by Carl Vest
For people living on South Hill a number of meanings can be spawned by the use of the word “Woodland.” There is, for example, Woodland Avenue that connects the Hill with flatlands. It’s a popular through road used to reach various points in the Tacoma area. Also, there is a Woodland School located on 112th Street near Fruitland Avenue. This was one of the first educational establishments on South Hill and sits on land that was donated by that icon of Puyallup, Ezra Meeker. More importantly, however, Woodland is the name of a community. It’s a neighborhood that can be loosely defined as being between about 112th and 96th streets and roughly sandwiched between 78th Avenue and Canyon Road. It is the northwest sector of South Hill and was one of the first spots on the Hill to be settled.
What was Woodland like in the early days? The writings of Ruth Lillian Sharpe Knoll provide some insight for a period between about 1907 and 1925. Her family bought property in Woodland in 1907 and moved onto the Hill in 1910. They acquired ten acres from Mike Shea, part of the so-called Shea and Noland Five Acre Tracts development. The Sharpe family came from Buffalo, New York. They arrived in Tacoma in 1905.
Ruth declares that in the early 1900s the Woodland area was “a very desolate place.” Initially electricity was unknown. Kerosene lamps were used for lighting. Each family had to dig its own well for water and most water sources would usually go dry during the summers. Only a few natural springs existed and at times they provided water to an entire community.
In 1910 the Woodland area still had old growth timber. Some logging had been done and many acres were covered with stumps and rubble from that work. Those who moved to the Hill had to clear the land before a house could be built or a garden planted. But there were wild berries and wild flowers that could be gathered. Very few roads existed, and those that did were actually little more than paths. These were not paved and at times deep mud made travel difficult.
The Sharpe family selected property that bordered on what is now 104th Street. At that time the pathway was actually a railed street car line which gave them easy access to Tacoma. The line operated between Tacoma and Puyallup by way of Fern Hill, Midland, Summit and then Woodland to Puyallup. It was called the Hill Route. The street car line operated as a trolley until around 1920. At times it was also used to move logs from the Hill to various sawmills on the flatlands. It stopped all business activity circa 1925.
The Woodland School was the social focus during this period. Community activities and neighborhood planning was accomplished by the Woodland Improvement Club working with the county and others to get water piped into the area and other improvements such as better roads. Puget Power brought in electricity in 1925.
Carl Vest, PhD, is a founding member and Research Director for the South Hill Historical Society.