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South Hill Pioneers—the Zimmerman Family

by Carl Vest

The settlement of South Hill can be judged to have happened in phases or waves.  During the mid to late 1800s, for example, settlers usually arrived by wagon or on horseback.  They were few in number.  Some came in groups, in the so-called wagon trains, while others came solo.  These immigrants might be considered the first wave, or the original settlers on the Hill.  The second wave came shortly after the railroads were established.  These groups can be dated as coming in about the first decade of the 20th century.  The Zimmerman family can be used to symbolize these arrivals and to illustrate how the Hill has changed over the years.

Louis and Mary Zimmerman arrived in Puyallup in October 1909.  They came from Lake County, South Dakota.  On South Hill they bought 50 acres near what is now the Woodbine Cemetery.  Their party consisted of Louis and Mary, their five children, Louis’ father Fred Zimmerman, and two friends, Jim Blake and Bill Voight.  Shortly after arriving they started building a house.  It was finished on Thanksgiving Day in 1910 and the family moved in.  Louis had been attracted to the Tacoma area as a result of his visit to the Alaska Yukon Fair in Seattle.  Louis and his father, Fred, had toured the state at that time.

The Zimmerman’s traveled to the Northwest by train.  Louis rented what was known as an emigrant freight car from the railroad company.  In this car he packed all the agricultural items and tools he thought he would need to operate a farm.  He brought along two draft horses, named Nig and Jet.

Clearing the acreage on South Hill turned out to be a formidable task.  It was heavily wooded.  And in 1912 Louis had an accident pulling stumps.  His injuries essentially ended his ability to do heavy farming labor.  Being unable to work Louis searched for an alternative way to make a living.  He decided to enter the chicken business.

In 1916 Louis attended what was called “the chicken school” being held by the Washington State Experimental Station in Puyallup.  Using the knowledge he obtained in this course he built three elongated chicken coops on his property.  He used these to raise baby chicks.  Mature chickens were kept for producing eggs, both for use by his family and for sale to others.  Fryers were raised and sold for meat to local markets.  At one time the Zimmerman family was supplying chicken products to buyers in Tacoma, Seattle, and as far away as New York.  To finance the start of this new business Louis sold his horses, Nig and Jet.  The chicken business was maintained all through the 1920s and 1930s.  They also produced some raspberries.

About World War II the chicken and berry business was phased out.  Ray Zimmerman, the son of Louis and Mary, turned the farm into a stable and horse riding ranch.  He operated this business for many years.

The farm was sold in 1989.  It is now a housing project.

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