South Hill Was Once a Hop-Growing Area
by Carl Vest
Today the population density on South Hill makes it difficult to visualize its agricultural past. But the Hill has a significant history of crop production. Perhaps the most famous was berry growing. But before berry vines were rooted there were acres of hops. Hops, in fact, can be said to be the earliest commercial agricultural venture on the Hill.
Three local families account for most of the hop production: Mosolf, Kupfer and Muehler. The exact locations of their plantings cannot be presented but they can be generally located. The Mosolf’s, for example, were situated on the northern part of South Hill, in the general vicinity of present day Bradley Lake. The Kupfer farm was nearby, close to what later became known as Willows Corner and today would be at about the intersection of 112th Street and Meridian Avenue. The Kupfer home was located near the site of the former Border’s book store. The Muehler farm was further south near what is now Thun Field. Some believe that one of the reasons for building the original Meridian Avenue (then Ball-Wood Road) was to connect the Muehler farm to Puyallup and provide an easier way of getting hops to market.
Hops were grown on South Hill from the late 1800s through the early 1900s. This period generally parallels the same time the crop was cultivated at other locations in the region. While the end of the hop growing era can be pinpointed rather accurately because of aphid infestation, the beginning is more obscure. Ezra Meeker is usually given credit for starting the local hop industry. And, there is considerable truth in these claims. But it should also be recognized that Ezra was not just playing in his agricultural back yard for no reason. Rather, he was responding to a problem in the local beer industry. In the late 1860s and early 1870s the regional brewery folks had become very concerned about the price of hops being imported from Europe. This ingredient, necessary for beer, was being tightly controlled and getting expensive. To counter this trend, someone managed to get some hop seedlings. They were planted in the Puget Sound area and did well. As a result a local industry was born.
The Kupfer family papers contain some descriptions about how their hops were harvested. The need for lots of labor for short periods is emphasized. Local Native Americans were used for this as much as possible, but most workers were recruited from the Frazier River Valley area of Canada. Hops were grown on racks about 20 feet high. These racks were lowered, one at a time, for picking. The seed cones were then stripped from the ‘bind.” They were collected in a “hop basket” which held about 25-pounds. When four baskets were full they were dumped into a “hop box” and taken to a wagon. At that point the worker was credited with the weight picked.
Pickers were paid from one to five cents per pound. A daily wage was usually about 80 cents to one-dollar per person.
Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.