Remembering John D. Spellman

In memory of former Washington State Governor John D. Spellman, who passed away yesterday, the Archives shares a few photographs of his service as King County Executive from 1969-1981.

King County Executive Dow Constantine describes Spellman as having been an “amiable, humble man,” and these qualities come through in photos of his interactions with County employees and the public.

413-2-440_KingCountyFair_92.0.0252King County Fair, 1977.


413-2-455_ElectionCampaign1973_92.0.0258Election campaign, 1973.


413-2-250_ParkGrant1973_92-0-0018Grant for parks acquisition, 1973.

413-2-253_GlenEaglespeaker_Kainai_Drum_NW_Inter-Tribal_Club_1970_92.0.0021With Glen Eaglespeaker (Kainai), of the Northwest Inter-Tribal Club, circa 1970.

413-2-212_Students_InCouncilChambers_1971_92.0.0190With students in King County Council chambers, 1971.

413-2-279_AtKingdomeSite_1974_92.0.0050At future Kingdome site, 1974.

413-2-379_DedicationGreenRiverPumpPlant_1973_92.0.0155Dedication of the Green River Pump Plant, 1973.

413-2-384_SpellmanBar1973_92.0.0160Pouring a beer, circa 1973.


413-2-414_ArtsCommission1969_92.0.0219King County Arts Commission event, 1969.

413-2-419_Fishing1969_92.0.0224Fishing, circa 1969.




(Photos are from Series 413, County Executive John Spellman Photograph files, King County Archives.)



Visualizing King County: timber cruise reports from 1907-08


New online! The King County Archives recently completed a project to image and rehouse 45 volumes of Assessor’s timber cruise reports dating from 1907-08. Valued by researchers for their detail and accuracy, the reports are a unique resource for this time period in King County. We are thrilled to make high-quality copies of these records easily accessible through our public search site.

Topography: natural and built

The imaged reports document natural topography like ridges, swamps, and waterways; vegetation and soil types; human impacts such as areas that have been burned or logged; and the built environment, including trails, houses, farms, roads, mines, mills, and railroads.


Map from report for Section 18, Township 20, Range 11E, showing burnt-off areas, mill-worker housing, the Northern Pacific Railroad line and Morgan’s Mill railroad spur, Friday Creek, and the Green River.

What was here?

In identifying structures and landmarks, the reports provide information about land use in early 20th Century King County. When conducting research for our own Bytes and Boxes post about the Lake Wilderness Lodge, we were delighted to find reference to a summer cottage in the vicinity of what was to become Gaffney’s Resort.

Who was here?

Many of the reports note the names of landowners—and even the names of tenants—occupying a plot of land, along with inventories of equipment, livestock, orchards and other property. These lists can tell us about individuals, and they can help us picture day-to-day life in rural King County in the early 20th Century. Some reports provide a record of communities and property of Native Americans and people of color.

Detail from report for Section 7, Township 22, Range 5E, listing property on surveyed section.

What’s a timber cruise?

King County conducted timber cruises from 1907 through 1967 to estimate the taxable value of forested land. In creating the 1907-08 reports, timber cruisers surveyed potential timberlands, mapping and describing natural topography, and they noted human-made features, landmarks, and significant property. The surveys were conducted and documented using the Public Land Survey System, a geographic reference system that is the basis for legal land descriptions still used today. The earliest timber cruise reports are of particular interest not only because of their vintage and content, but also because of their beauty.


Aesthetic quality

The maps are beautiful!

Map from report for Section 2, Township 20, Range 7E.


Imaging for access and preservation

While imaging and indexing projects are labor-intensive, providing high-quality digital copies of records online makes them widely accessible to historians, scientists, students, genealogists, and others interested in the history of our region’s natural environment, infrastructure, communities, and residents. Online access also serves to protect these unique records for posterity by minimizing the need to physically handle the original paper volumes.


Historic preservation

The King County Historic Preservation Program will be combining the timber cruise map data with other GIS data developed as part of a three-phase Cultural Resources Protection Project, which focuses on improving archaeological resource protection in the County.


Zoom in!

The high-resolution scans provide such detail that one archivist claimed to have had an out-of-body experience when zooming in on a map. Our goal is to encourage use of these wonderful records, and the quality of the images will enable reproduction in online and print publications.

Detail from map from report for Section 4, Township 22, Range 5E.


Thanks to…

Scanning was made possible by support from King County’s Archaeological Mitigation Grant Fund.

The Archives would like to thank volunteer Julia Alforde for the many hours she spent reformatting images and completing data entry to enable online access to the scanned records. Thanks also to conservator Lisa Duncan Goedeke and her intern Jenessa Lingard, who carefully rehoused the original timber cruise volumes into custom archival boxes after they were scanned.


Accessing the reports by geographic location

Note: This section has been updated to correct the coverage map found below and in the instructions in PDF format, March 12, 2019.


Following are instructions for retrieving a timber cruise report for a given location. Click on the below images to enlarge, or
download instructions in PDF format


The reports cover most King County townships that were relatively undeveloped at the time of the survey, shown below. Not every section within each given township was surveyed.



Use King County iMap to identify the Section, Township, and Range of the area of interest.



Use the Township and Range information to locate the correct timber cruise volume by searching on the Archives search site.



Navigate within the volume on the Archives search site to locate an individual section map, or download the entire report to view all maps and textual matter for the township.


Celebrate Archives! Photo-ops for Puerto Rico, local activism, and moving history

If you are near downtown Seattle between 9am and 4pm on Wednesday, October 25, be sure to stop in the lobby of the Chinook Building at 5th & Jefferson, because…



In celebration of Archives Month, the King County Archives will be setting up in the lobby of King County’s Chinook Building! We will be sharing exhibits, information about the collection, archival film and video footage, and even some Archives-themed swag.

Best of all, as part of the King County Employee Giving Campaign, visitors will be able to put themselves inside historical images in our Archives “photo booth.”

Donations will go to Project HOPE, to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Assistant Archivist Jill Anderson drops in on the King County Assessor’s Office, circa 1936.

Activism in Archives at Douglass-Truth

That evening, head up the hill to the Douglass-Truth Branch of the Seattle Public Library in Seattle’s Central District, and join the King County Archives, the Seattle Municipal Archives, and Seattle ARCH (Activists Remembered Celebrated & Honored) for stories of local activism, as told through archival records.


Learn the histories of local organizing against new freeways in the 1960s and 1970s, Seattle’s open housing campaign, the citizen-led movement to have the King County logo changed from a crown to the likeness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and more, from the recent and not-so-recent past.


Moving History returns: Sound & Color

Archives Month may end on October 31, but we will continue celebrating! Mark your calendars for another Archival Screening Night on Sunday, November 12, at the Northwest Film Forum. Happy hour starts at 6:30pm, show begins at 7:30pm. For this showing, we will be contributing more gems from the Kingdome collection.

Disability Awareness Month – a history of Metro’s Accessible Transit Services


Above: Metro Bus, 1978. A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, King County Archives.

King County Metro: By the People

Today an industry leader in public transit, Metro has been shaped by citizen involvement since its establishment by the voters of King County 60 years ago. One significant area of Metro leadership and citizen engagement has been the development of accessible transit services for people with disabilities.

The Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle (“Metro”) was formed in 1958 with a public mandate to improve local water quality. Over time, Metro expanded to other civic projects and services. The Forward Thrust bond campaign, headed by community activist James Ellis, promoted a range of regional projects, such as development of parks and pools and the construction of a multi-use stadium, the Kingdome.

Forward Thrust: A Transit System for King County

In 1968, a proposal for a regional integrated transportation system was brought to the voters as a Forward Thrust bond measure. The first two Forward Thrust transit referendums, in 1968 and 1970, were rejected by voters facing an uncertain economy. But in 1972, King County voters authorized Metro to expand its services and operate a regional bus system that would incorporate the Seattle and Overlake transit systems.


Above: King County Council Motion 900, August, 1972, endorsing the Forward Thrust transit plan. County Council Motions, Series 306, Box 11, 1972, King County Archives.


Above: Schematic of regional transit system, circa 1972. A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, King County Archives.

Buses as public transit in King County – a brief history


Above: Trolley buses in Seattle, 1941. A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, King County Archives.

Commuters, shoppers, and day-trippers in King County’s early years relied on scheduled wagon runs and water transport (the “Mosquito Fleet” of steam ferries) for public conveyance. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, street railways and cable cars provided for most public transit. With the rise of the automobile in the early 1900’s, auto stages — precursors to buses — ran scheduled routes. Trolley and motor buses were introduced in Seattle the 1920s and would by 1941 replace street railways and cable cars as the primary means of efficiently moving large groups of people within and between urban areas. (For more King County transit history, see Metro’s Transit Milestones timeline.)


Above, Seattle Transit bus, 1948. A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, King County Archives.

Opinions about Buses

Civic activism has a long history in the Northwest, and the development of the new Metro transit system in the 1970s was no exception. Residents debated the merits of electric trolley versus diesel and the practicality of articulated buses. They weighed in at meetings and in newspaper articles and letters to editors.


Above: From “Metro Proposal Not a Diesel vs. Trolley Issue,” Seattle P-I, August 24, 1972 p. 12. Misc. clipping for graphics, A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, 1970-1979, King County Archives.


Above: Cartoon by Alan Pratt appearing in the Seattle Times [ca. 1972]. Misc. clipping for graphics, Accession A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, 1970-1979, King County Archives.


Above: Metro Transit Express, circa 1973. Series 1247, Department of Transportation, Office of the Director, Box 1, DVD 001, King County Archives.

The Elderly and Handicapped Transportation Project Task Force

In in the mid-1970s, the Elderly and Handicapped Transportation Project task force was formed. In keeping with the active civic involvement in the development of the transit system, the group consisted of a Citizens Action Committee working with advisors from Metro, King County, and the City of Seattle. The group studied ways to make public transportation accessible to people with disabilities.

The project report included input from local service organizations, transportation professionals and the general public. Their findings, published in 1976, laid out not only the significant physical and economic barriers to access, but social/psychological and administrative/bureaucratic ones as well.


Detail from “The Elderly and Handicapped Transportation Project Task Force findings: barriers to access,” 1976. Department of Planning and Community Development, Planning Division, Series 291, Box 8, 1977-1980, King County Archives. (Click on image to open findings (PDF).)


The Right to Accessible Public Transit

In 1975, Metro put out a bid for 145 new buses to expand the system. Before it was finalized, John Martin, a University of Washington student with disabilities, requested a restraining order on the bid. Martin argued that without including access for persons with disabilities Metro was violating state laws that prohibit discrimination in public transportation.

The restraining order was rejected by the court as not reflecting an emergency situation, but Martin was later called to testify at Metro hearings on the subject. Martin’s protest brought attention to the issue of accessible transit. Metro subsequently revised the bid to include a requirement for wheelchair lifts on all 145 buses. In 1980, the buses, newly outfitted with wheelchair lifts, arrived.

In the resolution accepting the delivery of the new buses, the Metro Council declared, “With the delivery of these buses, Metro was able to begin accessible service.”

The initial wheelchair lifts installed turned out to be flawed, however, and the first buses including them were rejected.

Newspaper clipping: “Metro gets go-sign on bid for 145 buses.” A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, King County Archives.

Engineering a Wheelchair Lift


Above: Modifications to Flyer model bus for wheelchair lift, 1979. A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, Box 2, King County Archives.

Metro committed to finding a wheelchair lift that would work – and put significant effort into making it happen. This was at a time when the majority of transit agencies were not supporting the move toward lift-equipped fleets.

A former Boeing engineer, Ed Hall, became interested in the problem and experimented in his garage with lift designs for public transportation. Hall’s successful design, marketed under the name “Lift-U”, was approved and his wheelchair lifts were installed on the new Metro buses, and eventually on the entire fleet.

Above: Photographs showing belt securing wheelchair in bus, 1981. A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, Box 2, King County Archives.

New Infrastructure and Services

In 1978, Metro applied for and received $1.7 million in Federal Urban System funds to put in place improvements at bus zones, including ramps and other aids for disabled riders.

In addition to the inclusion of wheelchair lifts, Metro staff, working with a Metro advisory committee of blind and deaf-blind transit users, pioneered the use of Bus Identifier cards for blind, deaf-blind and limited English speaking riders. Transit operators were trained in the specific needs of these groups.

Access Vans

Along with accessible buses and services tailored to specific groups with disabilities, a fleet of vans, operating jointly between Metro and local service organizations, were acquired to provide door-to-door service for disabled riders.


Access Van, A10-024, King County Metro Historic files, Box 2, King County Archives.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was ratified in Congress and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush. The Act codified the rights of individuals with disabilities to equal access to employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services.

The road to the ADA had been long one. Equal access in public transportation had first come to the public eye many years before, spurred by the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964. A later revision in 1974 included provisions for accessible access, but it was not until the late 1980’s that congress took the steps that led to the passage of the ADA.

Changes under the Americans With Disabilities Act

In 1992, King County voters approved the merger of Metro and King County government, bringing Metro transit services into a new County Department of Transportation.

A special task force established at the request of the County Council reviewed Metro’s paratransit programs, both to ensure their compliance with the law and to identify potential cost savings where the needs of seniors and people with disabilities might be met through changes to the overall transit system or through other programs.

A Council report showed that at the time of the ratification of the federal American with Disabilities Act in 1990, paratransit services had accounted for 1% of the Metro transit budget. The report projected that by 2004, that percentage would rise to 11%. Representatives from King County’s Accessible Services Committee, senior and disability interest groups, and the general public participated on the task force, and input was sought from Metro transit customers.

Excerpts from public comments regarding proposed changes to Access transportation’s paratransit program, submitted to the King County Special Transportation Services Task Force in 1998 and 1999. A11-028 Department of Transportation, Transit, Paratransit policy background, 1997-1999, Box 2, King County Archives.


Training for Metro Operators

From Metro Transit’s earliest days, Metro drivers received training in how to serve riders with disabilities. The below excerpts from training videos in the Archives collection instruct drivers not only in policies and procedures, but also in the importance of treating all riders with respect.

Outtakes from “Metro Regional Reduced Fare Permits,” 1995, Metro. A17-035 Department of Transportation, Transit / Paratransit Rideshare Operations, Outreach and training videos, King County Archives.

The following video provides Access drivers training in serving passengers with disabilities who use letter boards to help communicate.

Outtakes from Metro Access driver training video, “Communications with Letter Boards,” (circa 2000), King County Metro. A17-035 Department of Transportation, Transit / Paratransit Rideshare Operations, Outreach and training videos, King County Archives.

Access was providing more than 1,000,000 trips to King County residents by 2006. That year, King County Executive Ron Sims ceremoniously presented keys to 21 new vans, paid for by a grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation, to local service agencies such as Senior Services, Puget Sound Essential Services, and Providence Elder Care.

King County Executive Ron Sims presenting Access van keys to non-profit agencies, 2006. A17-035 Department of Transportation, Transit / Paratransit Rideshare Operations, Outreach and training videos, King County Archives.

Metro Accessible Services Today

Today, Metro accessible services, including Access vans, provide over 1.3 million trips per year.

Community involvement was influential in the development of the regional transit system and the push to provide services to the disabled community. Thanks to the collaborative work of the task forces and the contributions of civic minded residents, King County Metro provides services beyond the requirements established by ADA.

Citizens continue to have an important influence in shaping Metro’s transit and paratransit services. The Transit Advisory Commission, comprised of King County residents, plays an active role in consulting and advising the Regional Transit Committee. In addition, Metro is forming an Access Community Advisory Group to help Metro strengthen its Paratransit Access service.

For more information about Metro’s paratransit services or to learn about joining the Advisory Group, please visit:

For Further Research

This post is based on documentation in the King County Department of Transportation’s historical files, records of the King County Council, and other series in the King County Archives collection. Note that the majority of historical records from the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle, prior to merging with King County in 1994, and Seattle Transit are held by the Puget Sound Regional Branch of the Washington State Archives.

Please feel free to contact us with your research questions!

Archives and the arts: painting, music, and silent film

Boogie Up the Block 2017

On August 19, 206 Zulu, our neighbors at Washington Hall, held their second annual graffiti painting contest using the exterior walls of the King County Archives and Records Center buildings. Aerosol artists started early in the morning and worked throughout the day, as local musicians performed. It was a lively event and the paintings represented a variety of styles.


Above, paintings in progress.  Below, detail from the winning panel.


Silent films from the King County Archives to be set to music

On Saturday, September 30, the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood will be closing out its 8-day Local Sightings series with a montage of silent films from local archives.

The compilation of clips will feature the King County Assessor’s color and black-and-white films produced to document the 1936 Land Use Survey project, as well as footage from the Seattle Municipal Archives and the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections. The film montage will be accompanied by live music composed for the event by the group Baywitch.

Below are two segments from the Assessor’s films. The complete collection of films is featured in our online exhibit about the WPA-funded Land Use Survey project.

We hope to see you there!

King County’s wharves, docks and ferry landings: starting a new century


The King County Archives recently updated one of its older record series, County Engineer wharf files 1899-1987 (Series 375). Staff and volunteers added more maps and drawings to the series and improved descriptions of new and existing record materials.

The old wharves themselves are mostly long gone, part of a past that seems increasingly far away. But the records that remain remind us that water-based transportation once was an important mode of travel to people throughout the Puget Sound region –– as it may be again.

Lunchpail-toting children at Northup Wharf on Yarrow Bay, c. 1912-1916. (Series 375, Box 5, Folder 32)

A Short History of King County’s Wharves

Construction and maintenance of about 100 wharves (also called docks) was a significant part of King County’s public works function during the first half of the twentieth century.

Vessels on Puget Sound and Lakes Union and Washington carried passengers and freight. So wharves became an extension of the county’s road system, connectors between water and land transportation.


In this 1932 image, a branch of County Road 987 (now 76th Avenue SE) passes through this north Mercer Island neighborhood to connect with McGilvra Wharf no. 987 on Lake Washington. (Series 375, Box 5, Series 17.)

Most of the wharves were publicly accessible. A few wharves served private resorts or camps but were maintained by King County if they were at the end of public roads.

King County ferries and ferry docks

From about 1900 to 1939, King County also operated, or contracted for, ferry services across Lake Washington and to Vashon Island. County ferry docks were located in Seattle (Leschi and Madison Park), Kirkland, Bellevue, Medina, Des Moines and on Vashon Island.


Foot passengers walk on the Seattle ferry at Wharf 287, Kirkland Ferry Dock, as automobiles wait to board, June 1918. Series 400, item 95-005-0526-P.


Work crew removing “an old Vashon wharf” [probably at Lisabuela], 1967. Series 400, image file 629.

With the growth of land-based transportation in the 1930s, and construction of the first floating bridge across Lake Washington in 1941, water transportation became a lesser county priority.

Private companies, and then the state of Washington, took over Vashon car ferry service.

After World War II, King County worked to remove abandoned and unsafe wharves.

Future public parks

Other wharf sites became parks. Some of today’s municipal parks—such as Dumas Bay Wildlife Sanctuary in Federal Way; Meydenbauer Beach Park (under development) and Enatai Beach Park, both in Bellevue; and Kennydale Beach Park in Renton—had their start as county parks on the sites of former county wharves.

375-5-3 276 Enatai-Hertford

Swimmers gather at the end of the dock at Enatai Beach Park, Bellevue, a King County park in the 1950s. (Series 375, Box 5, Folder 3)

King County’s present-day Dockton Beach Park on Maury Island provides a public boat launch and moorage structure situated on the former site of Dockton Wharf no. 542.

375-1-7 542 Dockton Wharf

Pile driving work at Dockton Wharf no. 542, probably in the 1920s. (Series 375, Box 5, Folder 7)

160-467-2-29 Dockton

This Parks Department photograph may have been taken in the mid-1960s to publicize the redeveloped Dockton Beach Park. (Series 467, Box 2, Folder 29)


Water taxis: an alternative to cars

At the end of the twentieth century, transportation planners faced increasing challenges with automobiles, including traffic gridlock, longer commute distances, and air pollution. To provide an alternative for some commuters, in 1997 King County initiated a new foot-ferry service, first to West Seattle and, in 2007, to Vashon Island.

King County also built new docks and waiting rooms to serve the new passenger ferries.

Foot traffic to West Seattle uses the new Seacrest terminal. (King County Department of Transportation photograph from Captain’s Blog, February 16, 2017, and brochure).

Documenting County Wharf and Dock History

Series 375, the County Engineer’s wharf files, is made up of different record types: paper textual materials, graphical materials, and black-and-white photographs.

Textual records

Textual materials include copies of letters and memoranda to and from the county Commissioners, engineers and inspectors, and the general public.

375-3-10 Ordinary facilities for Tahlequah.jpg

Petition from the South End Community Club, Burton, Vashon Island, to the King County Commissioners, asking for “ordinary facilities” (restrooms) at the Tahlequah ferry terminal, 1931. (Series 375, Box 3, Folder 10)


Other types of textual materials include petitions, copies of Commissioner resolutions, inspection reports, specifications, and cost estimates.375-1-1 Case for postwar recreation

Inspector F.D. Sheffield’s notes (1946) on the postwar recreational potential of old wharf sites foreshadowed King County’s robust park expansion in the late 1940s and 1950s. (Series 375, Box 1, Folder 1)


Graphical records

Graphical material–drawings, plans and maps–are present both as individual encapsulated paper sheets and as aggregated groups of working drawings and blueprints. Record types can include site maps, elevations, sections, structural plans, piling plans, construction drawings, surveys, tide lines, detail drawings, shop drawings, and floor plans.


This 1926 drawing shows how King County brought water to a drinking fountain at the Vashon Heights ferry terminal (predecessor of the present state facility at the same location). (Series 375, Box 8, Folder 8) (Click on image to view full drawing)


Photographic prints and negatives

Black-and-white photographic prints and negatives may show some or all of the following:

  • the wharf seen from various angles (shore and water, ground level, and elevated perspective)
  • approaches (road or rail)
  • ancillary structures (sheds, waiting rooms, retail businesses)
  • adjacent terrain; adjacent residential and commercial structures
  • construction, maintenance, repairing or rebuilding of the wharf
  • documentation of the wharf’s condition

375-5-19 1505 Tahlequah [4]

In the background of this 1936 image of the Tahlequah ferry terminal, Vashon Island, the Asarco copper smelter smokestack in Ruston (once the world’s tallest at 571 feet) emits its notoriously toxic pollutants. The stack was demolished in 1993. (Series 375, Box 5, Folder 19)

Connecting series


Stone’s Landing, circa 1906.(Series 400, image no. 95-005-1191-N.)

Archives staff also identified photographs of wharves found in other record series, and cross-referenced them to Series 375.

For example, several images of Wharf no. 239 at Stone’s Landing (now Redondo) were found in a large series of general engineering photographs. The images show a party of King County inspectors at the wharf, possibly following the fatal collapse of part of the structure in 1906. The unidentified girl appears in several photographs.

Sorting out wharf names and numbers

During their active lives, wharves were identified by a county wharf number and by a name, or names. New archival work in 2016-2017 centered on accurately associating wharf numbers with wharf name(s) and establishing a standard name for each wharf.


King County’s Wharf 3 on southeast Lake Union (seen here in 1937) was also known as Prospect Street Wharf, Howard Avenue Wharf, Lake Union Ferry Wharf, and the King County Dock. (Series 375, Box 5, Folder 21)

An authority cross-reference file of variant wharf names was created. The standard names and numbers were added to existing descriptions of record material and to graphical material (maps, plans, and drawings) that were described for the first time.

Cross-referencing drawings and related materials

About 250 professionally-conserved, hard-copy maps and drawings of wharves had previously been transferred to the Archives by the King County Road Services Division, as part of that agency’s Map Vault preservation program. Archives personnel revised existing descriptions of the drawings so that they matched with related materials in Series 375.

Digital images of these maps and drawings are currently available through the King County Road Services Map Vault.

Wharf and Dock History Records: A Resource for Many Researchers

Series 375 is an excellent source of evocative and nostalgic photographs of Puget Sound and Lakes Washington and Union. But these records can also be used in different ways for different types of research. Some examples follow.

375-5-25 116 Ellisport-Chautauqua [2]

The small steamer Daring approaches Wharf 116 at Ellisport-Chautauqua, Vashon Island, c. 1912. (Series 375, Box 5, Folder 25)

Marine historians can gain insights into water transportation in twentieth-century King County. The steamer Daring, pictured here, has been further documented in Mosquito Fleet of South Puget Sound (Jean Cammon Findlay and Robin Paterson, 2008).


One of King County’s first parks (1938) was developed on Meydenbauer Bay at the site of a former ferry landing. Built with federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds, the park later fell into disrepair and was abandoned. It is now being redeveloped by the City of Bellevue. (Series 400, Item 95-005-2981)

Students of recreation and leisure activities can trace the development of county and municipal parks at former wharf sites.


King County’s first ferry service to Vashon Island connected Des Moines and Portage. This drawing (c.1920) of the Des Moines ferry landing shows the location of deck and fender pilings (Series 375, Box 7, Folder 12)


An older blueprint of Redondo Wharf 256 was used to indicate pilings for replacement in 1916 (Series 375, Box 7, Folder 14)

Marine biologists, scuba divers and social anthropologists may find interest in diagrams of old pilings at former wharf sites.

375-5-11 768 Lisabuela

The village of Lisabuela, on the west side of Vashon Island, was the site of a popular resort from the 1920s to the 1950s. The steamer Virginia V (still sailing) and her four predecessors served the Lisabuela dock. (Series 375, Box 5, folder 1)

Vashon Islanders can learn more of island history, through records of public wharves, resort and camp wharves, and ferry terminals at Tahlequah and Vashon Heights (north Vashon Island).

Two recent Vashon community history projects have documented Camp Sealth, a Campfire Girls site with its own wharf; and Ellisport/Chatauqua. The latter project used records of Wharf 116 to help document Ellisport’s history.

Textual records associated with Newport Wharf no. 754 on Lake Washington describe the wharf’s use by logging companies as a dump site for logs being floated to sawmills. The second East Channel bridge to Mercer Island can be seen in the background of this 1932 image. (Series 375, Box 5, folder 10)

375-5-22 4 Stone Way

This 1937 view of Wharf no. 4 on North Lake Union at the foot of Stone Way also shows several adjacent businesses in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. (Series 375, Box 5, Folder 22.)

Researchers of King County’s industrial and commercial history may find useful information in these records.

A New Era of Water Transportation?

King County, having re-established passenger ferry service to West Seattle and Vashon Island, has considered future expansion of water transportation to Seattle from Kenmore, Kirkland, Renton, Shilshole, and South Puget Sound (2007 King County Passenger-Only Ferry Project Briefing Paper). What once was, may be again. And documentation of new county ferries and facilities will create new records for future researchers.

Boogie up the Block and the Off the Wall mural competition


Saturday, August 19, the King County Archives will be participating in Boogie Up the Block, an all-ages urban arts festival taking place on Fir Street in Seattle’s Central Area.

Hosted by 206 Zulu and Hidmo, the event will include music, dance, art, food, exhibits, and a kids corner (complete with a bouncy castle). The Archives will be featuring its Ship Canal Centennial exhibit and sharing information about its collection.


Graffiti contest redux

Beginning at 7:00 a.m. the same day, aerosol artists will be competing in 206 Zulu’s second graffiti contest using the King County Archives and Records Center walls. Artists invited by contest judges will be painting over the murals created in the 2016 contest, Keeping it Fresh.


Above: Details from aerosol art created during
the 2016 contest sponsored by 206 Zulu.


While we will miss the figures and designs from the 2016 event, we are eager to see what this year’s contest will bring.

Come watch the artists at work, enjoy the urban arts festival, and drop by our booth!

Above: the King County Archives and Records Center buildings
before and after the 2016 graffiti contest.

Event information:

Boogie Up the Block urban arts festival:  Saturday, August 19, 12pm-7pm, 14th and Fir Street, Seattle, 98122

Off the Wall aerosol art contest:  Saturday, August 19, 7am-7pm.  1215 East Fir Street, Seattle, Seattle, 98122

Commemorating the Ship Canal Centennial

The King County’s Archives’ most recent exhibit The Lake Washington Ship Canal and the Mills of Salmon Bay, created in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, is now available (in a slightly expanded form) on our Web site.  The exhibit features drawings and photographs from the King County Archives and the Seattle Municipal Archives which document the saw mills and shingle mills that once were part of a thriving timber manufacturing center along Ballard’s Salmon Bay.

As plans for the ship canal and the Ballard locks evolved over decades and as the project progressed, Ballard became a national leader in shingle manufacturing. Ballard’s growing “Shingletown” also grew to be a significant player in the labor movement of the Puget Sound timber industry. The Lake Washington Ship Canal and the Mills of Salmon Bay follows parallel story lines — the growth of the timber industry in Ballard, labor activity among timber workers, and the construction of the canal.

The placement of the Hiram Chittenden Locks brought objection from mill owners along Salmon Bay, and the records held in King County’s and Seattle’s collections that documented these mills were created to measure the impact of Salmon Bay’s rising water behind the locks. These records provide a prime example of how archival records have value beyond their original purpose. Through these photographs and drawings, we are offered a glimpse at people, technology, buildings, and the natural environment in the early 1900s.





This joint exhibit of the King County Archives and the Seattle Municipal Archives is part of a regional commemoration of the Lake Washington Ship Canal Centennial. To learn about other exhibits and events relating to the Centennial,

Moving history strikes back – an archival screening night at Northwest Film Forum


Join us!

On Thursday, June 22, the King County Archives will be participating in “Moving History Strikes Back!”—an archival screening night at Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum, presented by Moving Image Preservation of Puget Sound (MIPoPS).

Earthworks revisited

At MIPoPS’ first screening in 2013, the King County Archives contributed clips from interviews with artists participating the King County Art Commission’s 1979 Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture demonstration project and symposium.  

In this screening, we will be sharing a newly digitized video from the same Earthworks collection. In this interview, New York artist Mary Miss discusses her plans for an “airport free zone” adjacent to SeaTac International Airport.


Still from interview with artist Mary Miss, 1979. King County Archives Series 1747.

Airport Free Zone

Miss’s project proposal was distinct from those of the other Earthworks artists, who were assigned damaged sites such as landfills and gravel pits. This site, once a residential area, had been cleared of homes due its proximity to the airport. Thus it did not require environmental remediation, but instead needed “social reclamation.” Miss envisioned a public artwork/park in the buffer between the airport and nearby homes and businesses. A walkway through interwoven structures would relate to remnants of the former neighborhood, such as an abandoned road and old building foundations.



Model and site plans for Aiport Free Zone earthwork by Mary Miss. King County Archives Series 1747.

A variety of videos

“Moving History Strikes Back!” will include an engaging variety of material from MIPoPS partner organizations who are working to preserve historical video recordings.

We will get to enjoy clips from videos that are unique or rare, freshly digitized for access and preservation.

Participating organizations include the Southwest Seattle Historical Society – Loghouse Museum, the Sally Sykes Group, Scarecrow Video, the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Public Schools, the Wing Luke Museum, the Seattle Municipal Archives, and the University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections.

We hope to see you there!

Commemorating the Ship Canal Centennial: the Mills of Salmon Bay



Announcing the opening of a joint exhibit from the King County Archives and the Seattle Municipal Archives:

The Mills of Salmon Bay and the Lake Washington Ship Canal

Created in commemoration of the Lake Washington Ship Canal Centennial, our new exhibit presents a history of the sawmills and shingle mills in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood that were affected by the canal.

The exhibit is part of Making the Cut, a series of exhibits, projects, and events from local organizations and individuals commemorating the centennial of the canal’s opening.

The Mills of Salmon Bay and the Lake Washington Ship Canal

Exhibit Dates: June through July, 2017

Location: underground pedestrian tunnel between the King County Courthouse and the King County Administration Building

Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Access the tunnel from the lower level of the King County Courthouse (516 3rd Avenue) or the King County Administration Building (500 4th Avenue) in downtown Seattle.

Exhibit background

On July 4, 1917, fifty-thousand people celebrated the opening of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal with fireworks, a carnival, and a boat parade.

Some forty years had passed between when the Ship Canal was first envisioned by non-native settlers and its completion. One of the last decisions to be made about the canal’s design was the placement of the locks, which would impact the sawmills and shingle mills along Ballard’s Salmon Bay.

The Mills of Salmon Bay and the Lake Washington Ship Canal features maps, technical drawings (steampunk fans take notice!), and photographs that were created by the City of Seattle and King County for the canal project. These records provide a view into the operation of these early 20th Century mills.

The exhibit presents a brief history of the Salmon Bay mills, regional labor issues in the timber industry, and the impact of the canal’s design and construction on Ballard’s Shingletown.

Making the Cut

Visit for information about the many exhibits, events, projects, and online resources commemorating the centennial of the Lake Washington Ship Canal’s opening.