As we all know, the number of people on South Hill continues to increase. Reportedly we are now about 40,000 in number. And, as we make our way in and out of traffic, we wonder just when it all started.
Early records about South Hill do not show human settlements, either by groups or as single family homes. When the Longmire-Byles party crossed the Hill in 1853, no encounters with settlers were reported. So far as we know the local Native Americans used the Hill only for hunting and temporary camps. But, of course, there has always been a lot of foot and animal traffic through the region by those using the ancient Klickitat Trail to cross the Cascade Mountains. Additionally, during the British period of influence on Puget Sound, the South Hill locality was effectively under the control of the Hudson Bay Company and maps of that period show the Hill simply as a heavily wooded area.
The formal mapping and surveying of this area started in the 1870s. South Hill was plotted in July 1872. This action established a geographical grid system that’s still in use. Based on that work, the Hill lies within a zone known as Township 19, Range 4, East, a shorthand indicator to a reference point for the Pacific Northwest located just outside Portland. This survey found three people (or families) living on the Hill at that time, all near the old Naches Pass trail (recorded then as the Upper Puyallup to Steilacoom Road). They were identified as Anton Dumblar, just to the south of present day Rogers High School, and C. Miller, slightly to the north of the school campus. A bit further off the trail was William Woderhold, located near the modern Woodland School.
The next indicator we have about population comes from the late 1880s and early 1890s. By then railroads were bringing in settlers and good land along the rivers had been claimed. Thus, people were moving to the less desirable spots on the hills. The north end of South Hill was the first to be settled — that region bordering the city of Puyallup. It was in 1888, for example, that residents petitioned the county commissioners to build what is now Meridian Avenue on South Hill — then known as Ball-Wood Road. Eighty-five people signed the petition, all stating they lived nearby. Not that many, but significantly more than the three names from the 1870s.
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By 1915 the nine-square-mile area adjacent to Puyallup’s west side had been developed. Several hundred lots had been created and communities created with names like Woodland, Puyallup Fruit and Garden Tracts, Fruitland and others. On the east side, next to Puyallup, the Hill was still rather rural as was most of the rest of the township.
So from about three people in the 1870s to about 100 in the 1880s, to maybe a few hundred in the mid-19-teens, the increase has been rapid. Growth started a century ago and is still with us.
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.