Skip to main content

King County History

King County History

Quick Facts

multi-colored map of 1852 King county boundary lines

Map created by the King County GIS Center Client Services Group, 2002

County Boundaries

The original boundaries of King County were defined in December 22, 1852, as follows:

Commencing at the northeast corner of Pierce County, thence along the Cascade Mountains to a parallel passing through Pilot Cove, then from the point last aforesaid west along the said parallel of latitude to the Pacific Ocean, thence south along the Coast to a point due west of the head of Case’s Inlet, beginning.


King County's Namesake

King County Council motion (February 24, 1986) renaming King County after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Revised Code of Washington, current state law (RCW 36.04.170).


County Milestones


Click on a decade to learn about key events in the history of King County government.


U.S. establishes Territory of Oregon on August 14, 1848, while California gold rush spurs western migration.


The federal Donation Land Act granting each Oregon settler 320 acres of "free" land becomes effective September 27, 1850; it terminates in 1855.


Oregon Territorial Assembly creates King County on December 22, 1852.


Doc Maynard issues King County's first marriage license and officiates as David Denny and Louisa Boren married on January 23, 1853.

The Oregon Territorial Assembly appoints J.N. Lowe, L.M. Collins, and A.A. Denny as Commissioners, H.L. Yesler as Probate Clerk, and C.D. Boren as Sheriff.

First meeting of King County Commissioners is held at the home of D. S. Maynard on March 5, 1853.

First recording in King County, the donation-land claim of D.T. Denny is made.


Population of King County is 305 residents.

Military Road is completed between Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River and Seattle.


First annual fair of the King County Agricultural Society is held.


King County engages in flood control when the county commissioners appropriate $400 for turning water from the Cedar River away from the County Road.


King County builds its first bridge. The bridge crosses the Black River near modern-day Tukwila.


City of Seattle is re-incorporated after an earlier attempt at incorporation in 1865 that was repealed in 1867. Henry Atkins is the city's first mayor.


Population of King County is 2,120.


Board of County Commissioners create the office of "overseer of the poor."


The King County Seal is used for the first time in the commissioners' records.

The Sisters of Providence convert a two-story frame house into the county hospital at the county's poor farm in the Duwamish Valley.


Population of King County is 6,910.


First King County-owned courthouse at Third Avenue and Jefferson Street opens — the current site of City Hall Park.


The Sheriff's department requests the National Guard's assistance in controlling Seattle mobs who were attempting to expel Chinese residents from the city.


Eliza Forbes becomes the first female justice of the peace in King County.


Washington enters the Union as the 42nd state on November 11, 1889.

King County hires first full-time public health officer.


Population of King County is 63,989.


County Commissioners approved funds for a new King County Hospital. The hospital, known as the Georgetown Hospital, is built near the mouth of the Duwamish River.


County road employees are first King County employees given an 8-hour day. They were paid $1.50 per day.


The steamship Portland docks in Seattle loaded with gold from Alaska's Yukon River. This discovery of gold in Alaska sets off the Klondike Gold Rush and ushers in a period of growth and prosperity for King County.

King County's first pedestrian/bicycle path opens to public, built on Lake Washington's west shoreline.


Population of King County is 110,053.

King County secures the right of way for the Lake Washington Ship Canal and deeds it to the federal government.


Superior Court granted original jurisdiction over all juvenile cases.

County charity commissioner is appointed. The function of the new office is to screen all applicants for public aid.


A state highway commissioner and a state highway fund are mandated by the Legislature. This legislation shifts responsibility for maintenance of most county roads to the State.


Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition is held in Seattle. King County builds a pavilion that is later used by the University of Washington Forestry Department and the Burke Museum.


Population of King County is 284,638.


King County Port Commission is created by popular vote as a separate municipal corporation.


King and Pierce counties establish an inter-county flood control effort in the Green and White River valleys.


The county-city building (now the King County Courthouse) is dedicated.

County commissioners vote to close "The Willows," a stockade housing "lazy husbands" convicted under the Lazy Husband Act, due to cost overruns.

County undertakes first traffic survey to determine future road improvement needs.




Population of King County is 389,273.

King County acquires property at Sand Point with the intent of developing an airfield for the U. S. Navy. The property is leased to the U.S. Government in January 1923.


The first annual report of the King County Regional Planning Commission is published.


Official Dedication of King County Airport (Boeing Field) is held on July 26 in the Duwamish Valley; 50,000 people attend and William E. Boeing is honored.


Population of King County is 463,517.


Four thousand unemployed workers from across Washington storm and occupy the City-County Building for three days.


King County Planning Commission is established.

Federal public works program established (Works Progress Administration) by FDR to address severe unemployment problems of Great Depression. Improvements to the King County airport (Boeing Field) and many road construction projects are undertaken under the auspices of the WPA.


State Legislature enacts County Park Law that allows county acquisition of parks and recreation sites. County establishes it first parks department.

Washington State Aid Highway Act passes. This act provides state aid for the construction and maintenance of county roads, bridges, etc. It also mandates collection of the motor vehicle excise tax.


County commissioners establish the department of public works.


Population of King County is 504,980.


New 5,825 foot paved runway opened at King County International Airport.

U.S. enters World War II.


President Roosevelt issues executive order forcing the relocation of West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry.


War Department authorizes the extension of the paved runway at the County Airport to 7,536 feet.


21st amendment to the state constitution, granting counties the right to home rule, is ratified.


Legislature enacts County Parks and Recreation Facilities bill, which repeals 1937 law.


Population of King County is 732,992.


Legislature repeals the 1945 School Recreation Subsidy Bill; county assumes activity programs.


King County Parks organizes first Junior Olympics.

Too Little — Too Late, a report regarding need for park acquisition, including beach/waterfront properties is published.

$2.5 million parks bond issue fails; first parks budget for land acquisition — $50,000.

Seattle City Council decides to expand the Duwamish River sewage treatment plant and build a primary treatment plant at West Point.


Juvenile court and detention facility moved to current location (1211 E. Alder).

Resolution 13978 establishes "permanent" county parks and recreation board.


Commercial aviation history is made as the Boeing Company's 707 "Dash 80" Prototype makes maiden flight from Renton plant to King County International Airport (Boeing Field).


Seattle-King County Civil Defense Fund is established as the local organization responsible for managing fallout shelters, chemical, biological and radiological defenses (including emergency communications and warning systems and preparedness training).


Seattle and King County approve measure to establish Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (METRO) to clean up the pollution in Lake Washington. The Metro Council is assembled with representatives from major jurisdictions in the region.

King County opens its first landfill.


Metro Council adopts the first comprehensive sewer plan for the region, including the construction of regional treatment plants at West Point and Renton; Duwamish River Plant closes.


Population of King County is 935,014.

Washington Supreme Court upholds agreements between Metro and Seattle, clearing way to begin implementation of sewer plan.


The 1962 World's Fair, "Century 21 Exposition," opens in Seattle when President John F. Kennedy activates the 600-foot Space Needle by remote control.

County arts center established at Moshier Memorial Park.

Marymoor Park, King County's first regional park, is purchased for $1.1 million.

U.S. Army grants Metro a 99-year easement for approximately 30 acres of land at West Point for sewage treatment plant.


King County Sheriff's Department adds first marine patrol unit.

Metro begins construction of its $12.9 million primary treatment plant at West Point.


King County adopts a comprehensive zoning plan, Resolution 28742, October 13, 1964. The new plan repeals the 1958 resolution, number 18800, which established and adopted a comprehensive plan for unincorporated King County.


Metro begins secondary waste treatment plant in Renton.

King County acquires its first computer, an IBM 460 Model 30. The county treasurer and assessor use the computer to calculate property taxes. That year property tax statements are broken down to show how the funds are distributed between the port, library, fire and hospital districts as well as for other services provided by the county.

The Seattle-King County Health Department becomes the first public health department to be accredited by the U. S. Public Health Service.

Two hundred county citizens are appointed to the Forward Thrust Committee to prepare a balanced capital improvement program for King County.


King County Art Commission is established.


King County Parks receives National Gold Medal Award from National Sports Foundation.


King County Work Training Program is created.


King County adopts a "home rule" charter. Nine-member county council and county executive form of government replaces the three-member board of county commissioners. The sheriff ceases to be an elected official and is appointed under the office of the executive.

The Park Board is eliminated under county home rule charter; Parks is reorganized as division of Parks and Recreation within the Department of Community and Environmental Development, later the Department of Planning and Community Development.

The King County Mental Health Board and program are established to develop and administer State funds provided for community mental health programs (King County Code 2.32.010).

The Parks Department organizes first King County Special Olympics.


King County Population is 1,159,369.

The Department of Human Resources establishes the Public Defense program to provide legal representation to individuals without resources to pay an attorney.

Properties in King County are listed for the first time on the National Register of Historic Places.


Urban Trails plan adopted.

The King County Charter Review Commission recommends merger of Metro and King County. Other charter review commissions will make this same recommendation in 1978 and 1987 before the merger is approved by a vote of the people in 1992.


The King County Planning Department begins a survey of historic sites. A total of 140 sites in Seattle and King County are included.

King County Parks Department assumes control of county fair.

Congress passes the Clean Water Act requiring secondary treatment at all municipal wastewater treatment plants by 1977.


King County International Airport (Boeing Field) is selected from 610 competing airports in the Northwest to receive the Airport Improvement Award.

King County Council passes ordinance 1511 establishing the 1% for Art Program, the first county-level public arts program in the country.

The first King County Annual Heritage Festival is held at Marymoor Park.

Metro begins operating Seattle and King County public transit systems.


King County International Airport is awarded first Airport Operating Certificate issued to a nonscheduled air carrier airport by the the FAA in the Northwest Region.

Enhanced 9-1-1 emergency system begins.

The division of human services (DHS) is created in the health department and includes mental health, developmental disabilities and the drug commission.

Puget Sound Water Quality Defense Fund sues to stop Metro's plan to pipe solids waste from Renton to West Point.

"The Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act," Revised Code of Washington 70.96A is enacted and decriminalizes being drunk in public. The law places with county governments the responsibility and authority for treating persons "found to be intoxicated in public."

In December 1974, King County opens the first King County Alcoholism Treatment Facility (also known as the King County Detoxification Center) in Cedar Hills.


King County Mental Health Board adopts priority definitions to assure that the limited resources are used to support services for those persons with the most severe mental illnesses.

King County began the King County Affirmative Action Program to serve as an internal equal employment opportunity and affirmative action office.

The first 1% for art projects in parks: Mt. Rainier Pool, Enumclaw Pool, and Ober Memorial Park on Vashon Island.

King County Emergency Service Patrol established. The ongoing service provides transportation to incapacitated persons to hospital, sobering and other services.


The Kingdome sports stadium is dedicated. It is the first domed stadium in Washington State. Over 52,800 cubic yards of concrete were used in the construction.

County council adopts ordinance 2991, establishing heritage sites as open space policies as an amendment to the "King County Comprehensive Plan" of 1964.

King County Community Gardening Program created by King County Parks.


Detention and probation services transferred from superior court to the county executive.

Phase I of the King County Historic Sites Survey/Historic Resources Inventory is inaugurated. A total of 542 sites are documented by the project.

Legislature passes Senate Bill 2430 enabling King County/Metro merger.

Farmlands preservation bond issue passes.

Lake Washington reaches highest level of water clarity in its recorded history, a direct result of Metro's efforts.

Local chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) met for the first time to organize a King County Women's Commission.


Juvenile Justice Act effects a major change in the philosophy guiding juvenile justice. Due process is emphasized and youth are held accountable for criminal actions.

King County Airport celebrates 50-year anniversary with plaque presented by community.

The county council establishes the Office of Historic Preservation.

The first articulated bus arrives in Seattle.

Metro transit ridership reaches 49.4 million riders.

King County Women's Advisory Board and women's program established. Both mandate the fostering of "programs, legislation, and polices for the benefit of women throughout King County." Over the next five years they will complete a general needs assessment of women in King County, including minority women. Focus will be on community education and advocacy.


Burien Little Theater is first in-residence community theater in the county. It is based in a county park.


King County population is 1,269,749.

County Council adopts ordinance 4828, establishing the King County Landmarks Commission.

First in-depth countywide assessment of women's needs is conducted. Findings include the need for "more government funded services, improved accessibility of services with multilingual and culturally sensitive staff."

King County automates the recording of marriage licenses. Marriage licenses are no longer recorded in ledgers by hand.


A special mental health unit begins operating in the King County Correctional Facility.

Enhanced countywide 9-1-1 system is implemented.


Intensive mental health community support program services began in King County.

Washington State Legislature revised the Community Mental Health Services Act (RCW 71.24) defining priority populations and establishing community support services as the service of choice.

King County enacts Fair Employment ordinance.

The County Landmark Preservation Program designates its first landmark property, Willowmoor (the Clise Residence located at Marymoor Park).


County Council passes motion #5772 adopting the King County Executive Task Force's "Mental Health Goals and Objectives."


Metro study documents serious toxic pollution problems in the region's waterways, including those in Elliot Bay.


The 1985 King County Comprehensive Land Use Plan is adopted after 10 years' work.

Last year Metro timetables are produced by typewriter.


Museum of Flight, 9404 East Marginal Way South is dedicated.

King County Child Care Program is created as a direct result of a child care needs assessment conducted by the King County Women's Program.

Construction permits in King County increase, by 1988, the volume of building activity characterized as a "boom."

King County Transportation Plan is developed; plan includes a comprehensive list of 800 recommended road improvements to serve transportation needs through the year 2000.

By a 2-to-1 margin, King County voters approve an advisory measure calling for accelerated planning to begin rail service by the year 2000.


King County Veterans Program adds mental health counseling.

King County enacts Public Accommodations ordinance and opens the Dutch Shisler Center.

King County recycling program established.

King County Affirmative Action Program renamed King County Office of Civil Rights and Compliance. The enactment of anti-discrimination legislation in the 1980s and the addition of the minority/women's business program changes the focus of the organization.

The parks department adopts King County Open Space Plan.

The advent of health and human services brings an increase in funding for the Women's Program. This results in work heavily weighed toward planning, coordination, contract development and management.

The county prepares its first Voters' Guide.


King County Childcare program begins work with five county shelters for homeless families.

King County Prosecutor's Offices creates Kid's Court, an award-winning court awareness program that helps victims of sexual abuse and their families understand the court process and deal with the difficulties of testifying in court.


Population of King County is 1.5 million.

Judge William Dwyer rules the Metro Council unconstitutional. County council and cities convene "Summit I" to discuss reorganization.

Bus service begins on September 15, 1990 in the $483 million transit tunnel in downtown Seattle.

County Assessor's Department receives an international award for excellence in providing public information.

King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way opens for the Goodwill Games.


First King County web site is launched.


Voters of both Seattle and King County approve an amendment of the county's charter that authorizes the merger of King County with Metro. The implementation of the merger is phased in with changes scheduled to take place in 1994 and 1996.

Excavations at West Point reveal Native American middens of archaeological significance.

Women's shelters for domestic violence victims open in East and South King County.

First unincorporated area council formed.


First archaeological property (Bear Creek Shell Midden) and first ethnic property (Mukai property, Vashon) are designated as King County landmarks.

Metro and City of Seattle begin selecting shoreline improvement sites using the $30 million set aside to mitigate for potential loss of shoreline public open space caused by upgrading West Point.


Metro and King County merge: Metro becomes King County Department of Metropolitan Services and reports to the County Executive.


Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Transit Plan passes.

King County Regional Justice Center opens in Kent. The Center has courtrooms, detention facilities and administrative offices.


Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) becomes self-supporting in 1999.

PugetPass, the first regional transit pass is made available and is honored by all of the region's transit agencies.

Seattle hosts the annual World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting. During the three-day event, protesters clash with police officials in what would become known as the "Battle in Seattle."

The Office of Public Defense receives an outstanding service award from the Department of Community and Human Services (DCHS) for providing outstanding service during WTO.

The Sounder, Sound Transit's new commuter train makes its debut, traveling the 42 miles between Seattle and Tacoma in 42 minutes.

King County Veteran's develops the Veterans Incarcerated Project, which receives the Governor's Quality Initiative Award.

Washington State voters approve Initiative 695, which replaces the graduated motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) with a flat $30 fee. The courts find the initiative unconstitutional but the flat fee is enacted by the State Legislature.

DDES contracts with 17 suburban cities to provide permit processing and Fire Marshal services.


King County population is 1,737,034.

Childcare Wage Incentive Project ordinance passed by King County Council.

King County Prosecutor's Office creates the domestic violence unit to handle the prosecution of all felony domestic violence cases in the county as well as all misdemeanor domestic violence cases in the unincorporated areas. The unit provides advocacy for victims and a variety of other assistance and support.


King County International Airport selected by the National Air Transportation Association (NATA) as one of the "100 Most Needed Airports" in the United States.

Vehicle license renewal is available online for the first time.

First King County transit centers that include housing open in Redmond and Renton.

County Legislative History


Under territorial law, Washington State placed the administration of each organized county under an elected three-member board of county commissioners. In 1948, home rule legislation was passed allowing county citizens to create and adopt different governance structures.

King County Commissioners, 1853 - April 30, 1969

The King County Board of Commissioners served from 1853 until April 30, 1969. The Commissioners issued resolutions (authorizing expenditures, or granting privileges). Commissioners' resolutions were officially part of its proceedings, the legal, evidentiary record of all actions taken by the Commissioners.

King County Council, May 1, 1969 - present

In 1968, King County residents voted to adopt the home rule charter, which provided for a nine-member county council to serve as the legislative branch of county government. On May 1, 1969, the County's first council was sworn in.

The adoption of a county council resulted in different forms of legislative files. Instead of resolutions and proceedings, King County Council issues ordinances (laws) and motions (policy statements).

Legislative Records at the County Archives

King County Archives holds the most complete set of County Commissioners and County Council records. Our holdings range from Commissioners resolutions and Council ordinances and motions to the official records of individual council members.

Available Online

Ordinances 1 - 13986 are available on Legislative Archive through the Clerk of the Council website. You may search by ordinance number. When searching by numbers, enter a 5-digit number with leading zeros (example: 123 as 00123).

Ordinances 13987 to current are available on Legisearch throught the Clerk of the Council website.

Originals (with supporting documentation)

King County Archives holds physical copies of Ordinances 1 - 14824.

The Clerk of the King County Council holds physical copies of Ordinances 14825 to present.

Available Online

Motions 1 - 11012 are available on Legislative Archive through the Clerk of the Council website. You may search by the motion number. When searching by numbers, enter a 5-digit number with leading zeros (example: 123 as 00123).

Motions 11013 - present are available on Legisearch through the Clerk of the Council website.

Originals (with supporting documentation)

King County Archives holds physical copies of motions 1 - 11834

The Clerk of the King County Council holds physical copies of motions 11835 - current.

Resolutions 1 - 37119

King County Archives holds the complete set of Commissioners' Resolutions.

Zoning Ordinances in Commissioners' Resolutions

Historical county zoning codes were enacted as Commissioner Resolutions. These codes are sometimes referenced on old property documents. If you are looking for zoning code resolutions 6494, 11373, 12424, 18801, or 25789, please visit our research guide, Historical Zoning Records in King County, for more information and digitized versions of the resolutions.

Volumes 1 - 74 (1853-1963) and Volumes 1- 23 (1963-1969)

King County Archives holds a complete set of these records.

Not all actions of the County Commissioners were documented by resolutions. The Commissioners' Proceedings contain the texts of orders (for example, road vacation orders) and results of authorizing votes. Two types of entries in the proceedings are indexed electronically (resolutions and miscellaneous).

The handwritten Index to Commissioners' Records (1853 -1969) provides lists of names, topics and location information for entries in the Commissioners' Proceedings. It also provides information about other associated record series that further detail commissioner actions. The index consists of 18 volumes arranged in various formats over time. For the most part, the following information is presented in alphabetical and chronological line entries: personal, corporate or agency name; subject; year; proceedings volume and page; remarks (commissioner action taken or other details); and record series file numbers.

At times, Commissioner Actions included referral to another county body (e.g. the engineer or prosecuting attorney). Some associated records pertaining to the matters brought before the County Commissioners were retained by the commissioners or the county agency involved. Many were not retained, however, as the Proceedings entries themselves were considered to constitute legal sufficiency.

County Elections History


King County elections results are held at the following locations depending on the date range.

King County Elections Division

Election results, 2004-present

King County Archives

Official canvass books, 1950-2006: These records provide election results for all King County elections.

Puget Sound Regional Archives

Canvasses of votes, 1906-1948

  • General elections: 1906-1912, 1948
  • Primary elections: 1924, 1926, 1938, 1940
  • Republican Party primary elections: 1908-1922, 1928-1934
  • Democratic Party primary elections: 1912, 1932 1934
  • Socialist Party primary election: 1912
  • City of Seattle primary election: 1948

Election abstracts, 1882-1948

These records show the official tally of votes for candidates and for and against ballot issues. They are organized by election and by precinct and include information for the following elections:

  • General elections, 1882-1948
  • Mid-year city, town and district elections, 1923-1949
  • Special elections, 1911-1944
  • Judicial elections, 1908-1934

Primary elections by party

  • Democrat: 1908-1934
  • Republican: 1908-1934
  • Socialist: 1912-1916
  • Progressive: 1914-1916
  • Farmer-Labor: 1922-1924
  • Open primaries: 1936-1948
Current Precinct Maps

King County Elections Division

Historical Precinct Maps

King County Archives holds precinct maps dated 1936, 1944, 1986-1993, and 2000.

Puget Sound Regional Archives in Bellevue holds the 1915 precinct map.

University of Washington Map Collection and Cartographic Information Services Unit holds the 1922, 1941, 1950s, and 1982 precinct maps for east King County.

King County Archives holds the Index to Vault Files and Records. This volume includes lists of names of candidates filing for county and state legislative positions from 1940 to 1962. Entries are arranged by position (county) and by legislative chamber and district (state). Record information for each entry includes name, address, and political affiliation.

King County Elections Division holds voter information from 1995 to the present.


Puget Sound Regional Archives holds the following historical voter registration information:

King County voter registrations, 1884-1934

These records are listings, organized by precinct or ward, of registered voters in King County. The amount of information about each voter varies but in addition to name and date of registration, may include age, place of birth, length of residency in precinct, occupation, and if applicable, date of naturalization papers and court by which issued. The series includes registers for the City of Seattle Territorial Second and Fourth Wards, City of Seattle Precincts 1 through 406, and King County named precincts. Also included are a Seattle Seventh Precinct Poll Book, Tally Sheet and Official Canvass of the Republican Primary Election of 2/23/1904, Seattle Precinct 270 Election Poll Books and Tally Sheets for 1912, and a list of Richmond Precinct registered voters who failed to vote in the general election of 11/5/1918. Not all registers for the time period 1884-1934 are included. Most records are dated between 1916 and 1934.

Please note that these records - or some of the information contained within them - is protected by law and may be unavailable for public inspection and copying, per RCW 29A.08.710.

King County cancelled voter registration cards, 1935-1994

These cards are records of individuals whose King County voter registration was cancelled sometime between 1935 and 1994. Each card includes name and address of voter, precinct, and date first registered. Cards do not indicate cancellation date.


County Elected Officials

This dataset contains the the name, position, and dates of all elected officials who served King County and its residents since the county was established in 1852. It was compiled by King County Archives staff, and it was last updated in August, 2020. To search the dataset, use the magnifying glass in the upper left corner.

TTY Relay 711

Phone / Email Hours

Monday to Friday, 9 am - 4 pm

Walk-in Lobby Hours

Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 am - 3 pm