South Hill has an extensive road infrastructure, with some of it having been in place for more than 100 years.
And at most intersections there’s a collection of signage with a variety of names and numbers, all aimed at helping a traveler get about. What is usually not shown is some sign or identification symbol of the governmental level responsible for the thoroughfare being used. But by careful observation this information can be determined. For example, there are no federal-level roads on the Hill — thus, there is no signage marked with the interstate “I,” like on I-5, or “US,” as on US-12 that goes through White Pass.
There are only two state-level roads on South Hill: state Route 161 and state Route 512. The rest are county-level ways, maintained by Pierce County, with the exception of some on the north end, where in a number of places the city of Puyallup’s grid system and that of Pierce County overlap.
The state of Washington has long regulated and named certain roads in the state, starting as early as 1893, shortly after the state was formed. In 1905 the state Legislature created the State Highway Board with authority for construction, and at the same time created a numbering scheme for certain state motorways. In 1909, this board recommended the establishment of an official network, and in 1913 the Legislature followed through by creating a classified system and designating two levels: primary and secondary, each with a specific numbering system. Primary roads were the only ones completely under state control. In 1923 and 1937, the system was reworked and new numbers were assigned. Another modification was done in 1964. Present day designations date from 1970 when a number of changes were made; as, for example, the SR in the state system now means state Route, but prior to 1970 meant Sign Route.
State Route 161 completely crosses South Hill in a north-south direction. It’s more commonly known as Meridian Avenue, a Pierce County name. But it’s also in the county records as 102nd Avenue. It was named SR-161 in 1964, replacing Secondary State Highway 5 G (SSH-5G) which, since 1937, had been the state designation of the road between Puyallup and South Hill. Historically, this highway has had many names, with its South Hill roots going back into the 1890s. Those identifiers were created locally, however, and were not state level.
State Route 512 is an east-west route that only crosses a part of the Hill. It connects Lakewood with Puyallup and traverses only about half of the northern part of the community. It was finished in 1972. The roots of SR-512 can actually be traced back to the early 20th century, but not from a single road. It represents the consolidation of several east-west highways — some dating back to about 1912. It’s the only freeway-style highway on South Hill.
The existing road system on South Hill has been primarily a local development. There are no federal-level thoroughfares and only two state-level conduits.
Carl Vest is the research director for the South Hill Historical Society. He is a founding member of the society and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.