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History and Facts of United States Counties

Counties were among the earliest units of local government established in the Thirteen Colonies that would become the United States. The first colonial counties were established in Virginia in 1634. The other colonies established county governments shortly after Virginia.

Originally counties were placed so that a county seat would be no more than a day’s journey for everyone within the county borders. However, today more recent U.S. counties have no restrictions on size or population.

How many counties are there in the United States?

The U.S. is divided into 3,007 counties and 235 county equivalents, which vary greatly in size and population. Most counties and county equivalents were organized by 1970. Since then, most creations and changes have occurred in Alaska and Virginia.

The word county equivalents is used by the U.S. Census Bureau and is used to describe other local governments and geographic places are similar to but differs from most counties, but are called by different names.

Of the 235 other county equivalents, 100 county equivalents are in the territories outside the 50 states and District of Columbia. The county equivalents are categorized as follows:

 

135 county equivalents inside 50 States, which are as follows:

  • Alaska: 19 Boroughs and 11 Census Areas (for areas not organized into Boroughs by the State)
  • Louisiana: 64 Parishes
  • Maryland: 1 Independent City
  • Missouri: 1 Independent City
  • Nevada: 1 Independent City
  • Virginia: 39 Independent Cities
  • District of Columbia: 1 District – the Federal District or District of Columbia.

 

100 county equivalents outside 50 States, which are as follows:

  • Puerto Rico: 78 Municipalities
  • US Virgin Islands: 2 Districts
  • Guam: 9 Election Districts
  • Northern Mariana Islands: 17 Districts
  • American Samoa: 5 Districts

 

List of States and Counties

 

U.S. County Fun Facts

Newest / Oldest Counties

What is the oldest County in the U.S.?

  • Virginia: 1634
  • Maryland: 1637
  • Massachusetts: 1643

What is the newest County in the U.S.?

  • Colorado: 2001  – consolidated city-county of Broomfield

County Numbers

What State has the fewest number of Counties?

Delaware which has 3 counties. Hawaii is second with 5 counties.

What State has the most number of Counties?

Texas which has 254 counties.

Number of Counties and Parishes in Early Censuses

  • 1790: 292 Counties
  • 1850: 1,621 Counties
  • 1870: 2,247 Counties
  • 1900: 2,713 Counties
  • 1920 3,041 Counties

The totals do not include county equivalents or independent cities

County Size

What is the smallest County in the U.S.?

Arlington County, Virginia with an land area of 26 Square miles

What is the largest County in the U.S.?

North Slope Borough, Alaska with an land area of 87,860 square miles.

County Population

Counties with populations under 50,000 accounted for nearly three-fourths of all county governments in 2000.

What is the least populated County in the U.S.?

Loving County, Texas, with a population of 67 people.

What is the most populated County in the U.S.?

Los Angeles County, California with a population of 9,519,338 people

 

In addition to the 3,007 counties, there are 33 city-county governments (i.e., cities that have consolidated government functions with their surrounding counties).

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