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History and Facts of Iowa Counties

Today’s Iowa counties did not always exist in the present form. They went through many different changes in the space of a few short years.

The first two counties, Des Moines County  and Dubuque County, were created in 1834 when Iowa was still part of the Michigan Territory.

In preparation for Michigan‘s statehood, part of Michigan Territory was formed into Wisconsin Territory in 1836.

Two years later, the Iowa Territory, was organized from the western portion of the Wisconsin Territory on June 12, 1838.

The State of Iowa entered the union as the 29th state on December 28, 1846. By the time of Iowa statehood 44 counties had already been created.

One of the most significant days in Iowa county history was January 15, 1851, on which 49 counties were created.

Iowa is currently divided into 99 counties. States bordering Iowa are IllinoisNebraskaMinnesotaMissouriSouth Dakota and Wisconsin.

There are some Iowa counties that no longer exist because they were discontinued, renamed or merged with another county. These are important for genealogy research purposes.

Fun Facts about Iowa Counties

Iowa has one of the smallest percentages of counties whose boundaries are dictated by natural means, the vast majority of which are being formed by lines of survey instead, resulting in a large number of “box counties”.

Counties by Year

  • Des Moines and Dubuque Counties was the original 2 counties created when Iowa was still part of the Michigan Territory on September 6, 1834.
  • Humboldt County was the last county created on Febuary 26, 1857.

County Size Facts

County Population Facts

  • Adams County (4,029) is the least populated county in Iowa.
  • Polk County (430,640) is the most populated county in Iowa.

Iowa City Facts

Iowa’s 10  largest cities (2010 est.) are:

  1. Des Moines (203,433) is in Polk and Warren Counties
  2. Cedar Rapids (126,326) is in Linn County
  3. Davenport (99,685) is in Scott County
  4. Sioux City (82,684) is in Woodbury and Plymouth Counties
  5. Waterloo (68,406) is in Black Hawk County
  6. Iowa City (67,862) is in Johnson County
  7. Council Bluffs (62,230) is in Pottawattamie County
  8. Ames (58,965) is in Story County
  9. Dubuque (57,637) is in Dubuque County
  10. West Des Moines (56,609) is in Polk, Dallas and Warren Counties

Boundary Changes of Iowa Counties from 1816 to 1872

This Interactive Map of Iowa Counties show the historical boundaries, names, organization, and attachments of every county, extinct county and unsuccessful county proposal from the creation of Iowa in 1816-1872.

List of Iowa Counties

List of Old Former / Extinct Iowa Counties

The below Iowa counties no longer exist:

Bancroft County, Iowa Territory

Created on January 15, 1851 from a portion of old Fayette County and the northern portion of Kossuth County. The county was named for George Bancroft (1800–1891), the historian.

In January of 1853, it was attached to Boone County for election, revenue and judicial purposes. In 1855 by act of the General Assembly it was made a part of Kossuth and Bancroft County ceased to exist.

Bancroft County was abolished on January 24, 1855 and lost all territory to Kossuth County. No county seat was established during the brief period that Bancroft County had existed and no organization of a county government was performed.

Belknap County, Iowa

On March 10, 1874,  Legislature authorized creation of Belknap County a portion of Pottawattamie County. The proposed creation of Belknap County, was dependent on a local referendum.

The county was to be named in honor of General William W. Belknap, a distinguished Iowa officer in the Civil War and afterwards Secretary of War in the Cabinet of President U.S. Grant.

In 1876, the referendum was rejected by voters; Belknap County was never created.

Buncombe County, Iowa

On January 15, 1851,  Legislature authorized creation of Belknap County a portion of Pottawattamie County. Buncombe County was named for an officer in the War of the Revolution.

On March 7, 1853, it was attached to Woodbury County for election, revenue and judicial purposes. There were no permanent settlers within its limits but for eleven years it appeared on the map of Iowa as Buncombe County.

On September 11, 1862 Buncombe County was renamed to Lyon County, in honor of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, who served in the Mexican–American War and the Civil War. He was killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, on August 10, 1861.

Cook County, Iowa

On December 7, 1836,  the Wisconsin Legislature authorized creation of Cook County from the split Des Moines County. It was attached to Muscatine County for election, revenue and judicial purposes.

The origin of the name given is not known. On December 21, 1837, it lost land to the creation of Johnson and Scott Counties.

On January 18, 1838 it merged with Muscatine County and Cook County ceased to exist. No county seat was established during the brief period that Cook County had existed and no organization of a county government was performed.

Crocker County, Iowa

Created on January 15, 1851 from the northern portion of Kossuth County. It was named for General M. M. Crocker of Iowa, a distinguished officer of the Civil War.

The county-seat was located at Greenwood and the organization was completed in October, 1870.

In December 1871,  the Supreme Court of Iowa declared the act creating this county a violation of the constitution, which in article eleven declares that no new county shall be created which contains less than 432 square miles.

Crocker County was smaller than the law allowed for so it ceased to exist from and its territory reverted to Kossuth County.

Fox County, Iowa

Created on January 15, 1851 from from Non-County. It was named for the Fox Indians. It was attached to Polk County but never organized under that name.

On January 22, 1853, the name was changed to Calhoun County.

Grimes County, Iowa

On March 17, 1876,  Legislature authorized creation of Grimes County a portion of Pottawattamie County. The proposed creation of Grimes County, was dependent on a local referendum.

The county was to be named in honor of Ex-Governor James W. Grimes, for many years a distinguished member of the United States Senate.

In 1876, the referendum was rejected by voters; Grimes County was never created.

Kishkekosh County, Iowa

Created on February 17, 1843 from from Non-County. It was named for a famous Fox Indian chief. It was attached to Jefferson County for election, revenue and judicial purposes.

On March 1, 1844, it was detached from Jefferson County, attached to Jefferson County attached to Wapello County for election, revenue and judicial purposes.

On July 1, 1845, Kishkekosh County fully organized, and detached from Wapello County. On January 19, 1846, an election was held to decide upon a permanent county-seat which resulted in favor of Princeton.

On August 1, 1846, the name of the county was changed to Monroe County and the county of Kishkekosh ceased to exist.

Risley County, Iowa

Created on January 15, 1851 from from Non-County. It was attached to Polk County and afterwards to Boone County for election, revenue and judicial purposes.

On January 22, 1853, Risley County lost all territory to creation of Webster County

Slaughter County, Iowa

Created on January 18, 1838 from a potion of Louisa, Muscatine and Henry Counties and from Non-County areas. It was named for William B. Slaughter, Secretary of the Territory of Wisconsin.

The county-seat was located at Astoria where the first courts were held in 1837. Slaughter County was renamed to Washington County on January 25, 1839.

Wahkaw County, Iowa

Created on January 15, 1851 from Non-County areas. It was named for  an Indian name. 

An act of the Legislature approved January 12, 1853, provided for the organization of the county and selected commissioners to locate the county-seat, the name of which should be Sergeant’s Bluff.

Wahkaw County was renamed to Woodbury County on January 22, 1853 and Wahkaw County ceased to exist.

Yell County, Iowa

Created on January 15, 1851 from Non-County areas. It was named for the second Governor of Arkansas, Colonel Archibald Yell, who was killed at the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War.

On January 22, 1853, Yell County lost all territory to creation of Webster County. No county seat was established during the brief period that Yell County had existed and no organization of a county government was performed.