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South Hill Life during the 1940s

by Carl Vest

To a newcomer South Hill certainly has all the appearances of a small city.  Mile after mile of strip malls along with traffic congestion, densely packed housing, and all the social ills that would be expected in an area that has experienced unfettered growth for a long period.  But the Hill has not always been this way.

Consider the late 1940s as an example.  While the local population had increased significantly during WWII, relative to earlier periods, South Hill was still considered country. Significant stands of second growth trees were maturing and to a casual observer the area would have seemed forested.  So what was it like living on the Hill then? Some idea can be gotten from some people who still live here from that period.  It was in the early 1940s that the George family bought and settled on a 40-acre farm, fronting on what is now 152nd Street (then known as Mitchell-Gould Road), at its juncture with 94th Avenue (current designation).  One youngster in that family was named Gloria George.  She later married Chris O’Kelly and they still live on a portion of that original family farm.

Gloria remembers that the road now known as 94th Avenue was just a dirt path.  Local people didn’t often use it because the roadbed was almost always in bad shape: mud, ruts, and potholes.  Mitchell-Gould Road was also just a narrow, gravel-surfaced lane.  And in the 1950s no more than a dozen cars a day would pass by the farm.

Interestingly, major water problems plagued the early days.  Not too much as you might think, but rather not enough water. Initially there was a producing water-well. The family was not accustomed to conservation however and proceeded to draw-down the reservoir faster than it could be replenished.  As a consequence they had to haul water from a source located at the intersection of Collins Road (now 128th Street) and Meridian.  That site was a country store.  Mr. George, would go to the store, fill two fifty-gallon barrels, and bring them home for family and cattle use.

When going to school local children walked to Meridian to catch buses. Firgrove School offered classes in grades one through eight. Beyond that it was necessary to transfer to the high school in Puyallup.  Gloria recollects riding a double-deck bus operated by the Blue Gray Line.

The recreational activities of the young people were out-door related.  For example, when it got cold enough for the local water ponds to freeze they would get together and go to the Massey Pond and play games on the ice.  The boys would pull sleds as fast as they could, swing them around and around and then let go.  It was a kind of “crack the whip” sport played on ice.  Gloria’s comment about this was, “What a great time we all had!” The O’Kelly’s believe that the only nearby business in the 1940s was a local dairy — the Gould Dairy and that it prospered for many years.

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