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Growing Up On South Hill In The 1930s

by Carl Vest

Today South Hill should be considered an urban community.  While there are still some parts that could be developed, by and large the Hill is built out.  This density brings all the problems of urban living.  And, as we negotiate our way through the congestion we often wonder how it was before all this happened. 

Are there still people living on the Hill who watched it take place?  Yes!  Take the Glaser family as an example.  These folks have lived on South Hill near the Tacoma water reservoir since the early 1900s.  Several generations have grown up on the Hill and many still call it home.  And those who travel Shaw Road and 122nd Avenue may have noticed a historical road marker called Glaser Road which commemorates their presence in the area.

Wayne and Don Glaser were born on the Hill.   Both still live near their birth place.  They report that in the 1930s the Hill was essentially brush land.  There was, however, considerable second generation timber.  Very few roads existed and they were very primitive.  Not many people lived near the Glaser’s and reportedly you could safely shoot a rifle in any direction.  It was not uncommon to see bears roaming around and folks would scare them by firing shot guns. 

Before WWII there was no utility infrastructure on the Hill.  The Glaser boys report that when they were growing up there was no electricity, no telephone, and their water came from a well near their house.  Water had to be hand carried, it was not piped in.  There were no indoor toilets.  Pit toilets were used and the Glaser’s had a three-hole one for their entire group.

Like other rural boys the Glaser children had chores to do each day.  They milked cows in the evenings.  Hogs were fed, i.e., slopped.  They gathered eggs in the hen house.  They took turns turning a machine called a separator, which divided milk and cream.  And, of course, they did school homework the same as children do today.

The Glaser youngsters attended Firgrove School, over the years going to both the old and the new one.  The boys insist that school was a pleasure.  In addition to the learning process Don remembers playing marbles, flying kites, and going over the fence to play in the brush.  He notes that parents came to the school and cooked lunches.    They walked about a mile and a half to school.

Members of the Glaser clan at the time did not consider themselves to be farmers.  Rather, they insist they were loggers.  The Saint Paul Tacoma Lumber Company was a big employer during their time and many local people worked for that company or a competitor.

Ice skating on the many ponds around South Hill was a favorite recreational pastime.   Unfortunately, most of these have now been filled in or drained.

So things have changed on South Hill over the past 60 or so years.  It was different for an earlier generation.

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