Road Histories: Research and Records
Old documents sometimes indicate that there may be, or once may have been, a county road on someone's property. This page contains information that may be helpful in researching old county roads.
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!
The King County Archives works collaboratively with the King County Road Services Division to respond to customer inquiries about the histories of county roads. Both county agencies may hold relevant, different records relating to a specific road or street.
In general, the King County Archives retains formal legal documents relating to road establishments and locations. The principal source of right-of-way deeds is the King County Recorder's Office. The Road Services Division's Map and Records Center holds historical engineering documents relating to technical aspects of building and maintaining a given road. Since 2002, the Division's Map and Records Preservation Project has resulted in increased sharing of microfilm, digital and hard-copy maps and road histories with the King County Archives.
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
The proceedings contain minutes of meetings, and transcriptions of resolutions, orders, and records of other actions of the County Commissioners. Additional proceedings relating to road matters can be found in volumes 3, 5, 7, and 9 of the series, Commissioners' Road Books, 1854-1900. The proceedings are indexed by an 18-volume, handwritten index. Each index volume is divided into topical or functional sections. The following are all index sections relating to roads include the following:
For questions, or access to the proceedings indexes, please contact the Archives.
Roads: volumes 1-18, 1853-1969
Lists name of road and Commissioners' action (for example, bids called, bids advertised, ordered, accepted, completed; hearing set, referred to 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.
Overseer: 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.
District - road: 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.
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:
(1) 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).
(2) 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)
(3) Transcriptions of County Commissioner proceedings having to do with road business of all types (supplementing records in the series, King County Commissioners' Proceedings).
(4) Transcriptions of deeds for road rights-of-way (Road Book 7, 1892 only).
(5) Road plat maps (Road Book 4; with other maps incidentally in other volumes).
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 series 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.
Maps and Plans: Virtual Map Vault, 1857 - 1900
The 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 begin in the 1850s and continue to the present day. In addition to maps, these files also contain original text documents from the 1800s, usually handwritten, that were subsequently transcribed in the Road Books. The documents are available digitally through the King County Archives.
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 an agency list (photocopy) of 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).
For more information about any of the above records, please contact the Archives.
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 (external link). 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 (external link) in Olympia.