In the summer of 1942, the United States was just entering World War II. Because of the war, South Hill would get its first significant population boost.
But earlier in the year, near the northern slopes of South Hill, between its crest and the City of Puyallup, a different undertaking was getting underway. It was an accelerated building project that could have been considered a type of housing development.
It was, in fact, the construction of an American concentration camp.
Officially, the creation was named The Puyallup Assembly Center. Unofficially, it was called Camp Harmony.
The camp had its roots in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. That incident generated a widespread feeling of distrust toward people of Japanese descent who were living in the western United States.
A significant outcome of that expressed emotion was when President Roosevelt issued an executive order (9066) on Feb. 19, 1942. It authorized military authorities to remove any person from any specifically designated military area.
The military commander of the West Coast, Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt, then declared the entire region a restricted military zone, and he used the executive order as his authority. He made it official on March 2, 1942, when it issued Public Proclamation No. 1. On March 24, that decree was followed by the first civilian removal order for people of Japanese descent who were living on Bainbridge Island.
Puyallup was selected as one of the geographical points for the creation of assembly centers to gather people who had been designated for relocation from restricted military areas. The Western Washington State Fairgrounds, at the foot of the north slope of South Hill, was chosen as the actual place where an assembly center would be built.
The complex was constructed in about one month during April 1942 and designed to hold about 8,000 people. It was divided into four areas, scattered in and around the fairgrounds, designated A through D, each being an independent community with living quarters, communal kitchens and other facilities.
The living structures were individual units, 15 by 40 feet, where entire families were housed. About 165 were built.
The U.S. Army began to transport people to the Puyallup center on April 28, 1942. During that month, about 500 were relocated.
The big flood was in May, when the camp’s daily population exceeded 7,000. The largest concentration was 7,593 on May 21.
The average number housed during the summer was 5,704, with a typical stay being 117 days.
By August, the big inflow was over. On Sept. 12, 1942, the camp was empty.
Camp Harmony was never meant to be a permanent concentration camp. It was a collection point.
Most evacuees came from the Seattle-Tacoma areas and Alaska. They were then moved to permanent relocation centers, mostly to Tule Lake, Calif., and Minidoka, Idaho.
Camp Harmony existed for only eight months, but it affected a lot of lives and should be remembered as part of Puyallup-South Hill history.Carl Vest, Ph.D., is the research director and a founding member of the South Hill Historical Society. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.