Then & Now: Ballard’s Street Department Barn

Before the convenience of modern heavy machinery, road construction was a real challenge for communities, including the growing cities of Ballard and Seattle. Loggers cut the trees, and teams of horses and mules dragged the stumps out of the ground.  If the stump wouldn’t budge, the road would simply be built around it. Streets then had to be cleared of debris, plowed, harrowed, and graded. On these crude roadways, early neighbors navigated through ever present mud and wagon wheel ruts. Improvements in the form of gravel, brick, or wooden planks were laid along main streets to make travel less demanding for travelers.

Street Department Barns were used to house horses, wagons, and tools needed to build the boulevards and byways in our growing city.   In the ‘Then’ photo below, there are piles of planks that appear to be ready for one of Ballard’s many muddy lanes and piled, ready for work, outside the Ballard Barn once located at 1148 NW 54th Street, now the backside of the Koi Apartments. Planked sidewalks and roadways could be seen until the 1930s, when large scale concrete paving efforts began in the neighborhood.  For example, NW 65th Street received its first concrete paving improvements in 1934.

Ballard Street Dept Barn

THEN (Above):  Street Department Barn #4, dated 1914.  Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives, #57330.

NOW (Below):  Looking northwest at the Koi Apartments, dated 2016.


In the background of the ‘Then’ photo is Ballard Livery & Transfer Company Stables, located at 14th & Market Street.  At this location you could rent horses, tack, buggies, and more. By 1909, the same year as the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, Ballard Livery began advertising “Automobile for hire”,  as seen in The Seattle Times advertisement below.  A sign of changing times.

st 1909 crop

Ballard Livery classified advertisement, dated July 7, 1909.  Courtesy The Seattle Times.

According to, between 1906 and 1916, the number of motor vehicles in Washington increased almost 100 times – to 70,000. Between 1915 and 1920, the number of automobiles in the U.S. quintupled to 10 million.  That is a lot of cars driving on dirt, gravel and brick roads.  Look down when you are walking in one of Seattle’s historic districts, some of those bricks can still be found peeking out from below the pavement.

When were the first roads in Washington paved?

In 1904, a survey showed that just 1 percent of the roads in the state were paved (likely brick and stone). Most of those were within cities. According to, these were the first paved roads in Washington.

Who was responsible for roads in early Seattle?

In the growing City of Seattle, the Department of Streets and Sewers was responsible for planning, construction, repair, and cleaning of the City’s streets, sidewalks, and sewers. City Council appointed the first Street Commissioner in 1875. The position came under the jurisdiction of the Board of Public Works in 1890. The position of Superintendent of Streets, Sewers and Parks was established in 1896; authority over parks was removed in 1904. The Department was abolished in 1936 and became the Maintenance Division of the Engineering Department.

then and now dates

Then & Now (Above):  1148 NW 54th Street


Location of Street Department Ballard Barn.  Map courtesy Google Maps.

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