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Puyallup School District No. and South Hill

by Carl Vest

As you move about South Hill you will likely encounter school buses at some point.  It’s the visible process of the educational system transporting students to and from the many schools located on the Hill.  Painted on the sides of each bus you also see an identification sign — PUYALLUP SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 3.  The Puyallup School District’s three high schools and 30 lower-grade schools tends to be a part of our culture and we acknowledge this identification without thinking.  But what does the No. 3 mean?  Are there two other Puyallup School Districts?  Or, in the past, were there other Districts labeled as numbers one and two?  These are interesting questions.  

Actually, Puyallup School District No. 3 was established in June 1864.  It was an outcome of the first legislative session of the newly created Washington Territory, which met in Olympia on February 27, 1854.  A common school system was established on April 12, 1854.  Thus, District No. 3 was an early creation and has been in place some 150 years.  Conceived at about the same time was District No. 1, located in Steilacoom and District No. 2, in Lakeview.  District No. 4 was near Spanaway Lake.  

At first, District No. 3 included the entire Puyallup valley, but not South Hill.  The first school structure was a log house located on the land of Abram Woolery in the valley just north of South Hill.  It is believed that this took place about 1860.  Unfortunately, many records do not give the Woolery site credit for being the first school in the District.  Rather, a blockhouse build during the Indian Wars, on the old Military Road at the Puyallup River, later used for school instruction, is usually cited as the first school.  

A second school was built about 1870 in the town of Franklin (as Puyallup was then known.)  The exact location cannot be established, but various descriptions put it on contemporary 4th Street NE.  In 1872 the County Superintendent of schools certified that there were 12 schools in the County.

Starting in the 1870s the population of the Puyallup valley increase rapidly, first fueled by a hop growing industry and later by agricultural and industrial expansion.  Keeping pace, District No. 3 also changed by adding more schools at various locations. District lines were also adjusted — a process that continued throughout the first part of the twentieth century.  

South Hill was not a part of these developmental events that took place during the early days of District 3.  The Hill was being settled during this time, of course, and a school system was developed, but  generally through the establishment of individual schools.  Some of these were consolidated over time.  That independence ended in the early 1940s when the Puyallup Heights School was consolidated with District No. 3, thereby bringing the Hill into the District.  

So for the past 75 years South Hill has been in District 3.  And, that’s why the No. 3 on the school buses has significance – it’s historical.

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