Thursday, August 26, 2021

For the Love of Maps: We were Bound to Mete

I’ve always had a passion for maps. It started when I was a kid. We grew up in a small neighborhood on the west edge of Renton that was right out of the movie American Graffiti. We were a little isolated because Sunset Highway cut us off from the rest of Earlington Hill on the north and the railroad tracks were a border to the south.

The rules were quite simple. We were free to roam just stay on our side of the highway. Across the street from our house was what we kids called the "Little Woods" and to the west a couple of blocks and down to the end of the alley past Taylor’s pasture was the "Big Woods.”


Mom could yell for us from the front porch when we were playing in the little woods, but when it was time to come home from the big woods, Dad would send our cocker spaniel Daisy to fetch us. We spent many a Saturday playing cowboys, explorers and Tarzan, but our favorite was playing Army. There were about a dozen of us guys that were close in age. We’d divide up into opposing platoons and head into the bush on patrol to find and hide from each other. We had tree houses and secret camps. We built rafts at the pond and swung on rope swings that were tied high up on large strategically located trees.


We communicated with mirrors flashing light signals, imitated bird calls, and left encrypted messages along the trails so our allies would know our whereabouts. Heading out in different directions we’d synchronize our watches to meet up at the big willow, the cave, or the secret sticker bush camp for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Planning was important and we spent a lot of time drawing elaborate maps of our missions.


Twenty five years later (1984) I’d find myself working at a title company and one of the cool things about it was the maps. My favorites were the Kroll Maps. These huge atlases were leatherette bound lithographed maps by section township range. The original cartography was done by hand and they were beautifully detailed with some details in color. We used them everyday all day long to locate property. On a busy day your arms got tired from hoisting them on and off the customer service counter. A Kroll Map set upright on the floor would almost come up to my shoulders and they were about 3 feet wide weighing anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds, depending on the volume.

Kroll Maps, King County, Washington

An open atlas displays a section or one square mile. We got so good at it you could give us an address almost anywhere in the county and we'd call out the volume, page number and the quarter section. We took great pride in that and enjoyed the shock value it had with customers.


One thing I really liked about the Kroll Maps was you got a good indication as to how the property was created. We had that question a lot. "How was this lot created and what parcel did it originate from?" A lot of things 'run with the land' as we say in the biz and what you can ultimately do with your piece of the American Dream dirt is determined by agreements that were made and recorded at the county in the past. By comparing the older Kroll Maps with the updated assessor’s maps, we knew where to look next.


The Kroll Maps were truly a work of art and many skilled and talented cartographers collaborated to create them. They were not only beautiful, but they lasted for years and years even with heavy daily use and abuse. In the 1980’s a full set of Kroll Maps was our Google search engine.

I love the digital maps and technology we have for property search today, but nothing replaces the wonderful tactile experience you have when tracking down a parcel on a hardcopy map.


* Parcels of land created out of acreage, not formal county recorded subdivisions, have legal descriptions using Metes and Bounds. In simple terms this is the surveyor starting at a given known point and/or defining a specific location then describing the boundary like a detailed walk with step by step directions using a compass around the perimeter.

1 comment:

  1. First thank you for following my humble blog Crows of Arroyos. Like you I tangle with the stickers to go down rabbit holes of history.

    Second, I did some research looking for the old coal mine(s) around the back side of the Metro Plant. I concluded that the main mine is actually inside of that fenced area on the northern side. But there is another mine that is somewhere behind or north of the old farm house that burned down on Beacon Coal Mine Road. Kind of right in your old hood.

    I tromped up into that equipment yard down the street and found a few interesting things but as usual was thwarted by the "stickers". If you ever trip over any info on these old holes in the ground can you shoot me a note?

    Blogging is tough. I have done it for a little over 10 years and found as time passed changed my subject matter and interests. Also of late have take a bit of a vacation from my weekly type posts. Hope you continue to write and share your cool thoughts. Best Robin aka Batgurrl