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South Hill wasn't always so full of people

By Carl Vest

Depending on where you establish boundaries, the 2008 population of South Hill can be estimated at around 50,000 people.  We wonder, sometimes, how so many can get into such a small place and newcomers often ask if it’s always been this way.  Until recently, of course, it hasn't been so crowded.  But when did it all get started?  An examination of some still existing data will provide an insight.

There were, of course, native Americans living on the Hill when the settlement period began.  Records from groups such as the Hudson Bay Company document such a native population (circa 1840s).  But these native organizations were apparently small and generally didn’t remain after the influx of settlers started. 

Then there are the records of the surveyors that worked on the Hill during the 1860s and 1870s as they established the Township system throughout the Northwest.  One particular map for example, drawn in 1872, identifies three occupied sites; all near the old military road (circa 1850s).  Two were located near present day Rogers High School.  Anton Drunblar is listed as living in one and a Charles Miller in the other.  A third was occupied by a William Weiderhold and located near present day Woodland School. These people may have been squatters and subsequently moved on. And, there may have been others. However, none of these show in later records.

Map

It appears the first authentic settlers to come onto the Hill arrived during the late 1870s.  There are two families in particular that should be considered pioneers: the Kupfer’s and the Mosolf’s.  Alois Kupfer, in 1877, established a homestead near what is now the intersection of Meridian Avenue and 112th Street (or 39th Avenue).  It later became known as Willows Corner. Near where Borders Book Store is now situated is where he started.  He was a native of Germany and arrived on the Hill after spending time in Montana, Utah, Oregon, and eastern Washington.  He bought his property through a real estate agent in Steilacoom.  George Mosolf, in 1879, acquired his land (160 acres) from the Northern Pacific Railroad.  It was located about where the present day Bradley Park and adjacent shopping centers are situated.  George was a native of Prussia, and arrived on the Hill by way of New York, Wisconsin, and California.

It should be noted that neither of these families came to the Northwest as Oregon Trail pioneers.  It could be said that they represent a second wave of immigrants to settle the area.  Nor did they travel by wagon or horseback.  The railroads were in operation by the late 1870s and that is undoubtedly how they arrived.  Also, as to why they settled on South Hill, it must be understood that the initial settlers had already taken all the prime land and this new group was then forced to settle on less desirable tracts, such as the rugged and heavily wooded sections like South Hill.

So two families establishing farms, just over 100 years ago, started the Hill’s population growth.

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

 

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