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South Hill's Shaw Road

by Carl Vest

Shaw Road is one of the few thoroughfares that connects downtown Puyallup with the northern parts of South Hill.  The name dates back to 1915, when the road was authorized.  At that time it was designated as Shaw County Road, and while most of South Hill’s old county roads have been renamed as streets or avenues, and given numbers in the County or Puyallup grid systems, Shaw Road has maintained its original name.  Only the word “County” has been dropped.  Shaw Road is named for the Shaw family whose home was located on Pioneer Avenue near the base of South Hill.  The original road terminated just across Pioneer from their house. 

Chris and Mary Shaw with their children made up the Shaw family.  Chris Birkholtz Shaw (sometimes spelled Schou and Schow) was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on October 1, 1856.  His parents brought him to the United States at the age of four and he grew up in Wisconsin.  Chris later moved to South Dakota.  On March 2, 1884, while in South Dakota, he married Mary Ellen Blow (or Bleau in her French past).  The couple subsequently lived in Lincoln, Nebraska and Colorado Springs, Colorado.  They migrated to Puyallup in September 1901, and settled on a 15-acre farm on Pioneer Avenue East, near the Meeker Junction of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Like most roads on South Hill, Shaw Road was not completed as a single construction job.  The first section, about a mile in length, was started in 1914 by a Petition to the Pierce County Commissioners signed by sixteen local property owners.  According to maps in the County files the original path was built on an “Old Tramway Grade” that during earlier times had probably been used to move logs from cuttings on the Hill to various sawmills in Puyallup.
The original road did not connect in a straight north-south line to Pioneer Avenue as it now does.  At the bottom of South Hill the original constructors routed it westward on what is now 12th Avenue, S.E.  The road was then built along the bottom edge of the Hill until it reached a point that is now 25th Street S.E.   Here it was again directed north and was terminated at Pioneer Avenue across from the Shaw family farmhouse. 

In various Shaw family papers the road construction is described in some detail.  It appears the path was not completed until about 1920 and that several members of the Shaw family participated in its creation.  Straightening the street to its current configuration was not done until 1941.

It’s not clear why the thoroughfare was named for the Shaw family.  The requested title was on the original Petition paper approved by the County Commissioners on November 5, 1915.  The Petition shows that it was initiated by F.E. Shaw, who was the son of Chris Shaw.  It’s probable that he and County officials named the motorway in honor of the Shaw’s based on the family’s outstanding reputation in the community.

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