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Farming Was a Big Deal

by Carl Vest

South Hill is an occupationally diverse community.  It cannot be considered as just another suburban bedroom society.  A vibrant commercial retailing complex exists and most professions are represented within the population, with good medical, educational, and legal strengths.  Moreover, an inventory of general workers would most likely show residents using most recognized technical skills.  While this diversity enhances our regular everyday lives it should be recognized that this wide range of talent has not always existed.

South Hill initially was a timber producing area.  It then evolved into a community of large farms, followed by a period when small farms were the run-of-the-mill.  These smallholdings were gradually subdivided into more dense developments in the form of housing tracts.  Unfortunately, there are few benchmarks that can be used to precisely measure the transitions through these stages.  But one point of reference does exist.  It’s a 1939 directory of the Puyallup Valley.  Included in this study are Inputs from the City of Puyallup, as well as listings from the three rural postal routes that originated at the downtown post office.  South Hill (called Puyallup Heights) was included since Postal Route Number Two covered most the Hill.

From the post office, Route Two during the mid to late 1930s went east along Pioneer Avenue to that route’s junction with the Orting Highway.  The direction was then south to the community of McMillin.  At that point, after some local coverage, the track turned west and moved onto South Hill.  It then, generally, zigzagged around what is now Meridian Avenue, in a northerly direction, back to downtown Puyallup.  In this compilation the names of people who lived along the postal routes are identified as well as postal box numbers, occupations, and in most cases street addresses.
This study, made just before World War II, illustrates one era for South Hill.  Farming occupations, for example, were a big deal, with about one-third (32 percent) of the residents classifying themselves as farmers.  Listed were such activities as general farming, ranching, growing bulbs, rabbit farming, berry growing and other such doings.  But while many kinds of agricultural efforts were declared by residents they did not constitute the largest occupational group.  The largest set listed themselves as unskilled laboring individuals.  Forty-one percent considered themselves to be in that classification.  So together, farming and unskilled laborers accounted for almost three-quarters (73 percent) of the people on the hill. 

During this same period, skilled workers made up 14 percent of the occupations listed.  Included were electricians, lineman, loggers, mechanics, painters, and other like pursuits.   Professional vocations accounted for only three percent of the total.  Included in this listing were school teachers, nurses, surveyors, preachers, and the like.  There were no physicians or lawyers registered.  Of the remaining 10 percent, about half were retired people.  The other five percent claimed to be proprietors of various businesses, for example, the owner of the Willows Tavern. 

So while today we enjoy the services of a wide range of talent on the hill, the makeup in 1939 was considerably different.

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