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Timber Removal First Basic Industry on South Hill

by Carl Vest

When settlers started moving onto South Hill in the 1880s and 90s the area was basically a dense forest.  It is accordingly understandable that the land had to be cleared before even basic farming could begin.  Accordingly, the first basic industry on the Hill should be considered timber removal.  A number of companies contributed to this effort, but several stand out as to size and the techniques they used.

The largest of the organizations was the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company.  It was formed in 1900 as a joint venture between Jim Hill of the Northern Pacific Railroad and Frederick Weyerhaeuser, the president of a Midwestern timber company. The railroad was awarded land grants by the Federal Government to build the line into Puget Sound.  Those grants included about half of the land area on South Hill.   When the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company was formed, the railroad land was transferred to the new company.  Some partials were immediately sold to other organizations and individuals but generally the process was that the timber was first removed and the land then transferred to another company named the Weyerhaeuser Logged-Off Land Company.  It was from this corporation that about half of the real estate on South Hill moved into private hands.

According to a study published in May 1915 by the Kroll Map Company, Weyerhaeuser held title to about six square miles of South Hill, or about 25 percent of the land mass.  This would have been about half of its holdings a decade earlier.  This ownership continued and as late at the mid-1930s the company still owned some three square miles, or about 12 percent of South Hill.  In the early decades of the twentieth century Weyerhaeuser’s holding were distributed throughout the Hill area, but by the 1930s they were concentrated mostly in the southern sections.  The company was off the Hill by mid-century.

A second major logging business was the Clark-Sligh Timber Company.  In 1915 this company owned about a-square mile of land on South Hill.  This custody continued through the decades and by the mid-1930s it still had about a four percent ownership stake in South Hill land.    The Sligh Company was a Grand Rapids, Michigan, furniture manufacturer.  It can be assumed that it owned timber resources to feed raw material into that part of its business. Interestingly, this company did not buy its land from Weyerhaeuser, but acquired it through direct purchase from the Federal Government in sections not allocated in the land grant process.

South Hill was also an early recipient of vanguard technology.  By about 1915 a company known as the Electric Logging Company was operating.  It held about one square mile of timber title.  Electricity at this point in time was like information technology today.  It was also cutting edge and started replacing animals and man-power with electric machinery.  The first known use of electricity in Northwest logging was in 1910 in the Snoqualmie area, so its use on South Hill was very early.

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