The Rabbit Farms On South Hill
by Carl Vest
Over the years real estate on South Hill has been acquired, developed and sold in a variety of ways. One of the more interesting efforts was an attempt in the early 1930s to create a community known as the Rabbit Farms. The intent was to divide a large geographical area into home lots with each owner raising rabbits in commercial numbers; and, thereby creating an industry. Each dwelling lot would have a rabbi try. Breeding animals would be provided for the owners to produce rabbit fur primarily, but also for food and fertilizer.
The approach was successfully promoted during the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1950s it had generally faded away. Many people still live in the old Rabbit Farms area, however, and most are very proud to claim lineage to this scheme.
The records of Pierce County are not helpful in locating the old development. The effort was never registered, but it was real. Many period maps show it in outline and some even have individual lots identified. The concept was widely announced in era newspaper advertisements and was, therefore, a well-known activity. Using today’s configurations, a landmark close to the old Rabbit Farms is the South Hill YMCA. The project was about two blocks east of the current YMCA along 110th and 111th Avenues (then Fir and Cedar Streets), and then west-east on 122nd Street (then Main Street). Generally, along both avenues, the project was one lot deep on each side. Along 122nd Street the depth varied moving from west to east, but was generally one lot wide on both sides to about 120th Avenue. The project did not extend as far as Shaw Road.
The size of the proposed venture varied over time. In the 1930s some 600 acres was announced as the goal. That number was never achieved. Analyses of maps suggest that about 95 building lots were finally used. As they were generally plotted at 2.5 acres the final project was, therefore, about 250 acres.
Why was it thought that raising rabbits could be a viable activity? Natural fur was in demand and rabbit fur could be dyed to resemble pelts of exotic animals. This was before the introduction of synthetic fibers. During the same period the Federal Government was also expanding research into using rabbit fur. Moreover, there were other fur farms in Western Washington and a number of professional associations existed to represent marketing on a national basis.
Did the South Hill effort succeed? Well, it succeeded in selling real estate, but not in the creation of an industry. While many people were attracted to the development because of the economic conditions of the 1930s they were never able to produce enough rabbits to make it economically viable. Many of the old-timers from that period also speak of a virus that hit the farms in the early 1940s. Most farmers never recovered. A few switched to raising chickens. And, by the 1950s, economic times had changed and the market for fur had diminished.
Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.