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Settlement Started on South Hill in the1870s

by Carl Vest

Land ownership records provide the names and locations of many early pioneers on South Hill.  Records start in the 1840s when the Northwest became a part of the United States and when boundary lines had been established in a treaty with Great Britain.  Land title then flowed from the Federal Government to individuals in basically three ways.  One of the earliest was the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 (DLC). Basically, it was a law that protected settlers who had come into the Oregon Territory before the boundary disputes were settled.  A second statute was the Homestead Act of 1862, used by many settlers on South Hill.  Thirdly, some pioneers simply purchased land from the Federal Government.
South Hill was surveyed in 1872.  Shortly thereafter settlers started to move in.  Technically there were no DLCs on South Hill, but within Township 19, where South Hill is located, three DLC claims were made.  In 1875, Thomas Headly patented 320 acres apportioned between Sections 24 and 25 and in 1876 Daniel Lane claimed 367 acres distributed between Sections 13, 19, 24, and 25.  Both the Headly and Lane holdings were along the Puyallup River and in the valley east of South Hill.  Lastly, in 1878, George Brown obtained 160 acres spread between Sections 6 and 31.  These areas are just to the west of South Hill, Section 6 being in the present day area of Summit and Section 31 is located near Frederickson.  The dates are the time of the title transfer, which verifies that the pioneers had moved onto the land several years before.

The Homestead Act of 1862 was used by many early pioneers.  Homestead records show that it was during the 1870s that settlers began to move onto the eastern slopes of South Hill. The driving force probably was that all the good land in the river valley had been taken.  Carl Muehler, one of the first to settle on the Hill, used the Homestead Act in 1877 to acquire 80 acres in Section 22.  Using today’s point of reference, the location would be near the intersection of 152nd Street and 110th Avenue.  In 1879 Joseph Geiger, using the same law, acquired 80 acres in Section 14, in an area around the present day Tacoma Water Reservoir.  Fritz Balck also acquired 80 acres in1879 in Section 12, an area up the hill above McMillin. 

The third way some settlers obtained land was by outright purchase. In the 1870s several South Hill pioneers did just that. The first recorded was in 1876, when Edward Sane bought 160 acres in Section 13, just east of today’s water reservoir.  In 1877 both James Hall and James Leonard bought 160 acres, in Section 14, also near the reservoir.   In 1877 Daniel Woolery purchased 160 acres in Section 24.

Land records indicate that settlement started on South Hill in the 1870s and that the eastern slopes of the Hill were the first acquired.  More extensive development would come later.

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