Across the Map: Explore Layers of History at Tacoma’s Swan Creek Park


If you visit Swan Creek Park in Tacoma, says Claire Keller-Scholz of MetroParks Tacoma, you’re likely to come across some surprising artifactssome dating from World War II.

“There are telephone poles that are still there,” Keller-Scholz told KIRO Newsradio. “There are concrete steps leading up to what had been houses. The houses are long gone, but you may be able to see some of the steps there. Even part of the sidewalk is still there since it was part of the neighborhood.

And this weekend is a particularly good time to visit the ancient “neighborhood” hidden within the 373-acre park.

MetroParks invites community members to to celebrate a number of recent improvements to Swan Creek Park with a large public event on Saturday, April 30 from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The event will feature free food, guided nature walks, free bike rides and other activities for all ages. It all happens next to the picnic shelter adjoining Lister Elementary School.

History is under or near your feet almost everywhere you look in and around Swan Creek Park, which was first envisioned as far back as the 1950s and first developed in the 1960s.

How about Lister Elementary, for example? The school, which has been rebuilt since it opened more than 70 years ago, is named after two Listers: Alfred Lister, a city of Tacoma and Tacoma School District official, and his brother Ernest Lister. Ernest was not left out; he was a member of the Tacoma City Council and was later elected Governor of Evergreen State. Governor Lister, know-it-all history will tell you, died in office in June 1919, possibly of the Spanish Flu, and he has a “backward town” named after him near Bremerton.

Swan Creek Park is of course named after Swan Creek, which runs through the park. Claire Keller-Scholz has done a lot of to research and she says that the creek’s name can come from three potential sources. The first is what this region was called before the arrival of European Americans and other settlers. In an email, Keller-Scholz wrote that the native language word Lushootseed which has been applied to the area is “Bəsxʷuqid, which means ‘A place that has swans’.”

However, Keller-Scholz says that in the late 19th century there was also a Puyallup tribesman whose anglicized name was John Swan, and he and his wife lived on land that is now part of Swan Creek Park. . It is unclear if John Swan’s anglicised name was inspired by the stream or if he came to this name in some other way. “John Swan’s Puyallup name was Cai-zicht-cannum, and his wife was Jane Sasticum Swan,” Keller-Scholz wrote.

To further the origin possibilities of the Swan Creek name, Keller-Scholz says there was a European-American settler – a white man – living in the Tacoma area at the turn of the 20th century who was also named John Swan. .

The land of what is now Swan Creek Park was home to the Puyallup indigenous people since time immemorial, and Claire Keller-Scholz says MetroParks has worked closely with the Puyallup Tribe to tell the full story of Swan Creek Park and to inform projects such as the creation of interpretive signs.

“We’ve been really lucky to be able to build on the work that’s already been done, especially around our relationship with the Puyallup tribe,” Keller-Scholz said.

When the first Puyallup Indian Reservation was created around 1860 – after the convoluted treaty process and violent treaty warfare – it encompassed Swan Creek. But those original boundaries were fluid, and somewhere along the line – it’s unclear exactly when or how – the land became private property.

Fast forward about 40 years, and the source of these telephone poles and other remaining neighborhood artifacts began to take shape shortly after the United States entered World War II after Pearl Harbor.

It was then that much of what is now Swan Creek Park was chosen as the site of a wartime housing estate, with several plots purchased from dozens of private owners by the Tacoma Housing Authority . From around 1940, as America prepared for a fight by increasing production of ships, planes and other materials, it was difficult to find housing for people moving to the northwest of across the country for jobs in the shipyards of Beginning Bay and other defense-related work. in the zone. The first 10 families moved into the brand new development 79 years ago this Sunday – May 1, 1943 – and eventually 2,000 homes were built there, housing 6,700 residents.

The homes, along with amenities such as a community recreation center, were known when they were planned as the “Portland Avenue Defense Housing Project”.

Fortunately, in 1942, a librarian named Warren Perry from what is now the University of Puget Sound suggested naming the development “Salishan” to honor the Coast Salish people of the Northwest. According to the Burke Museum, “The term ‘Coast Salish‘ refers to a language family, comprising two dozen distinct languages ​​and many dialects, and is used to indicate the cultural group of indigenous people who speak or spoke these languages.

Not much is known about librarian Warren Perry, but his suggestion – and the fact that it was accepted by the Tacoma Housing Authority – both seem pretty ahead of their time for 1942.

It should also be noted that the word “Salishan” is pronounced in different ways. To describe the language family which includes the native languages ​​spoken in much of the Northwest, it is pronounced “SAY-lishun” (with slight emphasis on the first syllable). For the subdivision near Swan Creek Park, you mostly hear “sali-shan” or sometimes “sally-shan” (with equal stress on both syllables).

Anyway you say it, salishan was completely redeveloped on land adjacent to Swan Creek Park in 2001. The spot where these old homes – many originally built for wartime workers – stood for almost 60 years is now part of of the park. The old roads, sidewalks and stairways – along with the occasional telephone pole – remain inadvertently silent monuments to civilian workers and those who built homes for them and their families – all of whom were essential to the Allied victory long ago. 80 years old.

IF YOU GO: The Event at Swan Lake Park is Saturday, April 30, 2022, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is free to the public.

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