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Collins Road Connecting South Hill to Tacoma

by Carl Vest

The origin of many formally named roads on South Hill can be traced to the late 1800s.  It’s generally accepted that Ball-Wood Road (now Meridian Avenue, East) was the first planned thoroughfare.  It was developed in phases starting about 1888 as a North-South path across the Hill.  Dating to about the same period, just a few years later, another highway was also commenced, this one in an East-West direction — named Collins Road (now 128th Street, East).

On May 2, 1892, four men, James B. Collins, J. F. Hart, N. O. Hardy, and H. F Gainfson petitioned the County Commissioners to establish a new road to connect South Hill with points to the western part of the county.  James Collins signed as the Principal Petitioner.

The new road would begin on the western edge of Ball-Wood Road, at the south-western corner of Section 10 in Township 19.  In today’s reference, that would be Meridian Avenue and 128th Street.  Connecting that point to today’s Waller Road was the objective.  When completed it would be four and one-half (4-1/2) miles long.

A bond of two hundred dollars ($200) was deposited with the petition.  It appears this money was provided by James Collins and that is undoubtedly why the road was named for him. In 1892 this was a significant amount of cash, equivalent to about $5,300 in 2015 dollars.

Nineteen other people also signed the petition.  Unlike Collins they didn’t pledge money but instead offered to provide labor. The amount of time they volunteered varied — three of the signers listed fifteen days service while others agreed to work twelve, ten, eight, and fewer days.  All decided to deliver some effort to get the road built.

The survey to establish the road was started on January 2, 1893 and was completed in five days.  Deputy County Surveyor W.H. Bell led the investigative crew.  He was supported by three Viewers (J. B. Breckon, Neils Rasmussen and John Schaneld), two Chainmen (W.F. Adams and J.B. Collins), and two Axmen (Will Breckon and A. Chrisholm).

One of the significant entries in their Field Notes is the party’s crossing of the Old Military Road --- Pierce County’s designated Heritage Corridor.  The record shows that at 56.65 Chains west of Ball-Wood Road the party crossed this historic strip.  The entry states:  “Cross Military Road from Steilacoom to Puyallup.  Enter heavy underbrush.”  A Chain as used by these surveyors was 66 feet long.  So at that point the survey party was about three-quarters of a mile west of present-day Meridian Avenue and in today’s reference they would be approaching Rogers High School.

After the preliminary work was completed the surveyors recommended building the road, noting that it would provide local settler’s access to the City of Tacoma by connecting them to an existing road.  This advice was accepted and Collins Road became a County Road in 1893.  By this action South Hill was then connected to Puyallup by Ball-Wood Road and to Tacoma by Collins Road (via Waller Road).

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