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South Hill One Hundred Years Ago

by Carl Vest

As we begin 2015 South Hill is mostly an urban community.  Very little open land remains amongst a profusion of strip malls and housing developments.  Roadways are congested and travel is sometimes frustrating.  One is tempted to ask, “Has it always been this way?”  Or, “I wonder how it was a hundred years ago?”  Of course the answer to the first question is “NO,” and as for the second, we can get an idea by examining old records.  In 1915, one hundred years ago the Knoll’s Company published an Atlas of Pierce County, which included South Hill.  It shows in general how the Hill was structured at that time.  

Meridian Avenue existed but under the name of Ball-Wood Road.  A muddy path would probably have been a better designation than “road,” but it did exist — from the Puyallup City line south to about modern 160th Street.  Then, as now, it was the centerline or spine of South Hill.

The northern end of South Hill, near Puyallup, was starting to develop.  West of Meridian, for example, several square miles of land had been subdivided into lots, reaching as far west as contemporary Canyon Road.  It was the so-called Woodland region and included Puyallup Fruit & Garden Tracts, Fruitland, Half Dollar Acre Tracts, Half Dollar Berry Tracts, and others.  This was not modern suburban type housing.  The size of the lots varied but most were five acres or greater — mini-farms, really.

To the east of Meridian there was less settlement.  About where Walmart and Home Depot are now located were the hop farms of the Mosolf and Kupfer families.  Other large blocks of land were claimed, but generally were owned by the timber industry.

Other distinguishable clusters of settlements were located further south, starting around present-day 128th Street extending west toward Canyon Road.  This was the location of the old Military Road which had been the main access to the Hill in earlier times.  Many local farmers still used it for transportation and for shipping farm produce to market.  Individual holdings along this path were rather large, mostly in the 40 acre and greater category.  People were widely spread.

There were few groups south of roughly today’s 144th Street — the so-called the Firgrove neighborhood.  Ball-Wood Road only extended south to about 160th Street and there was no southern outlet toward Graham.  Most of the land was being held by timber companies.  Weyerhaeuser Timber Company owned over six square miles, almost twenty percent of the Hill.  A.J. Hayward additionally held over one square mile.  He was one of the founders of the Weyerhaeuser Company.   Two square miles had been designated as “School Land.”  

There were a few scattered collections of farms in several places but not many roads except at the very north end. There were no retail establishments.  No automobiles.  Few people, but lots of animals — there are many early stories about bears, deer, cats of various kinds, etc.  It must have been a quiet place!

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