Yes, South Hill Has a History

Who Settled South Hill?

by Carl Vest

The question is often asked, “Who were the first settlers on South Hill?”  Actually we don’t really know. About the only thing that can be said with any certainty is that the early pioneers tended to put down roots on the northern part of the plateau.  While there were some farms established toward the south they were not as numerous as those just outside of Puyallup.

It should be kept in mind, however, that even given its location the community of Puyallup was not that significant to the hill folks during the early settlement periods.  There are a number of accounts by early settlers declaring that they didn’t even know Puyallup existed when they first arrived.  Also, there are records describing Native Americans taking some settlers to the ridge lines and pointing out the existence of Puyallup.  In general, early access to the Hill on the east side was from the Puyallup River and from the west side by the Naches Pass Trail, later known as the Military Road.  Movements during the 1850s, 1860s, and certainly into the 1870s tend fit this pattern.  Stories of happenings during the Indian Wars, for example, focus on engagements along the Military Road. 

In the early days movement into the Puget Sound region was either by water or overland from the Fort Vancouver area.  If by water Steilacoom was the common port of entry.  If overland, depending on the period, the path was also from Fort Vancouver but was by the Columbia-Cowlitz river system and with wagons or pack animals.  Either way, emigrants ended up in the Steilacoom area with easy access to points inland.  An exception was the few Naches Pass Trail settlers that came in 1853.  The transcontinental railroad, the Northern Pacific through Stampede Pass in the Cascades, was not completed until the early 1880s. 

South Hill was first surveyed in 1872.  Surveyor plats from that period show only three established home sites in Township 19, the area we now call South Hill.  As might be expected, all three were located near the pathway of the Naches Pass Trail.  William Weiderhold was noted as living in Section 8.  In today’s terms his location would be about 112th Street and 74th Avenue.  Charles Miller was recorded as living right beside the old trail on a line between Sections 16 and 17.  Today we would describe that position as about 125th Street and 86th Avenue.  Anton Dumblar was just south of Charles Miller at what today would be about 136th Street and 86th Avenue.

So, other than Native Americans these three names appear to have been the first people to inhabit South Hill.  Later records, particularly after the transcontinental railroad was completed, show many more settlers.  It is significant to note that these names do not appear in future records about the Hill.  It could be that these early people were squatters and had no legal claim to their locations.  Perhaps they were forced out as others came into the area.  It’s still a mystery.

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