Memories of Longtime Residents
by Carl Vest
The South Hill Historical Society usually touts two events when promoting historical happenings on the Hill — the crossing of the Longmire-Biles wagon train in 1853 and the Japanese balloon bomb attacks during World War II. Those events were significant, of course, and are the baseline for any discussion of local history. But people also remember less important happenings, those related to ordinary life — events that define everyday recollections of living or growing up on South Hill. At a meeting of the Society in May 2008 several long-time residents were asked the following question: “What is the first event (happening) that comes to mind when you think of South Hill?” Their answers illustrate community events that don’t make headlines.
As late as the 1950s for example, there was a shortage of water and the hardships that created are still remembered. Many people had to find and transport water some distance. One such family, Mary and Don Glaser, who lived in the Firgrove area, recalled that “In 1952 … [we] …bought water from Lyman’s Shell station on 128th, corner of Meridian, West side. … We hauled the water in a garbage can and had to make it last about a week before we replenished it. We used the water for cooking, laundry and washing. Once a week we prevailed on our relatives to allow us to take a shower so we could wash off the sweat and grim. This went on for nine months ‘til Firgrove Mutual Company came into being. We were among the very first to sign up and buy shares in the company.”
For Bill Goelzer, thoughts always returned to the crash of an airplane. He wrote: “In 1942 a training plane crash landed upside down in our strawberry patch on Airport Road (now 112th ST). This was about 2,000 ft. [west] from the Willows Corner. We were gone for the day and had a hard time returning because all of the McChord A.F. vehicles and soldiers in the area. They removed the plane but we couldn’t grow anything in that part of the field because they drained the gas onto the dirt.”
During the 1930s and 40s the Old Mill Dance Hall near Willows Corner was a popular social destination on South Hill. It has disappeared but the shell remains today. Olive Parks McDonough wrote about it in her answer: “The whole family (Parks) would go to the Old Mill Dance Hall during the 30’s. The women brought sandwiches and coffee, etc. for snacks. My uncle scattered large ivory soap flakes so the floor would be slippery for the dancers. We sat (kids) on the benches lining the walls and never went on the dance floor. It was a fun time during the depression.”
Sheila Rinker wrote about other entertainment: “The big event for us in those days (50s – 60s) was ‘child oriented,’ which meant a trip to Thun Field to watch sky divers and various planes.”
So many ordinary things have happened on the Hill, and they are history too.
Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.