Historical Building, Property, and Land Use Records
King County Archives holds records, from as early as 1853, that document the interactions of King County government and its citizens with the natural world.
These records document aspects of the natural environment, including topography, landforms, bodies of water, and natural resources. They also document aspects of the built environment, such as residences and other structures, businesses and farms, transportation routes and systems, utilities, managed waterways, and recreational sites. Record types include maps and drawings, photographs, and textual records.
King County Archives holds maps, plans, drawings, and other graphical materials that were created by county agencies in the course of carrying out functional government responsibilities such as zoning and road establishments.
These records may be used for purposes not intended by their creators. Maps document neighborhoods, businesses, railroads and transportation corridors; changes in the environment, styles of building, and land use; and former King County facilities and structures such as wharves, gravel bunkers, and the Kingdome stadium.
LAND USE AND ENVIRONMENT MAPS
Graphical materials in the King County Archives document topics such as community planning , Donation Land Claims, drainage, erosion control, farmland preservation, land use, plats, river levees, tidelands and shorelands, topography, and zoning.
Environmental maps can also be found in published environmental impact statements, and in reports and studies of the Department of Natural Resources and Parks and the Water and Land Resources Division.
Donation land claim map showing Green Lake, Lake Union, and part of Lake Washington. (click image to open a larger version)
Under the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850, Congress allowed 320 acres of land in Western territories to be claimed by a single person and 640 acres by a married couple. The claimants received final title to the land when they had lived on it four years and made certain improvements, or when they purchased their lands in lieu of fulfilling residency requirements. This volume of maps shows donation land claims, and other subsequent property holdings, in King County. The volume (probably a transcription, circa 1882, of U.S. Surveyor General maps) is a small (16 inches by 14 inches) bound blank folio into which thirty-six township maps have been drawn. Initial cartography utilized colored inks and a colored wash; later annotations were made in pencil. Each donation land claim is outlined in black ink and contains, as record information, owner name, acreage, claim number, and notification number. Coal lands and "cash entries" (claimant had purchased the land) are noted. Names and numbers correspond with ledger entries in Series 341, Field Survey Notes: Donation Land Claims (1882). In addition to property holdings, maps show watercourses (streams, springs, ponds, lakes); prairies and wetlands; resources (coal deposits, cranberry bogs); structures (roads, trails, wagon roads, school); and Native American villages and reservations. The volume is arranged in ascending numerical order by range (numbers 2-6) and within each range, by township (numbers 21-26).
Hand-colored topographical map showing part of drainage district 10 in Snoqualmie River Valley near Duvall, circa 1920. (click image to open a larger version)
The 1895 Washington State legislature authorized counties to establish diking and drainage districts. These districts, formed by citizen petition, were authorized to sell bonds and levy tax assessments to raise funds for flood control measures within the districts.
Part of the documentation prepared by King County drainage districts included topographic maps of the area covered by the districts. This series includes topographic maps of drainage districts 8 (White [Stuck] River near Algona-Pacific City), 9 (Sammamish River near Kenmore-Hollywood), 10 (Snoqualmie River near Duvall) and 11 (Green River near Auburn). The maps show fence lines, roads, drainage ditches and streams, as well as buildings. Proper names or other reference points rarely appear on these maps. Scale 1" = 200'.
Map of Renton area businesses and land usage, circa 1960s. (click image to open a larger version)
During its existence (1959-1972) the King County Planning Department maintained a research section responsible for collecting, maintaining and analyzing various forms of planning data used to create and update the county's Comprehensive Plan. The maps in this series were maintained as an ongoing record of land use in King County.
Base maps, of half- or quarter-sections at a scale of 1" = 100' or 1"= 200', were acquired from various sources. Principal were the commercial Kroll Map Company, for urban areas, and the King County Assessor's Office, for rural areas not mapped by Kroll. Some maps, of more remote areas, were drawn by Planning Department staff.
Most base maps were blueline reproductions. On each map, the location of buildings on their sites was rendered in colored ink outlined in pencil. Some additions to the base maps were made on tracing paper or mylar overlays which accompany the maps. Type of structure, or nature of its usage (for example, type of business) was indicated. Also indicated were types of unbuilt natural environments (for example, woods or fields), and of non-structural land usages (for example, junk yards or agricultural croplands).
The 1626 individual maps have been organized into 22 rolls. The rolls are arranged in two ways. Rolls 1-17 are organized by ascending three-digit Kroll map numbers, which correspond to specific section numbers within townships and ranges (key available in series file). Rolls 18-22 are organized generally by range and then by township.
Timber cruise map of Section 25, Township 23, Range 5, showing Echo Lake (Lake Desire) area, 1907. (click image to open a larger version)
Washington State counties consider standing timber as real property for the purposes of taxation. During the period 1907-1967, the King County Assessor's Office undertook forest surveys, or timber cruises, to locate and estimate the quantity and taxable value of timber in a given section of land. Only land sections containing appreciable amounts of harvestable timber were surveyed.
Survey information was maintained in small ledgers or notebooks. Over time, the amount and detail of recorded information varied. Later records do not include the level of detail earlier ones. During the period 1907-1936, for each section represented , there are usually general remarks about the section as a whole, and detail descriptions of its forty-acre (quarter) tracts.
Timber data includes information such as the species and quality of timber growing on the land, a visual calculation of its board footage, the age of the timber, the costs of logging (determined by such things as nearness to market, topography, accessibility, etc.), and possible wood products. For each section, surveyors also noted, under the heading "Improvements," additions to the built environment (structures, agricultural plantings and field clearings, equipment and vehicles, etc.
Property owner names are generally stated when known. Textual information for each section is accompanied by a small (4" x 4") hand-drawn or -colored map. The section maps show topography; natural features (rivers, mountains, swamps, lakes); condition of land (burnt, cleared, plowed, cultivated); transportation infrastructure (roads, trails, mainline and logging railroads); structures (houses, sheds, barns); businesses and industries, and other features (water tanks, cemeteries, coal bunkers, etc.)
ROAD, TRAIL, AND UTILITY MAPS
Holdings of the King County Archives include graphical materials which provide locations or construction details of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, wharves and ferry landings, mainline and logging railroads, and streetcar rights-of-way; hiking, pedestrian and equestrian trails; fire, sewer and water districts; electricity transmission lines, and sewer system maps. Maps and plans can be either generated by King County agencies or acquired by them (for example, from railway companies or from housing developers).
Tolt Pipeline Trail map from a King County Parks brochure, circa 1974. (click image to open a larger version)
The Tolt Pipeline Trail was established under the 1968 Forward Thrust bond issue. It follows a City of Seattle Water Department pipeline right-of-way. This map, part of a brochure (c. 1974) describing the trail, is part of a folder of background information relating to various county trails that was kept by the director of the Department of Planning and Community Development. This department was established in 1976 and succeeded the Department of Community and Environmental Development. Its functions included overseeing community planning and development processes, coordinating local and national housing assistance projects, and monitoring land use and regulatory codes. The department was succeeded by the Department of Parks, Planning and Resources in 1986.
Design drawing for three-arch concrete highway bridge (#3036) over the Green River at Kanaskat, 1915. (click image to open a larger version)
King County, through its public works agencies, has been historically responsible for the siting, construction, inspection, maintenance, repair and replacement of highway bridges, overcrossings, and undercrossings within its jurisdiction. The county maintains a record of these activities for each bridge. Part of this record is maps and drawings. This series is composed of oversized site and vicinity maps; structural plans; standard detail drawings; and field and survey sketches separated from Series 36, Road Engineer Bridge Files 1901-1994. In general, graphic materials measuring 8.5 by 14 inches or less have been retained in Series 36. The oversized graphic materials in this series are present in various physical formats, primarily reproductions using various processes (blueprint, blueline, brownline, xerographic). Field sketches may be original pencil or ink drawings on paper. A preliminary division of the oversized maps and drawing has been made, according to their storage status (folded in document boxes, or unfolded in map drawers) has been made. Within each group, maps have been given a temporary ascending numerical arrangement corresponding to the box and folder in Series 36 from which they were separated. Related records: Accessions from the Roads Map Vault of the King County Department of Transportation may contain original versions of reproduced drawings found in this series.
Washington State allows counties to grant franchises to corporations to use and occupy public streets, roads, rights of way and public places over which a county exercises its jurisdiction.
These records document individual utility and transportation franchises issued by King County between 1898 and 1988 to private companies (railroad, streetcar, gas, electric power, water, and cable television companies); water and sewer districts; federal agencies (Bonneville Power Administration; Civil Aeronautics Board); and local municipal governments. Franchise file documents vary over time but generally include a letter of application, a legal description of the proposed franchise, and records of the county's response. Additional correspondence may be present. Maps accompany most text records and may be either annotated copies of commercial or plat maps, or original maps created by the applicant.
The franchise files have been organized into three subseries based on the manner in which they were filed over time: by Auditor's file number, by county franchise number, and by legislative file (resolution, ordinance or motion) number.
Electricity transmission tower, Milwaukee Road railroad, 1915. (click image to open a larger version)
Franchises arranged by Auditor's file number (1898-1915)
After 1901, Washington counties were permitted to issue franchises outside of incorporated cities and towns for electric railways and streetcar lines; to water and gas companies; and for electric power, telephone and telegraph transmission lines ("pole lines"). This subseries contains franchises for various street and interurban railway companies, notably the Puget Sound Traction, Light and Power Company; the Seattle Electric Railway Company; and the Highland Park and Lake Burien Railway. It also contains franchises for railroad over- and undercrossings, telephone and electric power lines, and water mains. The franchises are arranged in ascending numerical order by the official file number given to public records by the County Auditor, who served as the clerk of the Board of County Commissioners.
Franchises arranged by county franchise number (1916-1969)
In 1916, King County established new recordkeeping practices. Franchises were maintained in their own ascending numerical sequence (1-620) and were physically housed with the County Engineer as part of that office's right-of-way department. From 1916 to 1945, the majority of franchises issued were for electric power transmission lines. After 1945, numerous franchises to water companies and water and sewer districts reflect post-World War II housing construction. Television cable franchises are present in the files for the 1960s.
Franchises arranged by legislative file number (ordinances and motions; 1969-1988)
Following King County's adoption of its home rule charter in 1969, franchises were maintained in relation to, and by the same file number as, the County Council ordinance or motion which authorized them.
Most plat maps have been recorded by the King County Auditor (1853-1969) and the King County Recorder's Office (1969-present). Unofficial images of all recorded plat maps are indexed and available on the King County Recorder's Office website.
Original copies of most recorded plats are available for research at the King County Archives.
The Map Vault of the King County Road Services Division can often provide researchers with electronic versions of many plat maps and recorded binding site plans.
Additional search tips for recorded plats can be found on the Recorded Documents research guide.
Plats are accepted, established and modified by the King County Council (prior to 1969, the King County Commissioners). To find the actual Council ordinance or Commissioner resolution establishing or modifying a specific plat, see the county's Legislative Files or contact the King County Archives.
Additional information about the establishment or modification of plats, pre-1969, can be found in the Commissioners' plat application files (1916-1970). These applications were submitted for the final approval of a plat by the Commissioners. Individual files typically contain a certificate prepared by an attorney indicating that the ownership of the property and the payment of taxes have been verified, along with the recommendations from the office of the County Engineer. A small number of the files contain plat maps. The files are arranged by an office filing number.
A plat vacation is an action, taken under Washington state law (RCW 58.17.212) but handled by local governments (in King County by the County Council), that removes the dedication* (to general or public use) from a recorded plat or a portion of the plat and returns the property to private ownership.
Plats, and platted road and street rights-of-way, are vacated by the King County Council. To find the actual Council ordinance see the county's Legislative Files or contact the King County Archives.
Plat vacations prior to 1969 were sometimes made by resolutions of the King County Commissioners. More often they were made by direct orders of the Commissioners. Texts of plat vacation orders can be found in the Commissioners' Proceedings or in their plat vacation files. These files are arranged by vacation order number (5024 to 8464). They also include supporting documentation such as petitions, maps, engineers' reports and correspondence. For assistance in locating a plat vacation order, please contact the King County Archives. It is helpful if you have a date, or an approximate date, of the plat vacation.
* A dedication is the deliberate conveyance of land by an owner for any general and public uses, reserving no rights other than those that are compatible with the full exercise and enjoyment of public uses for which the property has been conveyed. Dedications are made by the property owner filing a final plat, short plat, binding site plan, or quitclaim deed.
Sometimes old documents and maps will refer to an "unrecorded plat." Prior to 1948, some King County plats were unrecorded. Commissioners' Resolution 11048 (March 23, 1948) changed all existing unrecorded plats to "preliminary plats." Preliminary plats were generally finalized after an accurate survey was undertaken and approved. For assistance in associating a former "unrecorded plat" with a past or current tax parcel, please contact the King County Department of Assessments.
Search tips for recorded short plats can be found on the Recorded Documents research guide.
Search tips for recorded surveys can be found on the Recorded Documents research guide.
For information about aerial photographs held by King County Archives, visit the Historical Photographs research guide.
King County Archives holds original and reproduction drawings of many former and existing county structures. Degree of detail may vary (full architectural or structural drawings, elevations, sections and detail drawings; or just simple site plans or outline sketches). Some structures represented in these collections are: Boeing Field structures; bridges; county maintenance shops and other facilities; health and social services facilities; hospitals; juvenile detention facilities; King County Administration Building; King County Courthouse (formerly, County-City Building); the Kingdome stadium; park and recreational structures; sand and gravel bunkers; warehouses; and wharves, docks, and ferry passenger waiting rooms and shelters.
King County Archives holds original and reproduction drawings of many former and existing county structures. Degree of detail may vary from full architectural or structural drawings, elevations, sections, and detail drawings to simple site plans or outline sketches. Some structures represented in these collections are:
Series 483: Boeing Field records
This series consists of maps, plans and other graphical materials that visually represent the infrastructure of the King County International Airport (Boeing Field) from the time of its construction (1929) to 1999. They were brought together as a group by the King County Department of Transportation in 2002 in response to potential litigation involving the cleanup of the Duwamish River. As part of this process the record items were professionally conserved and digitized.
Types of graphical material in this series include: master site and layout plans , including maps showing utilization of Boeing Field by the United States military during World War II; maps of owned and leased airport property, including maps of specific property acquisitions and demolitions; utility maps (air, electrical, fire systems, lights, plumbing); sanitary and storm sewers, storm drains and pump stations; plans of structures of the King County International Airport (passenger facilities, hangars, ancillary structures, airport lessees' structures); plans of Boeing Company structures located at the airport; maps of fuel tank locations; environmental inventories and maps and plans relating to water pollution control programs.
Series 497: Kingdome architectural records
These architectural records were collected and maintained by the Department of Stadium Administration's Maintenance Section. Documenting the Kingdome as a physical structure, one that was a subject of controversy and litigation later in its life, the records consist of project and subject files, and plans and drawings. Major topics represented include baseball field expansion; ceiling repair; consultant reports; documents relating to original Kingdome construction (construction specifications and other documents, mylar drawings of design and structure); executive suite design and construction; landscaping; maintenance office and shop expansion; miscellaneous studies; modifications for executive suites and roof renovation; pre-Kingdome stadium proposals; and specific project files (concession areas, day care facility, railing caps, seating additions, sprinkler system)
Road Services Division records
King County Archives holds original records created by the King County Road Services Division and its predecessors. These records include aerial photographs; historical survey data; building plans; and a variety of specialized maps (assessor, bridge, drainage, engineering, erosion control, establishment, maintenance, parks, right-of-way, roads, structure, survey, topographical and traffic). They also contain supporting documentation about the establishment, construction and maintenance of county roads and bridges, and of other county structures and facilities which are, or have been, the responsibility of the division or its functional predecessors.
King County Road Services Division maintains digitized copies of the originals held by the Archives, and makes them available online on the Map Vault. The King County Road Services Division's Map and Records Center also retains physical custody of some of the older supporting documentation relating to county roads. Digitized records available on the Map Vault include:
- Boeing Field structures
- County maintenance shops and other facilities
- Health and social services facilities at Georgetown, south Seattle (indigent shelter, tuberculosis hospital, crematorium)
- Juvenile detention facilities
- Park and recreational structures
- Sand and gravel bunkers
- Wharves, docks, and ferry passenger waiting rooms and shelters
Series 36: Bridge files
These files constitute a record of highway bridges built by, transferred to, or eliminated by King County between 1901 and 1994.
Series 1306: Construction project files
This series contains a blueprint of the King County Courthouse (formerly the County-City Building).
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds building plans created by King County's former Building and Land Development (BALD) Division. An inventory of these records is available.
Properties in unincorporated King County
The King County Permitting Divison holds the following building plan records:
- Residential buildings, 1987-present (some plans may be available from 1970)
- Commercial buildings, 1970-present
Properties in the city of Seattle
The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections holds the following building plan records:
- Single-family residential buildings, 1974 - present
- Commercial and multi-family residential buildings, 1974 - present
(Some microfilm plans exist for structures dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.)
Properties in other incorporated areas
Check with the municipality in question.
The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) is a set of laws that govern commercial transactions such as sales, warranties, negotiable instruments, loans secured by personal property, and other commercial matters. The UCC has been adopted in some form in every state. In 1965, Washington State first adopted RCW 62A.9A (effective July 1, 1967).
The King County Archives also holds the following records from the 1960s. Most of the plans are outline sketches of basements or other protected areas:
Series 409: Seattle-King County Office of Civil Defense fallout shelter records, 1962-1968
During the Cold War era of the mid-twentieth century, national, state and local governments cooperated in identifying and preparing spaces in public and residential buildings which could be used as shelter in case of a nuclear attack. The Seattle-King County Office of Civil Defense served as the local government liaison with state and federal civil defense agencies.
The records in this series are copies of state and federal documents prepared using local data, and returned to local authorities for their reference and use. They consist of records of the National Fallout Survey (Phases 1 and 2), and additional facility sketches and state reports. Record information from Phase 1 (1962) shows area population; shelter capacity; and total buildings; shelter location; identification information; use if any as a school; owner; physical vulnerability to nuclear attack; year built; survey method; and protection factor code. Phase 2 (1968) record information includes name of structure and address; identification information; number of stories; existing spaces; assessment of shielding, ventilation, and electrical power needs and sources; shelter dimensions; average mass; and distance to center of shelter from its peripheries.
These records are arranged by facility number (FN). Additional records, 1967-1968, include photocopied shelter floor plans, plus records for "non-qualified" buildings; and computer printouts. Record information may include the name and address of shelter, identification information, protection factor, amount of space, ventilation improvements needed, license date, and stocked spaces (i.e., with survival supplies). Contact the King County Archives for information regarding these records, or to schedule a viewing appointment.
King County Assessor's Real Property Record Cards
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds the Real Property Record Cards, which may contain a small sketch of the exterior plan of buildings including dimensions. The cards don't contain detailed floor plans or blueprints.
The University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division maintains a collection of plans of buildings designed by local architects, dating from 1889 to the 1980s. Search this collection using their online search engine.
Researching the History of Seattle and King County Buildings
Check out this reference guide to learn more about building history in King County.
King County establishes and maintains streets, roads and bridges in unincorporated areas of King County. Historically, King County roads were initiated by citizen petition. The proposed route was reviewed ("viewed") by a group of citizens (later, by the County Surveyor or surveyors from the County Engineer's office). The road was then authorized or rejected by the county commissioners. If approved, the county could then undertake to acquire property for the right-of-way and to build the road.
At their establishment, roads were typically given a name (usually the name of the principal petitioner) and a number. Road names and numbers often changed over time. Also, roads were sometimes authorized but never built, or not built in the way that the establishment records described.
Visit King County Road Services' webpage for information about Capital Improvement Program projects. Visit King County Road Services Road Maintenance Services and FAQ webpage for information road maintenance.
COUNTY SOURCES OF RECORDS
King County Archives holds historical records, including County legislative files, that may be used to research establishment, construction and maintenance of present-day streets, roads, and bridges.
King County Road Services Division's Map and Records Center is responsible for maintaining maps, historical survey data, and other supporting documentation about the establishment, construction and maintenance of county roads and bridges, and of other county structures and facilities which are, or have been, the responsibility of the division or its functional predecessors. The records span the 1850s to the present. In addition to maps, these files also contain original text documents from the 1800s, usually handwritten, that were subsequently transcribed in the Road Books.
DIGITAL SOURCES OF RECORDS
The documents are available digitally through Road Services Division Map Vault. This online digital collection contains full-sized hard-copy maps (survey, route, vicinity, detail, plat, topographic) of historical and contemporary county road projects, indexed by map title, road name(s), section-township-range coordinates, map date, map type, and survey number. Please contact the Map and Record Center for more information about accessing the maps and other graphical materials available on the Map Vault. King County Archives holds the hard-copy, original records.
NON-COUNTY SOURCES OF RECORDS
King County may enter into construction and maintenance agreements with municipalities, utility taxing districts, or the Washington State Department of Transportation. These jurisdictions may hold additional street and road records of research interest. After 1910, the state of Washington increasingly shared responsibility for major roads within counties. Historical records of the state Department of Transportation and its predecessor, the state Highway Department, can be found at the Washington State Archives in Olympia.
In general, the King County Archives retains formal legal documents relating to road establishments and locations. The King County Recorder's Office is the principal source of right-of-way deeds. The Road Services Division's Map and Records Center holds historical engineering documents relating to technical aspects of building and maintaining a given road.
The best way to access records that may relate to a specific road is through one or more search categories. These can be:
- Approximate road establishment date
- Road name
- Road number
- Survey number
- Section-township-range coordinates
- A combination of any of these
King County Archives staff can help you determine a search strategy that may help identify road histories in our record collections. These collections include:
King County Commissioners' proceedings, 1853-1969
King County Archives holds the original County Commissioners' proceedings. These records contain meeting minutes and transcribed resolutions, orders, and records of Commissioners' actions. The proceedings are indexed in 18 volumes, and each volume is organized into topical or functional sections. The following are all sections in the indexed proceedings that are related to roads.
Roads: volumes 1-18, 1853-1969
Lists of road names and Commissioners' actions including bids called, advertised, ordered, accepted, and completed, as well as hearings that were set and referred to the County Engineer. For some entries, miscellaneous file, resolution, contract, or project numbers are present.
Viewers of road: volume 1, 1853-1885
This index section refers to road petitions and appointments of non-professional residents to view, survey and lay out the road described in the petition.
Road district overseers: volume 2, 1889-1901
This index section includes entries regarding election and appointment of, and petitions and bonds for, overseers of road districts. The overseer, also known as the road supervisor, was responsible for maintaining roads, collecting road poll taxes, and making regular reports to the Commissioners.
Road districts: volume 3, 1901-1914
This index section includes entries relating to petitions for road districts, the formation of road districts, and appointments of supervisors for the districts.
Road establishments: volumes 4-18, 1914-1969
This index section includes entries listing the name of the person or the road involved and the Commission action (for example, hearing set, road established).
Petitions: volumes 5-18, 1921-1969
This index section includes listings about petitions for appointments, annexations, road and district improvements.
Additional proceedings relating to road matters are recorded in volumes 3, 5, 7, and 9 of the King County Commissioners' Road Books.
Different types of record information may be found in a single road book. Road books are generally arranged chronologically. Portions of Road Books 3 and 6 index road information in the other volumes; these index sections are arranged by road number. Cross-references, to road number or to related volumes of Commissioners' Proceedings, have been hand-entered, usually in red pencil, in the chronological volumes. Road Book indexing is replicated and expanded by the two volumes in the Index to Road Records. Road establishment records after 1900 can be found in volume 2 of this series, the Commissioners' Road Files, and the Commissioners' Proceedings. For questions, or access to the Road Books, please contact the Archives.
King County Commissioners' road books, 1854-1900
The volumes in this series record county road establishments and other road matters undertaken by the King County Commissioners between 1854 and approximately 1900. Records are not present between August 1871 and February 1873. There are nine road books in eight volumes (Road Books 1 and 2 are bound together). The volumes contain five types of handwritten record information:
- Road data or "field notes" (road number, road width, section-township-range coordinates, survey lines and coordinates, and dates that actions were taken regarding a specific road).
- Transcriptions of essential documents relating to the establishment of roads (petitions, appointment of road viewers and road supervisors, road viewers' reports, surveyor's reports and certificates, transcriptions of affidavits and bonds, legal notices, establishment orders, orders for payments). Road Book 8 consists of transcribed official recordings arranged by Auditor number (1892-1900).
- Transcriptions of County Commissioners' proceedings having to do with road business of all types.
- Transcriptions of deeds for road rights-of-way (Road Book 7, 1892 only).
- Road plat maps (Road Book 4; with other maps incidentally in other volumes).
Commissioners' Road Files, 1899-1916
This series contains text documents relating to road establishment, construction and maintenance, arranged by auditor's filing number (roughly chronologically) and cross-indexed by road number. Route, vicinity and survey maps may be present for some roads.
Road deeds log, 1905-1909
This volume appears to be a ledger kept for the purpose of documenting King County's acquisition of property, by deed or condemnation, for road rights-of-way during this time period. Individual entries were made for each road. Record information usually includes road name, a short description of the road, and its width. Also present may be road number ("R#") or survey number ("S#"); essential dates (of road examination, survey, completion); and other handwritten notes. A second section details information about property owners: section-township-range coordinates of property, part of section affected, owner name, owner address or whereabouts, property price, acreage, and other remarks. Remarks usually state the date the property deed was received by King County. Also noted may be the status of the property acquisition, problems with individual owners, efforts to locate owners, condemnation activities, and the ultimate status of the road. Arrangement of the volume is roughly chronological. An alphabetical index to road names is present. There is no owner name index.
Engineer's road petition files, 1916-1935
This series contains documentation, retained by the County Engineer between approximately 1916 and 1935, relating to citizen road petitions. Records for each petition or road may include original signed petitions, maps (hand-drawn or annotated blueprint copies), and copies of Commissioner resolutions. Correspondence is also present, notably letter reports made by the county's Reconnaissance Engineer to the Commissioners. These reports, which are not present for every petition file, may provide information about county settlement and transportation patterns in a given area, as well as about road feasibility.
Most of the records are arranged alphabetically, by name of principal petitioner or by road name). Alphabetical filing order is approximate. Under each letter, records follow a chronological pattern. Each folder contains a photocopied agency list with the names of petitioners or roads which purport to be in that folder. A second, smaller group of records relate to petitions from Road District No. 2, comprising the southern portion of King County. These records are arranged chronologically (1929-1935).
A road vacation is an action taken by the King County Council (prior to May 1, 1969, by orders of the King County Commissioners) whereby the public interest in a road right-of-way* is removed. King County holds an easement on right of way for public travel on most streets and alleys outside of incorporated areas of the County. This interest may be terminated by the County ordinance if the easement is considered useless to the County's needs and deemed beneficial by the return of the unused area to the public tax tolls. RCW 36.87 and King County Code 14.40 govern the vacation of rights-of-way in King County.
Search for Records
To search digitized County Council ordinances authorizing the vacation, visit the King County Legislative Archives. King County Archives holds the physical ordinance files.
Prior to May 1969, road vacations in unincorporated King County were sometimes made by King County Commissioner resolutions. More often they were made by direct order of the Commissioners. Texts of road vacation orders can be found in the County Commissioners' Proceedings, which are held by King County Archives. The easiest way to search for a road vacation is by order number of the approximate date of the vacation.
Another source of information is the Commissioners' road vacation files, which are held by Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue. These files are arranged by vacation order number (1 through 1413). The files usually contain the original signed road vacation order and may also include supporting documentation such as petitions, maps, engineers' reports and correspondence. Please contact the Regional Archives to access these records.
When unincorporated areas of King County incorporate into municipalities, the municipalities assume responsibility for road actions such as vacations. Your municipality's ordinance files may contain relevant information.
* A right-of-way is public land, property, or property interest (e.g., an easement), usually in a strip, as well as bridges, trestles, or other structures, acquired for or devoted to transportation purposes. This does not include recreational or nature trails except where they intersect with or are located within road rights-of-way. Rights-of-way are established through deeds or easements.
Unmaintained county right-of-way refers to a road within the county right-of-way that is accessible to public travel but is not maintained by King County.
King County's street naming and numbering system developed over the course of the twentieth century. It was aimed at developing a clear and concise street designation system intended to lend increased facility to the location of addresses. A numbered grid pattern of avenues and streets, an extension of and compromise with the City of Seattle's street system, is the centerpiece of the system.
The system had its beginning in 1920 and 1921 with the passage of two Commissioners' resolutions (690, 730) which extended the grid north and south from what were then the city limits of Seattle. The next surge followed in 1930 with the adoption of two more sizable resolutions (3709, 7558) which further extended the grid south and north of Seattle. Preference was given to numbered avenues and streets rather than named roads.
Resolution 16622 (August 13, 1956) extended the grid numbering system countywide and is considered the base legislation for all amending resolutions and ordinances that followed. This resolution authorized the use of numbers to replace names as often as possible.
Names were retained on some roads and some new names are still assigned. Names are used where they have meaningful geographical significance, or for roads that deviate too widely from the grid system to make numbers practical. A name is not retained or a new name is not assigned if a number designation fits the grid system.
King County Archives retains copies of all road name resolutions and ordinances in its legislative files. The road name changes are set out in the resolution or ordinance by section-township-range coordinates, and states the former and new name of each road.
The Archives also holds records relating to Vashon Island road name changes: Vashon-Maury Island street addressing, 1988-1991. To improve emergency response access to locations on Vashon and Maury Islands, in 1988, King County initiated a street measurement and address assignment project. The project, which changed most named streets to numbered ones. It was undertaken by a team of local residents under general direction of the Building and Land Development (BALD) Division.
The Vashon-Maury Island street addressing file consists of a manual and project history compiled at BALD's request by geodata technician Ken Brooks. The manual comprises text sections illustrated with copies of forms, worksheets, maps, correspondence, etc.; section topics include socio-cultural background and community information; measuring and recording fieldwork; road designations; address number assignment; map and sign preparation; quality checks; and project wrap-up. Two appendices include copies of Vashon/Maury Island newspaper articles, and photocopied snapshots of project participants.
Maps were generated in connection with the establishment or construction of King County roads. There are different types of road maps: engineering (design and construction), establishment, maintenance and paving, right-of-way, survey, or topographical. King County Archives holds the following historical road map records.
Commissioners' Road Book No. 4, 1876-1881
Road Book 4 consists of hand-drawn and hand-colored route maps, keyed to textual road establishment documents for that period. Access is by survey coordinates; some keyword access is available.
Plat reference maps, 1900-1950
These blueprint copies of plat maps were acquired and retained as a reference collection by the County Engineer's office. They are arranged in folio post-bound volumes by township and range. Annotations showing various public works projects and property actions have been penciled on the plat maps.
Survey books, circa 1901-1907
Between 1855 and 1907, the County Surveyor was required to execute any survey required by the county commissioners, or by any court, individual or corporation; after 1901 an index to the surveys was required to be kept.
This series consists four large volumes organized by King County range and township numbers, with one page allocated to each section within a township. On some section plans, survey lines have been marked, with relevant survey notes handwritten on the facing blank page. The surveys are of all types (for example, surveys to locate roads or lost section corners; surveys done for individuals; surveys to create lots within plats). There is a section-township-range index in each volume.
Engineer's preliminary topographic map books, 1908-1937
This series contains field maps and notes made by county surveyors documenting topography of proposed county projects. A number of surveys made at the request of individuals or groups are also present. The field maps and notes were drafts used to prepare formal survey maps. They consistently show elevations and contours along the route of, or at the site of, the proposed project. They may also contain more visual information about the natural environment (streams, vegetation, agricultural crops) and the built environment (structures, fence lines, routes of existing roads and old trains, bridges, skid roads) than is present in the perfected maps.
Other record information often present is surveyor names, survey number, survey date, and location of survey stations. They are arranged is by volume number in a roughly chronological sequence. One unnumbered volume from 1908 is present at the beginning of the series. Each volume may contain records of more than one project. An index page is present in most volumes.
Road establishment books, 1912-1936
This series is composed of bound atlases of master maps locating established county roads. Most atlases are arranged by section-township-range coordinates with each section represented by one map. Road numbers are usually present on the maps. Books in this series include:
- Road establishment atlas,"TxN RxE," approximately 1874-1909
- King County Highway Plat Book #1, 1890
- King County Engineer: Existing County Roads, 1912-1917
- Road establishment book, 1913
- King County Engineer road establishment atlas, ranges 5 and 6, 1931
- King County Engineer road establishment maps, ranges 7 and 8, 1930
State highway plans, 1925-1933
After 1900, Washington counties worked increasingly with the state Highway Department to maintain roads built with state funds. The Highway Department sent reference copies of its highway plans to the counties. These plans are for State Highway #1 (Pacific Highway, through Auburn, Kent, Des Moines, Seattle, and via North Trunk Highway to the Snohomish County line) and State Highway #2 (Sunset Highway, over Snoqualmie Pass).
Volume 1 is for grading both highways, and there is one volume each per highway for concrete paving. In addition to construction details, the plans provide information about the land to either side of the right-of-way: property owner's names, location of structures such as barns and sheds, wetlands, pastures, cultivated fields, etc. Maps on each page have been indexed by section-township-range coordinates.
Secondary road project files, 1935-1938
This series includes specifications, plans, maps, correspondence and other contract documents relating to County road maintenance and construction projects. Also included are applications for Federal government grants. Most of these Depression-era projects were funded by the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (PWA) or the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
State highway plats, 1959-1972
This series is composed of county copies (blueprint and blueline) of Washington State Department of Highways plat maps showing extent of rights of way for state highway projects. Included are detailed (large-scale in some instances) mapping of areas, including location of buildings, immediately adjacent to or inside right of way, including path of the Seattle Freeway (Interstate 5).
King County Archives holds the following collection of historical photographs of county roads.
King County Department of Transportation photograph and moving image files, 1900-2002
These visual materials were created or collected by the Road Services Division and its predecessor agencies, the Department of Public Works and the County Engineer. Robert Brittain, staff photographer and, later, Head of Photographic Services for the Department of Public Works, was primarily responsible for curation of these materials. Photographs relating to road construction and improvements are present in this series. The photographs can usually be searched by road name, road number, or nearest street-avenue intersection. This series consists of three components:
- Photographic material removed from engineering project files (c.1900-1960) and maintained as a photographic reference collection. This material includes black-and-white prints, negatives, and glass slides. Some glass slides have been hand-colored. Topics include road, bridge, and wharf construction and maintenance. Representative images may be viewed on the Historical Photographs research guide.
- Master file of project photographs maintained by the County Engineer's office (1958-1969), the Department of Public Works (1970-1996), and the Department of Transportation (1996-2002). Ground and aerial photographs document all aspects of county public works during this time period including road, street, and bridge construction and maintenance. Material types include prints, negatives, and contact sheets, arranged in an ascending agency number sequence (1-6000) which approximates chronological order.
- Additional photographic and moving image materials maintained by the King County Department of Transportation and its predecessors, 1960-2002. Principally divided by format and arranged by subject, this material consists of photographic prints, negatives, 35mm slides, and contact sheets; videotapes (Beta, U-Matic and VHS formats); and motion pictures. Additional 35mm slides are arranged by individual item numbers supplied by Archives staff. A small number of audiotape narrations for slide shows are also present.
King County, through its public works agencies, has been historically responsible for the siting, construction, inspection, maintenance, repair and replacement of highway bridges, overcrossings, and undercrossings within its jurisdiction. The county maintains a record of these activities for each bridge.
King County Archives holds the following historical records documenting county bridges. The records may be searched by bridge number(s), bridge names, section-township-range coordinates, or location terms.
Bridge files, 1901-1994
These files constitute a textual record of highway bridges built by, transferred to, or eliminated by King County between 1901 and 1994. During this period, bridge engineering was undertaken by the County Surveyor (1901-1907), County Engineer (1907-1937, 1949-1969), Road Engineer (1937-1938), the Engineering Department (1938-1969) and the Department of Public Works (1970-1994). The files document these agencies' construction, inspection, maintenance, repair and replacement of bridges and of railroad and highway overcrossings and undercrossings. Record types include construction documents (e.g., cost estimates, contractor estimates, engineering notes and calculations, contract documents); inspection reports; correspondence; structure plans; site maps; and shop drawings; photographs; and newspaper or journal articles.
Bridge files: photographs, 1904-1988
This series is composed of bridge photographs, mostly dating from three general time periods: 1910-1920, 1932-1936, and 1950-1988. Bridges were assigned one or more identifying numbers by the county. The agency record for each bridge includes bridge number; bridge name if applicable; location (name of street or road, nearest city or town, section-township-range coordinates); and name of watercourse, railroad or highway spanned by the structure. Added information includes type of photographic materials present, date span of photographs, and limited keywords describing image content. The photograph files are mainly arranged by bridge number. Negatives are present for many images, particularly for the period 1910-1936, and are filed separately by bridge number.
Bridge files: maps and plans, 1901-1994
This series is composed of oversized site and vicinity maps; structural plans; standard detail drawings; and field and survey sketches.
King County Archives holds the following types of water and sewer line records.
Road Services Division historical utilities maps and plans, 1914-present
The King County Road Services Division's Map and Records Center maintains maps and other supporting documentation about the establishment, construction and maintenance of county structures and facilities which are, or have been, the responsibility of the division or its functional predecessors. King County Archives holds the original, hard-copy maps, while Road Services maintains digital and microfilm copies. The digital copies are available on the Road Division's Map Vault.
Materials held by King County Archives include maps and plans of water systems, sewer (wastewater) systems, and storm sewer systems. The bulk of these maps date from 1940, but some earlier items are present.
Road Engineer sewer system reference maps, 1940-1960
This collection includes paper copies of sewer system maps maintained as a reference collection by King County engineers. They include:
- Bellevue Sewer District, 1941
- Greenwood sewers (proposed), 1947
- Lake City Sewer District (utility LID #17). 1960
- North Beach #1 sewer extension,1940
- Rainer Vista sewers, 1946
- Ridgecrest sewers, 1940-1950
- Roxbury sewers; as-built, 1945
- Skyway sewerage and drainage district #4, 1942-1944
- Southwest Suburban Sewer District, 1951, 1955
- Val Vue Sewers, 1941
- White Center, 1943
Real Property Division utility franchise files and system maps, c.1940-1988
These records document individual utility franchises issued by King County to water companies; water and sewer districts; and local municipal governments. After 1945, numerous franchises to water companies and water and sewer districts reflect post-World War II housing construction.
Franchise file documents vary over time but generally include a letter of application, a legal description of the proposed franchise, and records of the county's response. Additional correspondence may be present.
Maps accompany most text records and may be either annotated copies of commercial or plat maps, or original maps created by the applicant.
Boeing Field maps, 1929-1999
This series includes utility maps (air, electrical, fire systems, lights, plumbing); sanitary and storm sewers, storm drains and pump stations; plans of Boeing Company structures located at the airport; maps of fuel tank locations; environmental inventories and maps and plans relating to water pollution control programs.
Please visit King County Wastewater Treatment Division's glossary for more information on wastewater and sewer.
King County Archives holds records that document how county government relates to utility taxing districts: establishing them, setting their boundaries, and collecting and distributing taxes raised. Specifically, the Archives holds franchise files, which contain utility taxing district information.
Auditor's annual reports, 1885-1969
The auditor's annual report of the financial status of King County details monies received from all sources, principally taxes, and the disbursement of monies by county agencies. It also summarizes the county's general resources, liabilities and indebtedness. Records of specialized taxing districts (e.g., water or sewer districts) are presented separately.
Department of Transportation photograph and moving image files, 1960-2002
King County photographers documented neighborhoods and street infrastructure in unincorporated King County prior to sewer or water line construction. Photographs can be found by keyword, road or street name, sewer or water district name or number, intersection, and sometimes homeowner name. Reference maps showing sewer connections and locations of photographs are often present in these files.
Establishment records (at Puget Sound Regional Archives)
Establishment records for utility taxing districts can be found in county legislative files. Supporting documentation (petitions, resolutions and maps relating to annexations, absorption by incorporated areas, and dissolution) can be found in the King County Commissioners' Water District Files (1916-1973) and Sewer District Files (1936-1972). These files are organized by district number and held by Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue. Please contact the Regional Archives for more information.
Water and Sewer District records (at Puget Sound Regional Archives)
Utility taxing districts, such as water and sewer districts, are not a part of King County government. Records generated and maintained by water and sewer districts are held by the districts themselves or by Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue. Please contact the Regional Archives for more information.
Water and sewer district plans and studies
This record series contains engineering plans and studies commissioned by municipalities, water and sewer districts in King County. They were most likely collected and kept as a reference collection by the Road Engineer or by the Building and Land Development (BALD) Division.
There are two components: (1) a numeric section for water districts, arranged by water district number, and (2) an alphabetic section arranged by name of municipality, sewer or water district. Many of these are comprehensive plans generated as part of a combined water-and-sewer study for a given district or municipality.
King County Document Collection
This collection of individual reports and studies includes such items as aquifer protection studies; engineering reports; environmental impact statements; hydraulic analyses; sewerage system plans, amendments and updates; and water system plans, amendments and updates.
For information on shoreline ecology and planning, visit the Shoreline Master Program glossary.
For information on stormwater (surface water runoff), visit the King County Water and Land Resources Division glossary.
In addition to recorded documents such as deeds, easements, and short plats, King County Archives holds the following types of land ownership records.
Field notes of United States General Land Office surveyors consist of two types:
- traverses performed to locate section corners, to establish river meanders, and to survey shorelines (1856-1913); and
- boundary surveys of donation land claims in King County (1860-1882).
Both types of field notes include notes on, or references to, the natural and built environment (topography, bodies of water, vegetation, soils, trails, roads, settlements) existing at the time of the survey.
ABOUT THE SERIES
This series consists of handwritten transcriptions of the survey field notes of United States General Land Office surveyors. Two types of surveys are present. Both include notes on, or references to, the natural and built environment (topography, bodies of water, vegetation, soils, trails, roads, settlements in existence) at the time of the survey.
- Traverses performed to locate section* corners, to establish river meanders, and to survey shorelines, 1856-1913. The notes are transcribed into six bound volumes arranged first by range* number (2-11, 13), then by township*. Index maps at the beginning of township notes provide page references for locating surveys of specific section boundaries within that township. Notes of shoreline and meander surveys are transcribed at the end of township notes.
- Boundary surveys of donation land claims in King County, 1860-1882. Notes in this volume include, for each claimant, claim and notification numbers, acreage, date of survey, section-township-range information, and claim boundary survey notations. The volume is arranged in general chronological order by date of survey. A name index by claimant surname is present.
Under the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850, Congress allowed settlers to claim public land in Western territories. A single person could claim 320 acres; a married couple, 640 acres. The claimants received final title to the land when they had lived on it for four years and made certain improvements, or when they purchased their lands in lieu of fulfilling residency requirements.
The 48 donation land claims in King County, recorded under federal territorial law, are the county's oldest recorded properties and are still referenced in property descriptions. These land claims are described by metes and bounds*.
ABOUT THE SERIES
This series contains a single volume of maps documenting King County donation land claims and subsequent property holdings. The volume, probably a transcription, circa 1882, of U.S. Surveyor General maps, consists of 36 hand-drawn maps. Initial cartography was done in colored inks and a colored wash; later annotations were made in pencil. Each donation land claim is outlined in black ink and contains, as record information, owner name, acreage, claim number, and notification number. Coal lands and "cash entries" (claimant had purchased the land) are noted.
Names and numbers correspond with entries in the series General Land Office Field Survey Notes: Donation Land Claims. In addition to property holdings, maps show watercourses (streams, springs, ponds, lakes); prairies and wetlands; resources (coal deposits, cranberry bogs); structures (roads, trails, wagon roads, school); and Native American villages and reservations. The volume is arranged in ascending numerical order by range (2-6) and within each range, by township (21-26).
* Metes and bounds is a very old form of land description. Starting from a known landmark as a place of beginning and tracing the property's perimeter, the surveyor uses measurements and markers to draw straight lines from one point to another in order to show the property's location and shape. Part of the description of Seattle pioneer A. A. Denny's donation claim reads:
"Beginning at the N.W. corner of the claim also the S.W. corner of W. N. Bell's claim at half tide on the beach of Elliott's bay 75 links W. of high water mark in Section 31, where set a stone, from which [the survey line] bisects a fir 12 inches in diameter; N. 10 degrees E 115 links [to] a laurel 18 inches in diameter; S. 10 degrees, E. 109 links, thence with the meander of the Bay..."
In the above example, degree refers to the portion of a 360-degree circle that the survey line varies from the last stated marker. A link is a portion of a survey chain measuring 7.92 inches.
Washington State's constitution articulates ownership of the "beds and shores of all navigable waters in the state up to and including the line of ordinary high tide, in waters where the tide ebbs and flows, and up to and including the line of ordinary high water within the banks [shore lands] of all navigable rivers and lakes."
Plat surveys of the state's lands were undertaken by various state agencies responsible for public lands. The record copy of maps produced by the plat surveys was retained at the state level, with secondary copies held by relevant local jurisdictions. The Auditor, who also served as the sales or lease agent for the state lands, held King County maps. The surveys established a baseline appraisal standard of the lands for future tax assessments. The plat maps in this series fall into four categories:
- Maps of Puget Sound tidelands, from Salmon Bay (Ballard) to a point in southwest Seattle in Section 12, Township 23, Range 3, just south of Westwood by the Sound; and along Commencement Bay in what is now Pierce County (1894-1927).
- Maps of shore lands around Lakes Union and Washington prior to the construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal (1907-1914).
- Maps of shore lands around Lakes Union and Washington after canal construction (1920-1933).
- Maps of Lake Washington shore lands at the Black River near Renton (1914; 1955).
Maps show actual shore lines at time of survey, property lines; some maps may also show structures.
Lives of people are mingled with the life of the surrounding community. King County Archives holds records that help researchers better understand the places where people may have lived, worked, or traveled through.
SEARCH TIPSCounty historical records may be used in ways not intended by their creators, such as documenting the history, development, and environment of a neighborhood. To identify relevant records, try one or more of the search tips.
- Keywords. Try searching by the name of a town, nearby landmark, geographical point of reference, or other proper names or distinguishing characteristics.
- Section-township-range coordinates, or the section-township-range (S-T-R) number. This is a three-part number (for example, 32-24-4) which establishes a location within a square mile, in relation to latitude and longitude. It is a part of legal property descriptions, and prior to uniform street naming in King County it was widely used (through the early 1970s) to locate places in King County.
- Street and road names, or nearest intersection (expressed as street and avenue).
- Property address or property owner name. Very few records in the Archives are retrievable by address or name alone, but sometimes this information is present as part of a larger description.
Most records held by King County Archives relate to communities and neighborhoods in unincorporated King County. This includes former county areas that later incorporated as municipalities. Some examples are Covington, Newcastle, Shoreline, SeaTac, and Sammamish. Municipal records may also contain information relating to your neighborhood.
Seattle Municipal Archives holds historical records, including photographs, about all Seattle neighborhoods.
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue, a branch of the Washington State Archives, holds King County neighborhood and property records. The most significant of those records are the King County Assessor's Office Real Property Record Cards.
The following published sources provide detailed information about the history of Seattle and King County neighborhoods.
- King County Historical Bibliography, Part II: Seattle Neighborhoods: This bibliography on Seattle Neighborhoods was prepared as a community history resource by staff of the former King County Office of Cultural Resources, now 4Culture (King County Cultural Development Authority). It was last revised in June 1999.
- Researching the History of Seattle and King County Buildings: This detailed research guide on the history of buildings in Seattle and King County was prepared by the Seattle Public Library's Special Collections Department in collaboration with King County Archives. It was last revised in April 2019.
In general, King County Archives holds county records relating to unincorporated county areas. Because Seattle's municipal boundaries have changed over time, and because some county government services lie within Seattle's boundaries, King County Archives does hold records that relate to some Seattle neighborhoods.
Here is a partial list of some of these records.
Early roads prior to incorporations and neighborhood platting
- King County Commissioners' Road Book maps (dating from approximately 1879)
Later roads through central Seattle
- State highway plans showing the Pacific Highway (later Highway 99)
- State highway plats showing right-of-way of the Seattle Freeway (later Interstate 5) and location of structures to be displaced by construction
Seattle neighborhoods and public health concerns: historical photographs
- 1920s automobile accidents which incidentally depict the neighborhoods in which they occurred.
- Substandard housing in Seattle neighborhoods (citywide; some access by personal name and street address).
- In-city solid waste refuse sites.
- Health Department participation in downtown parades and other civic events.
- Mobile tuberculosis x-ray van in various Seattle and King County neighborhoods.
- Maps and plans of area and structures along Salmon Bay prior to construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal (1916).
- King County plat book, Volume 1, 1853-1877, contains the original plat map of the "Town of Seattle," plus platted additions to Seattle, and the first plat map of the "Town of Renton." This volume appears to be a transcribed copy of earlier records.
- Plans and other graphical materials relating to the King County Courthouse (formerly the County-City Building).
- Historical photographs of the Pike Place Market.
- Hooverville photographs (1930s).
- Records relating to the establishment of Harborview Hospital (1931).
- Photographs relating to transit and construction of the downtown transit tunnel.
- Records, including photographs and plans, of the construction, existence and demolition of the Kingdome multipurpose stadium (1972-2000).
Duwamish River area
- Donation Land Claims maps.
- Maps of riverside areas and of the commercial waterway that straightened the Duwamish River.
- Commercial waterway establishment and tax assessment records.
- Historical photographs of houseboats near the bridge to West Seattle.
- Historical photographs of houseboats near the Fremont Bridge.
Georgetown-Boeing Field area
- Historical plans of King County's former health and welfare buildings at Georgetown.
- Historical maps and photographs of Boeing Field.
- Photographs and other documentation of residential and commercial properties acquired by King County for Boeing Field expansions.
North and northeast Seattle between 85th and 145th Streets
- Historical photographs taken along several major avenues, including Greenwood Avenue N., 15th Avenues NW and NE, Roosevelt Way NE (10th Ave NE); Lake City Way (Bothell Highway, Victory Way); and Aurora Avenue N.
- Early 20th century road establishment maps showing streets and roads in the area.
- Historical photographs of several north Seattle neighborhoods, including Northgate, Licton Springs, and Matthews Beach.
- Petitions, correspondence, resolutions, property records and contracts concerning King County's central role in securing property for the Sand Point Naval Air Station.
Waterfront areas along Puget Sound, Lakes Union and Washington, the Ship Canal, and central Seattle along Elliott Bay
- Tide and shore land plat survey maps, 1894-1958.
- King County Road Engineer wharf files consisting of early 20th-century plans and photographs of county ferry facilities on Lakes Union and Washington.
West Point area
- Historical map and photographs (1964) of Fort Lawton area.
- Reports, studies and photographs relating to the West Point Wastewater Treatment facility and surrounding areas.
KING COUNTY NEIGHBORHOODS
Information about King County neighborhoods can be found in several types of records: photographs; maps, plans and other graphical material; and textual records (reports, studies, statistics, and correspondence).
King County Archives holds the following photograph collections that document neighborhood history.
King County Department of Transportation photograph and moving image files, 1900-2002
Commercial and residential neighborhoods near county public works projects, particularly street and road construction and maintenance, can be found by keyword, road or street name, or intersection Much less frequently, photographs of individual properties are indexed by homeowner name or property address.
King County Road Engineer bridge files (photographs), 1904-1988
Images of houses and other structures located near county bridges may be found using section-township-range coordinates or by keyword.
Seattle-King County Department of Public Health photograph files, 1909-1970
Residential and commercial neighborhoods, mostly in Seattle, that were the subject of health concerns can be identified by keyword. Images of Depression-era "Hooverville" shacks are present in these files.
King County Commissioners' Boeing Field files, 1928-1971
These records include photographs relating to a 1950s Georgetown property acquisition for Boeing Field addition. Access is by address or name of property owner.
King County Office of Information Resource Management: Printing and Graphic Arts photograph files, ca. 1962-2000
These photos document commercial and residential neighborhoods in King County, its municipalities, and in Seattle adjacent to watercourses, wastewater collection and treatment facilities, and transit routes and facilities. They are most easily accessed by a subject term.
King County Department of Public Works levee inspection reports, 1988-1990
Photographs of riverfront property near county-maintained levees are present in these files. Access is by keyword.
King County Assessor's Real Property Record Cards, 1937-1972
Maps, plans, and other graphical material can give researchers an overall picture of the development of the built environment at a specific location. King County Archives holds records that contain maps and plans that show the locations of homes, businesses, farms, and other properties. Sometimes the properties are identified by owner name, but more often they are unidentified. The following records are held by the Archives.
King County Auditor: General Land Office field notes, 1856-1913
Survey notes and related maps in these volumes describe the natural and built environment along section lines as they were surveyed. The information in the volumes is organized by section-township-range coordinates.
Department of Executive Administration: Real Property Division franchise files, 1898-1988
These records document individual utility and transportation franchises issued by King County between 1898 and 1988 to private companies (railroad, streetcar, gas, electric power, water, and cable television companies); water and sewer districts; Maps accompany most text records and may be either annotated copies of commercial or plat maps, or original maps created by the applicant. The most helpful way to access these records is by subject term or by utility taxing district number.
King County Assessor timber cruise records, 1907-1967
These records are organized by section-township-range coordinates. Within each volume, section maps, intended to show stands of taxable timber, may also show home sites and describe property improvements.
Road establishment books, 1912-1936
These books are atlases of King County roads. Maps show existing county road rights of way, former roads, actual roads constructed, road names and numbers, and date of road establishment.
King County Engineer state highway plans, 1925-1933
After 1900, Washington counties worked increasingly with the state Highway Department to maintain roads built with state monies. The Highway Department sent reference copies of its highway plans to the counties. These plans are for State Highway #1 (Pacific Highway, through Auburn, Kent, Des Moines, Seattle, and via North Trunk Highway to the Snohomish County line) and State Highway #2 (Sunset Highway, over Snoqualmie Pass).
In addition to construction details, the plans provide information about the land on either side of the right-of-way: property owner's names, location of structures such as barns and sheds, wetlands, pastures, cultivated fields, etc. Maps on each page have been indexed by section-township-range coordinates.
Engineering Land Survey description cards, 1936-1941
Cards often include a hand-drawn sketch of the area surrounding the survey marker or section/quarter-section corner. The sketches, when present, vary widely in degree of detail. They may show houses (some with owner names); commercial structures (some with business names); churches; roads (paved, gravel, dirt, brick, etc.); old trails; logging roads; bridges; watercourses; rail lines; garbage dumps; electrical power lines; vegetation; agricultural crops; burnt or logged-off land; etc.
King County Engineer state highway plats, 1959-1972
This series consists of King County's reference copies of Washington State Highway Department plat maps. The maps show the extent of rights-of- way for state highway projects. Large-scale maps of the right-of-way for the Seattle Freeway (Interstate 5) show the location of structures removed during freeway construction. No additional information about the buildings is present.
King County Planning Department land use maps, 1959-1972
This series consists of large scale neighborhood maps (many based on Kroll maps) showing the nature of built structures or land utilization during the time period. They are arranged by section-township-range coordinates.
King County Archives holds the following textual records documenting mid-20th century land use planning in different areas of the county.
King County Planning Commission Comprehensive Plan studies, 1951-1954
In 1949 the Planning Commission began to undertake studies to update the county's first (1939) comprehensive plan. The revisions comprised 14 sections corresponding generally to county school districts: Auburn, Bellevue, Bothell, Enumclaw-Plateau, Federal Way, Highline-South Central, Issaquah, Kent, Lake Washington, Mercer Island, Renton, Shoreline, Snoqualmie Valley, and Vashon Island. Each study included sections on physical, human and economic geography; and assessments of schools, traffic, shopping and industrial areas, parks and recreation, and utilities. Between 1955 and 1958 the studies were further revised, and a generalized comprehensive plan based on them was filed in August 1958. Records are arranged by community name.
King County Planning Commission reports and studies, 1951-1960
Planning Commission activities in the 1950s included preparation of individual topical reports and studies related to various growth and development issues in King County: school growth, economic development, business expansion, land use, sewage and pollution, etc. These studies were often undertaken jointly with other groups: school districts, the University of Washington, and the Puget Sound Regional Planning Conference.
King County Department of Planning and Community Development regional planning data files, 1956-1977
This series contains survey data, summary statistics, correspondence and reports relating to county-wide planning for schools, fire districts, and general community development. Includes summary neighborhood analysis data for county communities. Access is by keyword.
King County Government Document Collection
This collection is comprised of individual reports and studies by King County agencies. Types of material in this collection may include include neighborhood plans, analyses, environmental impact studies and regional community plans. Access is by keyword.
COMMUNITY PLACESRecords in the King County Archives can provide information about community places and structures such as businesses, schools, parks, places of worship, and transportation routes.
King County Archives does not hold records of individual businesses, but the Archives does hold county government records that may contain information about businesses in a particular neighborhood.
King County Department of Transportation photograph and moving image files, 1900-2002
This series contains aerial and ground photographs of commercial areas adjacent to county road projects. Some of the areas included are Auburn, Burien, Eastgate, Highline area (especially near and along Ambaum Boulevard), North City, Richmond Beach, Shoreline, and Tolt (Carnation). Historical images of Boeing Airplane Company workers are also present in this series.
King County Commissioners' liquor license files, 1901-1916
This series contains applications, correspondence, protests and petitions for and against the issuance of county licenses for saloons and billiard halls, up to the time of local option prohibition. Included are letters of recommendation from breweries and a list of saloons in the county whose license fees were partially refunded when prohibition took effect in 1912.
King County Road Engineer bridge files (photographs), 1904-1988
A few images of commercial structures (stores, gasoline stations, automobile repair shops, etc.) located near county bridges may be found using section-township-range coordinates or by subject term.
Seattle-King County Department of Public Health photograph files, 1909-1970
This large collection of photographs includes images of businesses which were subject to Health Department inspection and oversight including bakeries, dairies, laundries, markets (including the Pike Place Market), meat packing plants, nursing homes, restaurants, and roadside ice vendors (1930s).
View selected photographs from this collection featured in the online exhibit Second Look: Historic Images of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health.
King County Commissioners' state regulatory agency cause files, 1910-1939
Washington State agencies regulate and supervise providers of public utilities and transportation systems within the state. The Commissioners' state regulatory agency cause files consist of King County's copies of documents filed with state regulators in the following cases:
- where county property was directly affected (e.g., county roads and rights-of-way); or
- where King County maintained an interest (i.e., where the actions affected unincorporated areas of the county).
One group of documents relate to railroad grade crossing permit files, 1910-1941. These files consist of the following:
- applications to these agencies (by King County commissioners and by railroad, streetcar and logging companies) for construction or modification of grade crossings on King County roads; and
- challenges by King County or railroad companies to the applications. Principal railroad companies represented include the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway Company (Milwaukee Road); the Great Northern Railway Company; the Northern Pacific Railway Company, the Pacific Coast Railroad; and the Puget Sound Electric Railway Company.
Many logging railroads are also represented. Record types include copies of application documents (petitions, interrogatories and answers, maps); copies of official orders and permits; correspondence; copies of County Auditor filings; and copies of County Engineer record cards for each cause. Arrangement is by state agency cause number.
Corporate statements, 1930-1965
Washington State required companies that sold stock to state residents to maintain an office in the state, and to file annual statements regarding the companies' financial condition. Duplicate annual statements were filed with the state Department of Licenses and with the auditor of the county in which the company's principal office was located.
This series consists of records that were filed with the King County auditor. The filings are principally the statutory statements of mining companies selling stock within Washington State. The actual properties of most companies were located in other states but records for Washington companies in Benton, Grays Harbor, Kittitas, Okanogan, Pierce, Snohomish and Whatcom counties are present. Also present (particularly for the period 1960-1965) are records for other types of corporations, including Seattle and King County businesses and non-profit organizations.
Records for each company may include articles of incorporation, bylaws, company histories, annual narrative and financial reports, prospectuses and circulars, sample stock certificates, maps and plans of sites and facilities, equipment inventories, geological reports, photographs, and copies of other legal instruments. Records are arranged by the Auditor's filing number (roughly chronological).
King County Engineering Land Survey description cards, 1936-1941
Land survey cards often include a hand-drawn sketch of the area surrounding the survey marker or section/quarter-section corner. The sketches may show commercial structures (some with business names). Access is by section-township-range coordinates.
King County Justice Court liquor search dockets, Seattle district, 1938-1942
This series contains warrants issued by Judge Guy B. Knott to search for liquor on commercial premises. Record information includes the name of defendant (often "John Doe"), address of premises (or description of their location when no address is available), and name of person filing charges. Information relating to the scope and extent of search may also be present. Many sites searched for liquor were in the Pioneer Square or Jackson Street area of Seattle.
King County Commissioners' license files, 1959-1969.
This series contains applications and records of licenses and permits granted for dances, pool halls, card rooms, bowling alleys, amusement parks, archery lanes, raceways, skating rinks, and other entertainment-related businesses. Files consist of the application form, with county action written on the face of the form, ad related correspondence may be attached. The county's receipt book for fee payments made between April 1966 and March 1967 is also present. The records are arranged numerically by file number.
King County Planning Department land use maps, 1959-1972
Large scale neighborhood maps show businesses identified by type. The maps are arranged by section-township-range coordinates.
From 1853 to 1971, an elected county Superintendent of Schools oversaw King County public schools. Since 1971, local school districts are organized into regional educational service districts under state oversight.
King County Archives holds the following records related to schools in the county.
King County Auditor's state examiner reports reference file, 1905-1926
The Bureau of Inspection and Supervision of Public Offices functioned as an independent state agency between 1909 and 1921. It was charged with the final fiscal auditing of all county account books. This reference file, maintained by the King County Auditor, consists of summary reports (covering one year or several) of primarily fiscal audits of King County officials and agencies. Some administrative and procedural commentary and recommendations may be included.
School districts for which reports are present include Auburn, Black Diamond, Bothell, Burton, Carnation, Des Moines, Duvall, Enumclaw, Factoria, Fall City, Issaquah, Kent, Kirkland, North Bend, Oak Lake, Pacific, Ravensdale, Redmond, Renton, Richmond Beach, Skykomish, Tolt, and Tukwila.
King County Department of Transportation photograph and moving image files, 1900-2002
This collection includes images of students walking to school on streetside pathways; high school bands participating in road and bridge opening ceremonies; students participating in civic cleanup events and in environmental education activities; school buildings; and school crossing signs.
Seattle-King County Public Health photograph files, 1909-1970
This collection includes images of school nurses, students participating in school health programs (Valley Elementary School and others), and a gas explosion at Hobart School.
King County Park system photograph files, 1948-1998
This collection visually documents park and recreation facilities and programs in King County during the last half of the twentieth century. One topic prominently represented by images are the facilities and programs, particularly athletic fields and swimming pools, developed (1950s - 1970s) by King County in partnership with local school districts.
King County health survey data files, 1980-1991
This series consists of health survey data compiled by the Data Management and Evaluation Division of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health. Teen surveys were conducted to assess the services of Rainier Beach High School Teen Health Center, opened in fall 1988, and to assess whether other schools (e.g. Sealth High School) might want to start health centers. The series primarily contains mainframe printouts of anonymous survey data; however there are also memoranda, handwritten notes and charts, and background information on the surveys.
The survey data are arranged by survey site, printout variable and date. Edit variables for printouts include race, age, gender, family income, and parental status. Other factors include health insurance status; ability to pay for services; use of prenatal, child care and food program services; and use or non-use of the County's Public Health program.
King County Government Document Collection
This series contains individual reports and studies by King County agencies. Documents relating to schools include financial analyses, statistics, community school planning documents, environmental impact studies for specific schools, and a small number of curriculum materials relating to safety and environmental education.
King County Superintendent of Schools records, 1877-1977
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds historical records of the King County Superintendent of Schools as part of a larger collection of Puget Sound Educational Service District #121 records. The Regional Archives also maintains some records of individual school districts, including Bellevue, Highline, Issaquah, Kent, Lake Washington and Seattle.
Seattle Public Schools (Seattle School District #1) records
Seattle School District #1 also maintains its own records.
King County Road Services Division historical maps and plans, 1911-1947
Until the establishment of King County's Parks and Recreation Department in 1948, the County Engineer was responsible for oversight and maintenance of a small number of county parks. Plans of several early county parks were retained in King County's later engineering records: Auburn Park (1911, 1914); Kirkland Recreation Park (1935); White Center Ballfield (1946); Enatai County Park (1947); Enumclaw Golf Course (1951), and the Snoqualmie Falls "comfort station" (rest room; 1925).
King County Department of Transportation photograph and moving image files, c. 1939-1940
This series contains photographs of the construction of community field houses in Des Moines, Enumclaw, North Bend (Si View), Preston, and White Center. Funding for the field houses was provided in part by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA).
King County Parks System photograph files, 1940-1988
This photograph collection visually documents park and recreation facilities and programs in King County from 1948 to 1998. Photographic formats include black-and-white prints and negatives, color prints and negatives, 35mm color slides, and glass slides (color and black-and-white). The collection's seven subseries reflect the activities of King County Parks across this time period:
- Park sites and facilities (including former and proposed county parks, and municipal parks located within King County);
- regional trails;
- swimming pools;
- recreation programs;
- major local or regional events sponsored by King County Parks (including Junior Olympics, Washington Games for Disabled Youth, Marymoor Heritage Festival, the Return to Newcastle, and the King County Fair);
- administrative and staff photographs; and
- photographs of miscellaneous subjects.
Specific topics prominently represented by images include: 1950s recreation programs for women, girls and disabled youth; facilities and programs developed in partnership with local school districts (1950s-1970s); facilities, particularly swimming pools, developed through the Forward Thrust capital improvement program (1968); recreation and leisure programs in the 1990s; and the development of regional parks and trails (1970s-1990s). Aerial photographs, mostly from approximately 1969-1975, are present for many park sites and their adjacent neighborhoods.
Arrangement within each subseries is alphabetical by name of park, facility, event, or type of recreational program; administrative photographs are arranged chronologically. Images have not generally been described individually. Some images may also be protected by copyright.
King County Parks System history files, 1949-1977
This series consists of agency and program histories written or compiled by Parks staff; brochures, posters, graphics, programs and other material intended for short-term distribution or use; manuscripts, and photocopied newspaper clippings.
Project file: Seahurst County Park, 1971-1977
This series contains background materials for the report prepared by the Ecology Study Team on behalf of the Design Commission (King County document 3468). Record information includes administrative details of the project, scientific notes and data, a copy of the final report, as well as subsequent publications in response to the initial report. Also included are site plans and some photographs of Seahurst Park.
King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks: Parks Division aerial photographs, 1977-1990
This series contains aerial photographs from the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks: Parks Division. The images are captured on large sheets of Mylar film, and they are organized alphabetically by location or park name.
King County Parks System cultural history research project, 1994-1995
This collection contains records created as part of the Cultural History Research Project overseen by the King County Parks System Interpretive Programs Office. Text files are arranged alphabetically by park name. Most files include meeting and research notes, historical and parks planning materials, and miscellaneous other materials. Occasionally the master plan for the park covered by the file is also included.
Parks included in the text files are: Beaver Lake, Coal Creek-Newcastle, Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland, Daniels Creek, Jenkins Creek, Lake Wilderness, Marymoor, Maury Island Marine, Newcastle History, Richmond Beach, Soos Creek, and Three Forks Conservation Area. This series also includes oral history video tapes and transcripts.
King County Office of Cultural Resources parks history files, 1997-2002
From 1982 to 1996, county oversight of its cultural resource programs was joined organizationally with that of its park system. When, in 1997, the Cultural Resources Division became the Office of Cultural Resources under the County Executive, the agency retained its interest in county parks. Of particular interest to the Office's Landmarks and Heritage Program were potentially historic structures located in the parks.
These subject files reflect materials collected by agency personnel, both before and after 1997, on the history and built environment of county parks. Most material dates from 1976-2002 but some earlier items are present, mostly as photocopies.
Record types include letters and memoranda; notes; inventories; narrative histories by Park System personnel; reports; maps; publications; excerpts from books; material intended for short-term distribution or use (brochures, flyers, postcards); and press releases and copies of newspaper clippings. A small number of photographs are present, principally for Beaver Lake Park (Sammamish); these include color slides by Mary Randlett. Record arrangement is alphabetical by general topic and by name of event, park site, or swimming pool (Box 2).
King County Commissioners' Parks files, 1935-1969
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds County Commmissioners' resolutions, correspondence and property records concerning acquisition and development of County parks, including documentation about the transfer of park property to other uses and jurisdictions. Please contact the Regional Archives to access these records.
As a government archives, the King County Archives maintains no historical records of religious congregations. However, if a place of worship or a congregation had business with county government agencies or officials, there may be a record of the transaction in the Archives' holdings. For example:
- Churches may appear in photographs or their locations may be noted on maps.
- Articles of incorporation or mergers may be noted in corporate filing records.
- Correspondence relating to specific congregations, usually in connection with land use and permitting issues, may be present in subject, issue, and legislative files.
For information about researching old roads that may have crossed your community, check the Historical Street and Road Records section of this research guide.
King County Archives holds the following historical records documenting the County's involvement in air, rail, and water transportation during the 20th century are listed below.
King County International Airport (Boeing Field)
These records consist of the following:
- County Commissioners' records relating to airport establishment and operations.
- Maps and plans of Boeing Field and its structures.
- Textual records and photographs relating to property acquisition for airport expansion.
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds additional graphical material documenting Boeing Field.
- Records of grade crossings on county roads.
- Photographs of grade crossings, undercrossings and overcrossings.
- Great Northern Railway maps of Seattle's Salmon Bay area.
- Rail-to-trail records and photographs.
- Maps showing mainline and logging railway routes.
- Maps and drawings showing electricity transmission lines running adjacent to rail lines (interurban streetcars and the Milwaukee Road railroad).
King County ferry system
The records held by King County Archives represent the County ferry system that was active circa 1900 to 1940.
- County Commissioner proceedings describing actions involving county ferries
- Plans and photographs of County ferry docks.
- Administrative records of the Vashon Island ferry service (1921-1925)
- Financial records and audits
- Statistics (1921)
- Vessel plans and elevations
Between 1972 and 1996, the King County bus and trolley system was operated by the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle ("Metro"). Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds transit records from this time period. The Regional Archives also holds the records created by Metro Transit's predecessors such as the following:
- Seattle Electric Company (1901-1903)
- Puget Sound Traction, Light and Power Company (1912-1919)
- Seattle Municipal Street Railway (1910-1937)
- Seattle Transit System (1939-1971)
The Regional Archives holds records of the Seattle Monorail Project (1998-2005) and the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority (2002-2005).
Seattle Times reporter Bob Lane wrote Better Than Promised: An informal history of the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle(1995). This book is available to download, or you may access physical copies at the Seattle Public Library.
REAL PROPERTY RECORD CARDS
If you are researching specific buildings in a neighborhood, one very good place to start is with the King County Assessor's Real Property Record Cards. These cards are the best known source of historical photographs of homes and commercial buildings in King County.
The King County Assessor's Office created Property Record Cards to record information necessary to assess property taxes. This series of records was created beginning in 1937, when the Assessor's Office contracted with the Work Projects Administration (WPA) to create a baseline survey of all the property in King County, and was kept current through 1972. These cards provide a cumulative history describing each parcel of real property in King County, including legal description of property, building use, number of rooms, some construction details, and, for improved property, at least one photograph. Additional photographs were taken if extensive changes were made to the exterior of the building. The cards also show the assessed value of the property for the period circa 1937 to 1972.
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds the Property Record Cards and provides access to them. In order to do an effective search for a card, you must provide the tax parcel number or brief legal description (subdivision, block and lot). This informaiton is available online via the King County Assessor's Office Parcel Viewer.
Property Record Cards document both commercial and residential (taxable) properties. Some tax-exempt structures were also document, but often with less information and no photograph.
Property record cards generally contain:
- Record of tax assessments
- Photographs of building exteriors
- General description of construction
- Date of construction
- Small sketch of the exterior plan of buildings (including dimensions)
- Segregation (property division) dates and short platting information
- Numbers for land parcels
- Ownership information (incomplete)
- Excise numbers (incomplete)
- Building permit numbers (post-1937 construction; incomplete)
- Name of the tax payer
- Every owner of the property
- Amount of taxes paid
- Purchase prices (although this is occasionally noted)
- Detailed floor plans or blueprints
- Photographs of building interiors
- Location of buildings on the property
- Architect or builder name
- Reason for segregations (property divisions)
- Changes of zoning codes
Puget Sound Regional Archives is currently in the process of digitizing the cards and making them available on the Washington State Digital Archives. However, due to large number of cards, digitization of the entire collection will take some time.
King County Archives wasn't established until 1990. Prior to that, King County historical records were sent to Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue, a regional branch of the Washington State Archives. Some King County records, including the property record cards, are still held by the Regional Archives.
Puget Sound Regional Archives holds King County Assessor's Office tax assessment rolls (1866-1937). The rolls contain only limited information: taxpayer name, legal description of property, assessed property value, and taxes paid. Rolls are limited for years before 1900. Only every fifth year is present between 1900-1941. Contact the Regional Archives to access these records.
Folios (1972-2006) from the King County Department of Assessments' Residential and Commercial appraisal divisions currently document the characteristics of individual parcels of land and buildings in the county. The folios indicate land use, building types, number of rooms, some construction details, and include at least one photograph of each building. Additional photographs, if any, document significant changes made to buildings. Files are arranged by area, subarea, and tax account number and document information gathered and recorded. Puget Sound Regional Archives holds these records. Contact the Regional Archives to access these records.
King County Archives holds the following types of permitting records.
King County did not begin issuing building permits until 1941, and prior to 1972, the permits themselves were not retained. For building permit information after 1972 (in unincorporated King County only), please contact the King County Permitting Division.
Building permit master logs, 1942-1972
King County Archives holds this register of building permits issued from June 1942 to May 1943. Record information includes owner's name, permit number, valuation of improvement and address of property.
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds a second register of permits issued from 1941 to 1972. (Commercial building permits are noted separately for 1959-1965.) Please contact the Regional Archives to access these records.
Building permit index cards, 1954-1971
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds these index cards to building permits issued, arranged by name of owner. Information includes owner's name, permit number, address of property, type of construction, county planning area, and date issued. Please contact the Regional Archives to access these records.
The "county building code" is actually an industry standard--the Uniform Building Code (UBC) that King County periodically re-adopts as new versions are issued. Sometimes the county makes certain changes or additions to sections of the UBC. These historical adoptions, changes, and additions are documented in King County legislative files such as Council ordinances and Commissioners' resolutions. Council ordinances are digitized and available on the King County Legislative Archive.
King County Archives holds the original Council ordinances and Commissioners' resolutions. The published text of the UBC are sometimes attached to the individual legislative files that document the adoption of the code changes. Please contact the Archives to access the physical copies if you can't find the UBC attachment in the digitized version of legislative files. Please be aware that sometimes the published UBC texts were separated from the legislative files, particularly prior to 1969.
King County Law Library and the University of Washington Engineering Library both provide access to older editions of the published UBC.
Prior to May 1956, King County issued certain "special" or "temporary" (Home Occupation) permits. In May 1956, these permits were replaced by use and occupancy permits. Before 1969, the issuance or denial of these permits was recorded in the Journal of Proceedings of the Board of County Commissioners. These entries may be found through the hand-written Index to Commissioners' Proceedings, which is held by King County Archives. To do an effective search in the Commissioners' Proceedings, you need an approximate date of issue for the permit, or the name of the property owner or applicant.
The actual certificates no longer exist. The Commissioners' Proceedings only reference whether a permit was issued or denied on a certain date.
For information about more recent certificates of occupancy, please contact the King County Permitting Division.
King County Commissioners' index to franchises, permits, easements and agreements, 1889-1918
These records were copied from the official proceedings of the King County Commissioners, county deeds, or official Auditor's filings. They constitute a selective transcription of transactions which relate to the use of county property and rights-of way. The transactions include franchises, permits, easements, and other agreements for projects and activities such as railroad grade crossings, lines, gravel pits, and road vacations.
Franchise files, 1898-1988
Washington State allows counties to grant franchises that permit corporations to use and occupy public streets, roads, rights of way, and public places over which a county exercises its jurisdiction. These records document individual utility and transportation franchises issued by King County between 1898 and 1988 to private companies (railroad, streetcar, gas, electric power, water, and cable television companies); water and sewer districts; federal agencies (Bonneville Power Administration; Civil Aeronautics Board); and local municipal governments.
King County Archives holds franchise file documents. The records vary over time but generally include a letter of application, a legal description of the proposed franchise, and records of the county's response. Additional correspondence may be present. Maps accompany most text records and may be either annotated copies of commercial or plat maps, or original maps created by the applicant.
King County Commissioners' state regulatory agency cause files, 1910-1959
The state of Washington, through its agencies, regulates and supervises providers of public utilities and transportation systems within the state. King County Archives holds copies of documents filed with state regulators in causes which either directly affected county property (e.g., county roads and rights-of-way) or were those in which King County maintained an interest (i.e., where the actions affected unincorporated areas of the county). the County Engineer organized these records into the following two groups: railroad grade crossing permit files (1910-1941) and utility permits and franchises (1939-1959). An inventory of these records is available.
King County special permits, 1937- 1958
King County Commissioners' Resolutions 6494 and 11373 authorized the issuance of certain "special" and "temporary" permits. The permits were given alphanumeric identifiers (P, PD, and TP, followed by a number). These permit files no longer exist. However, you may identify basic information about the permits, such as petitioner name and date of Commissioner action, by searching the handwritten Index to Commissioners' Proceedings.
Zoning and Subdivision Examiner: Exhibits, Palmer Coking Coal Company landfill application, 1963-1971
In 1963, the Palmer Coking Coal Company applied to King County government for a permit to construct a sanitary landfill to be operated on a 1,100-acre site in the Coal Creek valley near Newcastle. In 1964, the King County Planning Commission denied the application, a denial sustained by the Board of County Commissioners. In 1967, Palmer Coking applied for permission to construct a smaller, 80-acre sanitary landfill in the same general location. The Planning Commission approved this application with conditions. The company appealed the conditions to the Board of County Commissioners, who reversed the Planning Commission and denied the permit. After the 1969 adoption of the County's Home Rule Charter, the company re-submitted its second application. In 1970, King County Council granted the permit despite a County Executive veto.
Between November 1970 and November 1971, the Zoning and Subdivision Examiner conducted public hearings on the permit, and the permit was denied. Additional appeals and hearings followed during the next decade, and in 1980, King County Council granted Palmer Coking an unclassified use permit to construct a landfill at the site for non-putrescible material and demolition waste (Ordinance 4804).
King County Archives holds records that the Subdivision and Zoning Examiner generated and collected during the 1970-1971 hearing process (file no. P 70-7). Many records in the series relate to the earlier actions under the King County Board of County Commissioners. Record types consist of correspondence, memorandum, hearing minutes, case history files, subpoenas, and exhibits, which comprise the bulk of the series and are arranged by exhibit number. Photographs and maps are also present in this series.
King County Document Collection
The King County Archives Document Collection contains individual reports and studies by King County agencies include draft and final environmental impact statements submitted in support of commercial site development permits, proposed building permits, shoreline permits, storm-water permits, and unclassified use permits. The collection also contains statistics about county permits, and audits of permitting operations.
King County Commissioners' permit files, 1916-1942
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds permits for construction on road rights-of-way for purposes, including pipelines, pole lines, railroad crossings, gasoline pumps and sidewalks, and pool halls. Files are mostly complete up to 1922. After that period, the records were sampled to show examples of typical permit types. Please contact the Regional Archives to access these records.
King County Commissioners' miscellaneous files, 1945-1969
Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds Commissioners' miscellaneous files that contain records of permits of a non-routine nature. Most permits were issued after 1960. Please contact the Regional Archives to access these records.
King County Archives holds various types of historical zoning records created between 1937 and 1994. The zoning records in our holdings are not comprehensive. To learn about the zoning history for a specific property, several sources and records typically must be consulted.
Section 21A.06 of the King County Code provides definitions of technical terms related to zoning and land use. King County Archives staff cannot answer legal or technical questions about zoning issues.
In 1937, King County began its zoning program when state legislation authorized local land use planning. For 20 years, the county issued zoning codes, made zoning decisions about parcels of county land, and issued maps showing how those parcels had been zoned.
In 1958, a ruling by Superior Court Judge Malcolm Douglas invalidated all county zoning actions on a technicality of law (the county had not enacted a comprehensive plan). Individuals or attorneys must determine the effects or the legality of pre-1958 zoning with regard to specific issues or properties. View and download a digitized version of the ruling.
On August 12, 1958, King County re-enacted its pre-1958 zoning actions in legally sufficient form by passing Commissioner's Resolution 18801. This resolution remained in effect, with amendments, until 1964-1965, when King County developed a new comprehensive plan and with it, new zoning regulations and maps.
King County currently performs three functions relating to zoning:
- Establishes zoning classifications stating what kind of structures and activities can be undertaken on what kind of unincorporated county land.
- Applies the zoning classifications to specific parcels of land.
- Adjudicates appeals from property owners regarding zoning decisions. Since the early 1960s, this function has been handled by the King County Hearing Examiner, previously known as the Building and Subdivision Examiner. Please contact the Hearing Examiner's Office if you have any questions regarding zoning appeals.
Before 1969, zoning classifications were established by King County Commissioners' resolutions. The resolutions define the classifications (residential, commercial, suburban, etc.), their sub-classification levels, and the kind of structures and activities permitted by each level of each classification. The classifications are represented alphanumerically, for example, R-1, C-2.
The major zoning resolutions (zoning codes) are listed below. These codes only define the classifications. They do not tell how the classifications were applied to a specific parcel of land. That function was carried out by the related maps that were generated under the authority of the resolutions.
1937, Resolution 6494
King County's first "zoning code."
1949, Resolution 11373
This resolution repealed 6494.
1956, Resolution 16426
This resolution repealed 11373.
1958, Resolution 18801
Technical re-enactment of county zoning after court rulings.
1964, Resolution 25789
First enacted in 1963 as a part of King County's first Comprehensive Plan; re-enacted with all amendments and previous zoning legislation, January 1964.
Historical zoning map of individual properties near Saltwater State Park in south King County. (click image to open a larger version)
King County Commissioners designated the King County Planning Commission to handle zoning matters. The commission generated large-scale zoning maps, also called "district maps" or "area maps," that showed the classification of specific properties in King County. The image below is an example of part of a zoning map.
In 1967, staff of the former King County Planning Department prepared the Index of Area Zoning Maps Adopted under Resolution 6494, 1967 of all maps that had been generated to that date under the five Commissioner resolutions (zoning codes). View and download a digitized version of the index.
Not all properties in unincorporated King County were zoned by county government prior to 1969. If you do not find a zoning code applied to your property on a pre-1969 zoning map, it may not have been zoned until later. (See the Area Zoning Guidelines section of this guide.)
WHERE TO FIND PRE-1969 ZONING MAPS
The original maps were filed with the County Auditor. They have since been dispersed, and most have not been located. They may no longer exist. However, many reduced- or full-sized reproductions are available at King County Archives and Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue. A few maps from the 1940s are also held by the University of Washington.
HOW TO READ A ZONING MAP
Locating information on a zoning map is easier if you know the section, township and range coordinates of your property. These are survey coordinates and they can be found in the legal description of your property. They are usually written, "18-25-5" or "S18, T25, R5." You can also find the property by the address.
A zoning map will tell you the zoning classification of the subject property. This classification will be defined and explained in the relevant zoning resolution, zoning code, relating to the map.
Rezones of individual property parcels were approved or denied by the Commissioners, based on Planning Commission recommendations. The recommendation was made in the form of a Planning Commission resolution. These resolutions no longer exist as such, but the Planning Commission resolution number (sometimes found on old documents) may serve as a cross-reference to existing documents. The rezone action was affirmed by a County Commissioners resolution, which are held by King County Archives.
Rezoning resolutions may have supporting documentation attached. This documentation may include copies of Planning Commission records (the only Planning Commission records that were retained) and related "vicinity" maps.
Vicinity maps are enlarged extracts of the relevant zoning maps. Additional information includes the property owner name, legal description of property parcel, township-range-section notation, proposed reclassification code, and proposed new use of property. Each vicinity map also refers to the specific zoning map amended by the change, and is cross-referenced to Planning Commission and County Commissioner resolutions approving the rezone.
The zoning application (ZA) file number, an internal agency identifier, may also appear on the vicinity map. "ZA" files no longer exist as such, but the number is sometimes stated on old property documents.
WHERE TO FIND RECORDS OF REZONED PROPERTIES
The Index to Commissioner Records, available at King County Archives, contains the owners' names rezoned property linked to exact dates of rezones.
During the 1970s, King County initiated its Community Planning Program, which was built on the 1964 comprehensive plan. Citizen groups and planners developed community plans that revised the earlier "district maps" (now called "area zoning"), provided capital improvement recommendations, and established planning policies. Each community plan, with its area zoning, was approved by King County Council.
King County Archives holds the following records created between 1974 and 1994 that contain general information about zoning.
- County legislative records such as resolutions and ordinances updating the 1964 zoning code (Resolution 25789) or approving specific community plans.
- Legislation relating to zoning classifications and their application is compiled in the King County Code. The compilation, currently at Title 21A, is known as the "zoning code."
- Community plans and area zoning guidelines.
COMMUNITY PLANS AND AREA ZONING GUIDELINES
Between 1974 and 1994, zoning guidelines and zoning maps were prepared for the following communities and areas:
- East Sammamish
- Federal Way
- Lower Snoqualmie Valley
- Maple Valley - Black Diamond
- McMicken Heights
- North Bend
- Rose Hill
- Snoqualmie Pass area
- Snoqualmie Valley
- Soos Creek Plateau
- Stevens Pass and upper Skykomish
- Tahoma / Raven Heights
- West Hill
- White Center
- Cumberland, Friday Creek, Kanaskat, Kangley, Lester, Palmer, Selleck, and wilderness areas
1983 pamphlet summarizing the Community Plan for Highline
WHERE TO FIND COMMUNITY PLANS
King County Archives holds copies of community plans and their accompanying zoning maps. For each section found in the planning area, there are half-section maps (east and west half-sections). The maps show how zoning codes were applied to areas within the half-section. Definitions and explanations of the zoning codes accompany the graphical material.
This map from the Vashon Community Plan and Area Zoning (1986 update) shows the east half of section 18, township 22, range 3, along Quartermaster Harbor on Vashon Island. Maps that accompany community plans do not show individual parcels, but sometimes zoning for specific properties can be determined.
WHERE TO FIND POST-1995 ZONING RECORDS
King County Archives does not hold zoning records that were created after 1995. Please contact the King County Permitting Division for post-1995 zoning records on specific properties. You may locate additional zoning information for individual parcels on the King County Assessor's Office online portal Parcel Viewer, under "Property Report."
TTY Relay 711
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