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Area schools once looked vastly different

by Carl Vest

The educational needs of South Hill residents are served by the Puyallup School District (District No. 3).  But this arrangement has only existed since the early 1950s.  Before that the Hill had a number of locally designated rural school areas, one of which was named the Firgrove School District (District No. 82).

The Firgrove School District, located in the Firgrove community on the Hill, was established in the1890s, during that period when the population on South Hill was just beginning to grow. It consisted of one school, with one building, known as the Firgrove School, built in 1895. It was not on the same site as the present-day school. It was a one-room wooden frame building located on present day 136th Street, East, then known as Patzner Road, situated on a knoll about one-half mile east of Ball-Wood Road (now known as Meridian Avenue, East). The land came from the original holdings of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Margaret Deagan, a teacher in the school from 1908 to 1911, has written that some of the early family names of the students were Fulliger, Patzner, and Chadwick.  She was paid $33 a month during her first year teaching and received a $5 per year raise afterwards.  She rode a horse to work and noted that there were no cars in use at the time.

As time passed the community’s educational needs increased and outgrew the original one room school.  Moreover, there was no room to expand.  To solve this problem the school was moved, in 1935, to its present location (13918 Meridian Avenue, East).  Five acres of land was acquired in 1934 and a new brick schoolhouse was built. The move was made in mid-year, during the 1935 – 36 school term. Firgrove School, as the name, was also transferred to the new location.  While the new building was larger it continued to be basically a school providing instruction for all the State’s required grades. Don Glaser who lives on South Hill recalls going there in grades one through eight.  He graduated in 1945.  However during the late 1940s Firgrove gradually became more of an elementary school as both its junior high and high school students increasingly were being sent to Puyallup District locations.

In the 1940s the population on the Hill continued to increase but the local school tax base, relative to that of larger districts, started to produce pressures to eliminate smaller districts.  Consequently, in 1950 the Firgrove and Puyallup School Districts agreed to consolidate.  The much larger Puyallup District bordered Firgrove on the north.  On March 14th of that year a proposition calling for the consolidation was submitted to the voters and was approved.  Also, in 1950, the land area around the school was increased by an additional five acres. This provided room for expansion, such as the adding of classrooms and new buildings. All of which has happened.

The 1935 Firgrove School building is the oldest educational structure on the Hill.  It has served the community well for the past three-quarters of a century.

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