We know settlements on South Hill began in the 1880s. It’s interesting to speculate about what those people found as they tried to establish themselves.
While hard data is difficult to find, descriptions do exist that give some insight. In 1889, for example, a five-mile stretch of what is now Meridian Avenue was surveyed, and field notes written by that survey team give some clues. The work started at about the present-day intersection of Meridian and Pioneer avenues, the then the Puyallup city line, before it proceeded south.
The first quarter-mile was through cleared land and ended at about today’s fairgrounds. The next quarter-mile was also clear, but it was noted that a forest was on one side of the track. Total woodland was encountered beyond the half-mile point, and to continue, it was necessary to clear a work path. At the one-mile point, an identification marker was created by notching two trees, a 40-inch-diameter fir and a 12-inch cottonwood.
After the first mile, it was noted that the land increased in elevation, and at about a mile and a half, “heavy grade” was confronted.
At the two-mile point, two fir trees were again used for recognition, one with a thickness of 14 inches and the other 10 inches. The 7-11 store at the top of the hill is about the present-day location of this position.
Just after the two-mile point, a swamp was encountered. It measured 528 feet long. At the three-mile point, four fir trees were marked, two 12 inches in diameter and one each at 24 and 30 inches, respectively. At that point, the surveyors were about where the Meridian Place shopping center is now located.
Between miles three and four, the land had a down slope and another swamp was entered. At mile four, two trees were used to recognize a location; one a 24-inch-diameter cedar and the other an 8-inch fir that passed mile four.
The team continued south, still moving through a swamp and in dead timber. However, the ground was gradually rising. The five-mile point was displayed by axing a symbol on three fir trees — 20, 30 and 10 inches in diameter.
Beyond the five-mile point, the group continued south for about a quarter-mile and turned east. That turn would be at 160th Street in today’s grid.
Some open ground was detected near the termination point, about one mile. The end point of the project was marked on two fir trees — one 16 inches in diameter and the other 24 inches.
From this, record it’s obvious that South Hill was covered with a forest of large trees in the 1880s. Fir trees up to 40 inches in diameter and 12-inch cottonwoods were recorded.
A 40-inch-diameter tree would have a circumference of roughly 125 inches and be about 200 feet high.
Moreover, there were swamps. So the early settlers had a problem of clearing the land of both timber and water — not an easy task.Carl Vest, Ph.D., is the research director for the South Hill Historical Society. He is a founding member of the society and can be reached at email@example.com.