Exploring for Oil and Gas on South Hill
by Carl Vest
South Hill is known for many things, of course, but it is also recognized as the capitol of the oil and natural gas producing areas of the Pacific Northwest. Really! Well, that was the vision of some local residents in the 1930’s. It was in 1937 that some 2000 acres of South Hill real estate was designated as an area for oil and gas exploration. In the legal papers for this proposed undertaking a physical district on the Hill was outlined and named for purposes of exploration: it was called Community Number One.
Community Number One had a specific location. It was positioned mostly, but not entirely, on the east side of Meridian Avenue. The northern boundary was 128th Street, between Meridian and 122nd Avenues. The east side was 122nd Avenue, running north-south between 128th and 160th Streets. On the west side most of the border was north-south Meridian Avenue, except for a small fraction on the west side between 144th and 152nd Streets. In this region the western edge was 88th Avenue. The southern periphery was east-west along 152nd Street between 88th and 110th Avenues, and then along 160th Street to 122nd Avenue.
Community Number One was the core of what is now South Hill. It encompassed the present day commercial districts along the east side of Meridian Avenue between 128th and 160th Streets. It also consisted of, for example, all the housing areas located between Meridian and 122nd Avenues, south to the Sun Rise Shopping Center. The area where Pope Elementary School is located was part of the plan. On the west side of Meridian both a commercial district and housing complexes were included.
So the designers of this exploration district captured what is now the heart of South Hill. The agreement was to be in force for 20 years. There were some exceptions to that limit but only if there were operating wells at the end of the period. For purposes of exploration the entire designated area was considered as one property, even though there were many owners of acreage within its boundaries. As compensation, the various land title-holders were to share pro rata in all returns and royalties, in proportion to the number of acres they owned in relation to the number of acres covered by the entire community.
So what did eventually happen? When examining the designated district now, for example, it will be observed that no oil pumping rigs are visible or, as a matter of fact, is there any evidence that they ever existed. No physical confirmation of oil derricks for drilling can be found. While it is a fact that Community Number One was legally established, there are no additional records showing that any exploration ever took place within its boundaries. Thus, it appears that the Community went out of existence in 1957as planned. But official records may be deficient. The South Hill Historical Society would like to hear from anyone who might have photographs, paperwork, or any other evidence of this undertaking.
Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.