Pacific -- Thumbnail History

  • By Linda Holden Givens
  • Posted 12/29/2015
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11168

The City of Pacific straddles the King-Pierce county line some 28 miles south of Seattle, nestled between Algona to the north and Sumner and Edgewood to the south. The community arose after the Seattle-Tacoma Interurban Railway began service in 1902, bringing growth and development to the White River Valley area. Real-estate developer Clarence Dayton Hillman (1870-1935) platted the town of "Pacific City" in 1906. The post office was established in 1908 with Alfred R. Weaver (1852-1912) as postmaster. Businesses opened serving the community while farmers produced fruit, vegetables, and flower bulbs. Pacific was incorporated in 1909 and improvements in water and electric supply, fire protection, and other city services were made over the years. The city grew slowly and by 2015 the population had increased to slightly more than 6,800.

Hops and the Interurban

Growing hops, an ingredient of beer, spread throughout the White River Valley in both King and Pierce counties in the 1880s and 1890s, bringing prosperity to local communities. This allowed many farmers to enjoy a good life. The population increased, new businesses opened, and more homes were built. Hops were a major crop in the area that would become Pacific, but in 1891 an epidemic of plant lice (aphids) destroyed the hops. Despite efforts to kill the plant lice, harvesting hops ended abruptly in less than a year. Farmers began focusing on raising potatoes, vegetables, and fruit.

The Puget Sound Electric Railway began service on September 25, 1902, between Seattle and Tacoma, connecting communities in the White River Valley area. The Interurban brought growth and development, but it also brought peril for Pacific residents. Historian Warren Wing wrote:

"At the town of Pacific, the crossing was especially dangerous with two serious accidents in as many years. In 1916, three men were killed when a northbound Interurban slammed into their car at the Main Street crossing. An inquest, held a month later, placed the blame on the Interurban Company for having poor warnings at the crossing. The second accident occurred in 1918, very similar to the first, when another northbound Interurban hit an auto at the same crossing. It seemed the Interurban Company hadn't learned a thing from the earlier accident. Local residents complained the crossing signals were not loud enough and could be heard less than a block away" (To Tacoma by Trolley, 94).

The Interurban served the valley area for 26 years. Train service ended December 30, 1928, taking with it a historical moment in time.

1906: A Year of Changes

The first indication of Pacific becoming a town was a June 10, 1906, Seattle Times article titled "Plans to Start New Town." A real-estate deal had just been completed for more than 3,000 acres in the White River Valley, which were purchased by Clarence Dayton (C. D.) Hillman, a real estate developer, and his wife Bessie Olive Hillman. The paper reported that the land, located near the route of the Interurban Railway and the Northern Pacific main line, "consists in part of several of the best-known farms in this part of the state" ("Plans to Start ..."). These purchases did not go without competition from others, which was one of many reasons that Hillman kept his intentions as quiet as possible.

Hillman negotiated and carefully acquired the acreage for the new town from some 20 sellers, including Henry T. Bredes (200 acres), Henry L. Eggert (160 acres), George E. Hyde (160 acres, known as Derringer Farm), John B. Stetson estate (160 acres), Dr. Wauphoop (or Waughop) (165 acres), Fred Hatcher (80 acres), Christian Kley (95 acres), Sandford G. Griffin (120 acres), Christopher W. Horr (140 acres), M. Hansen (80 acres), Frederick R. Wood (800 acres), James Burkhart (420 acres), Barlow & Whitcomb of Tacoma (80 acres), Slettergren & Arrell (480 acres), John F. Logerwall (90 acres), Willis Boatman (160 acres) and Martin J. Lutze (40 acres). Hillman's real estate office was located on the west side of the town, which he dubbed "Pacific City."

The Stuck River, reportedly called "Stax" meaning "plowed through" by local Native Americans, began as a tiny stream. In both King and Pierce counties annual floods occurred in White River Valley communities like Kent, Auburn, Valley City (later Algona), Sumner, and Puyallup. Pacific did not escape the large November 14, 1906, flood. Heavy rain combined with snow sent flood waters from the White River right into the very small Stuck River and on into the Puyallup River near Tacoma. The disastrous flood forever changed the flow and landscape of the White, Green, Stuck, and Puyallup rivers. To bring some control to the flooding in the area, years later in 1950 Mud Mountain Dam was completed on the White River at Mud Mountain, southeast of Enumclaw, and at Eagle Gorge on the Green River the Howard Hanson Dam was completed in 1962.

Small Town Beginnings

The first teacher in the new community was a Mr. Bagley who taught school on the second floor of C. D. Hillman's real-estate building. By 1907 students were crossing the railroad tracks to attend a school held by John and Etta Whistler. The Methodist Church was built in 1908 and the school was held there. In 1916, the three-story Pacific School building was built where City Hall was later located.

Pacific incorporated as a town of the fourth class on August 10, 1909. James F. Lemar (1877-1941) served as the town's first mayor. According to state records, the population of the newly incorporated town was 413 in 1910. By then, Third Avenue was the center of the town. Early businesses included Arnold's Hotel, Cook's Grocery, Loofborrow's Bakery, a blacksmith shop, and a livery barn. Cox's General Mercantile (later called Wadell's Store), owned by Dolph M. Cox, was located at the northeast corner of Tacoma Boulevard and Third Ave SW. There was a grocery and feed store, owned by a Mr. Lantz, on the corner of what is now Third Avenue SE and St. Paul Boulevard next to the railroad tracks.

Alfred R. Weaver, who owned a saloon, bought out Lantz and made the business a grocery store and post office. Weaver was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt on April 17, 1908, as the postmaster. Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Paul railroad workers periodically delivered mail to Pacific City. As a train slowly passed by Weaver's grocery store, someone would throw mail bags off the train while Weaver threw bags of mail from Pacific onto the train. On March 3, 1933, Kate Hardin became the acting postmaster until Richard J. "Dick" Gius (sometimes spelled "Guis") (1903-1987) became postmaster on April 18, 1933, serving until he retired on February 28, 1969.

As the population began to grow a shortage of drinking water became a problem. It is said that Arthur Hollingsworth and George Kinney decided to look for water with a forked willow stick (a technique known as "water witching") and found a vein 14 to 20 feet wide and 14 feet deep. As of 2015, the city of Pacific obtained its water supply from three groundwater wells located in the neighboring city of Algona.

In 1919, the Pacific City Electric Light System was built by the community. James Edward Dyler (1887-1947) ran the electric system. As the city grew, the system quickly became inadequate, and electric service was taken over by Puget Power.

The Pacific Fire Department, organized in 1932 by Marion Hughs (1864-1929), chose as the city's first Fire Chief Carl F. Nyberg (1868-1996). Nyberg held that position until he retired in 1972. In 1976, the fire department moved into a new building at 133 Third Ave SE.

Local Businesses

Gius' Market opened in the spring of 1934 kitty-corner from its 2015 location (300 Milwaukee Blvd. S) in a leased building owned by Charles Allen (1885-1945) and Cora (1882-1973) Junkins. Richard Gius had taken over the post office one year earlier. When the owners of the leased building would not renew the lease, Gius consulted with a friend in Fife and decided to purchase the corner lot across the street and open a new store. His father Amadio Gius (1875-1958) built the new store himself in less than a month. Richard and his wife Angie moved across the street, post office and all, in 1936. The building has been remodeled several times over the years with four generations serving the community.

Around 1935 James E. (1883-1956) and Kate Esther (1885-1947) Hardin purchased a lunch counter/store and converted it into a Shell service station and store. When they purchased the store, there were no gas pumps, so oil products and two gas pumps were added. In 1943, Owen E. Campbell (1906-1986) purchased the station and store from the Hardins. The business switched from Shell to Union 76 and the building was remodeled. Campbell was employed at Todd Shipyards in Tacoma. His wife Ruth Campbell and their two children devoted their time to the station and store. The family installed new automatic gas pumps, increased the size of the storage tanks for gas, added a lube room with an automatic hoist, and stocked fishing tackle and hunting supplies and sold hunting and fishing licenses. There was an ice cream counter that was busy all the time with four stools occupied by people of all kinds from the community. The Campbells lived at the station/store in an attached apartment. The Campbells sold the business to Claude E. Dunigan in 1973. He operated it for a short while before the station/store was sold again and converted to a restaurant with a post office added.

Around 1947 Owen Campbell bought some property from Ed Dyler and built a small block building on it. A Mr. Ball opened a barbershop in the building, which was large enough to divide into two spaces. Eva Kruger began her Children's Clothing Shop in the larger space. Kruger later closed that shop and began an upholstery business on her own property. The space was taken by the Heath sisters and opened as a beauty parlor. In 1973, Campbell converted the building into apartments and moved in.

Junkins' Grocery was located on the corner of Third and Milwaukee Boulevard. This was the building that was leased to Richard Gius when he opened his store in 1934. Then Edwin R. and Anna M. Mohler and Grover C. and Etta W. Wagner bought and operated the store for many years. The building was sold to the Methodist Church to be used as a parsonage. Nora Thesta Hedman (1876-1956) handled maintenance of the church, from lighting firewood to performing superintendent duties at the Sunday school. Jeff Smith (1939-2004), who later gained fame as TV's "frugal gourmet," was one of the pastors who occupied the parsonage as a young student minister at the church.

Into the Twenty-first Century

The installation of sewage systems throughout the valley hastened conversion of farmland to industrial uses in the 1970s. Land became more valuable, with resulting increased taxes. Farmers were unable to grow and sell enough crops to pay these assessments and found it hard to get their produce into major supermarkets. The large supermarkets and other retail chains also impacted the local business community, and most of the small businesses that served Pacific over the years eventually went out of existence with the exception of Gius' Market.

The Pacific Community Center, established in the 1970s, became a local network with more than 300 volunteers assisting residents in need by providing health and social services, and hosting annual community events.

Ushering in the 1980s, the Pacific Police Department held multiple activities throughout the year which included Meeting a Police Officer (MAPO), Halloween Safety Programs, the Dare Program, Commercial/Residential Crime Preservation Program, Neighborhood Crime Watch, and many other programs.

Pacific maintained a small-town atmosphere into the twenty-first century. The city's estimated population in April 2015 was 6,840, according to the state Office of Financial Management.


Sources: "Decennial Census," Washington State Office of Financial Management website accessed December 28, 2015 (http://www.ofm.wa.gov/pop/census.asp); "April 1, 2015, Population of Cities, Towns, and Counties," Office of Financial Management website accessed November 4, 2015 (http://www.ofm.wa.gov/pop/april1/ofm_april1_population_final.pdf); "[Flooding] History," Pierce County website accessed November 12, 2015 (https://www.co.pierce.wa.us/index.aspx?NID=3955); "Pierce County Flooding," Pierce County website accessed November 12, 2015 (http://www.piercecountywa.org/DocumentCenter/View/3272); "The Inter-County River Improvement Commission and the White River, 1913-1948," King County Records & Licensing Services website accessed November 25, 2015 (http://www.kingcounty.gov/depts/records-licensing/archives/exhibits/ICRIC.aspx); "U.S., Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971," Ancestry website accessed November 5, 2015 (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1932); James N. Gregory, "Toward a History of Farm Workers in Washington State," Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project website accessed November 11, 2015 (http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/farmwk_ch1.htm); Matthew W. Klingle, Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 2; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Flood submerges South King County beginning on November 14, 1906" (by Alan J. Stein), "White River Valley (King County) --Thumbnail History" (by Alan J. Stein), "Hillman, Clarence Dayton (1870-1935)" (by David Wilma), and "Kent -- Thumbnail History" (by Alan J. Stein), http://historylink.org (assessed November 2, 2015); Tina Brewster Wray, "The Hops Craze," White River Journal, July 1996 (http://www.wrvmuseum.org/journal/journal_ftbr_0796.htm); Leonard Forsman and Dennis Lewarch, "Archaeology of the White River Valley," Ibid., April 2001 (http://www.wrvmuseum.org/journal/journal_0401.htm); J. Clark McAbee, "White River Rapscallion: An Insight into C. D. Hillman," Ibid., October 2003 (http://www.wrvmuseum.org/journal/journal_1003.htm); Oregon and Washington State Gazetteer and Business Directory, 1911-1912 (Seattle: R. L. Polk & Co., 1911); Kristin Dizon, "Jeff Smith, 1939-2004: The 'Frugal Gourmet' Was TV's Original Celebrity Chef," Seattle Post Intelligencer, July 9, 2004 (http://www.seattlepi.com/); "Plans to Start New Town," The Seattle Times, June 10, 1906, p. 8; Warren W. Wing, To Tacoma by Trolley: The Puget Sound Electric Railway (Edmonds: Pacific Fast Mail, 1995), p 94; "Sumner's Stuck River Bridge," Waymark website accessed November 11, 2015 (http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3FZG_SUMNERS_STUCK_RIVER_ BRIDGE); "City of Pacific 2013's Water Consumer Confidence Report," City of Pacific website accessed November 29, 2015 (http://www.pacificwa.gov/Assets/PacificWA/Docs/2013_ Consumer_Confidence_Report.pdf); "Order of Incorporation of the Town of Pacific," August 10, 1909, Record of Incorporated Cities and Towns, Office of the Secretary of State, Washington State Archives, Olympia, Washington; Journal of Proceedings of County Commissioners, King County, July 6, 1909 (Incorporation of the town of Pacific), Volume 16, p. 187, King County Archives, Seattle, Washington.

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