Hill.

When asked how many years each family had lived on South Hill it was found that 45 percent had been there less than 10 years.  Only two percent declared a residency of more than 40 years (i.e., from the 1930s).  Fifty-three percent had been at their present address five years or less.  Only one percent had been living at the same location for four decades or more.

Each respondent was asked about shopping habits.  Forty-two percent bought gasoline on South Hill or Summit.  Another 38 percent filled-up in Puyallup.  When buying groceries 67 percent went to Puyallup, while only 11 percent bought on South Hill.  Another 11 percent shopped in Tacoma.  When purchasing clothing 54 percent went to Tacoma and another 36 percent to Puyallup.  No one purchased on South Hill.  To procure building materials 48 percent journeyed to Puyallup, 27 percent stayed on South Hill or Summit, and another 17 percent traveled to Tacoma.

So by the early 1970s South Hill was beginning to take on the demographic profile that eventually formed the present day community.  The residents were mostly new comers who worked off the Hill.  And since this was prior to the South Hill Mall and the strip malls along Meridian Avenue, they did their shopping principally in Puyallup and Tacoma.

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

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