The Many Names of Meridian Avenue
by Carl Vest
Meridian Avenue is a well known road name on South Hill. In a north-south direction it bisects the Hill and provides a path for travelers to connect to other places in the Puget Sound region. While the word Meridian has been used for many years a lot of old timers still recall that at various times the road has also been known by other titles. In fact, even in the modern grid system used by Pierce County it is also labeled as 102nd Avenue, East, and in the Washington State records it is Route 161. But in the past it has also been known as Ball – Wood Road, Puyallup – Graham Road, Meridian Street Extension (or Meridian Street South), and Farm to Market Road.
The original name was Ball – Wood Road. Construction was started in 1889 by a request (petition) from local people. The title was to honor Harvey Ball and George Wood, who actually paid to have it “laid-out,” that is, to have the route surveyed. Travelers who now use the road should have noticed historical signs at several intersections with this old name displayed. In some records, however, that portion of the road between the Puyallup City line and Willows is also called “Meridian Street Extension” (or “Meridian Street South”).
The original road was not the same length as the current highway. Its length was from the Puyallup city line to roughly present day 160th Street, a distance on the order of five miles. It then went about one-half mile to the east to what is now 110th Avenue. In both 1910 and 1913 petitions by local people got the road extended southward, eventually to Graham. The additions were not on the modern line of Meridian, however, but were south on present day 110th Avenue and across what is now the closed county land-fill. When it was completed the road from 160th Street southward was named the “Puyallup – Graham Road.” Official maps as late as the 1960s show both names on the continuous road. It was not until the 1920s that Meridian was rerouted to its present location.
A once common identifier that never made it into the official records, but one that was used regularly by local folks was “Farm to Market Road.” During the Hill’s agricultural period there was always the problem of how to get crops to markets. In the early days the highway was a gravel road and some local crops were delicate; berries, for example. They were often damaged when transported. So in 1936 the County paved a nine-foot wide strip on the eastern side of the thoroughfare leaving the west side gravel. The idea was that transports going north to market areas (e.g., Puyallup) would travel on a smooth surface. Returning empty they were to drive on the gravel side. It is reported that law enforcement officers often issued citations for driving south on the paved portion.
The present day name, Meridian, was adopted when the County went to the present-day grid system in 1983.
Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.