History of Counties

County government form has its roots in England where counties served as the administrative arm of the national and local governments.

The county structure was adopted by colonists in North America. Our counties were created as administrative districts of the state to make sure that services are efficiently delivered locally. As a level of government close to the average citizen, county officials provide a measure of local control over important matters that affect our families and the communities in which we live.

National County Facts
  • There are 3,068 counties in the country.
  • All states except Connecticut and Rhode Island have county governments.
  • Counties are also called parishes in Louisiana and boroughs in Alaska.
  • Delaware and Hawaii have the fewest counties, only 3 and 4 respectively.
  • Texas has the most counties with 254.
  • Thirty-seven jurisdictions are consolidated “city / counties,” such as San Francisco.
  • The largest county by population is Los Angeles county with 10 million people.
  • The smallest county by population is Loving county, Texas, with just 60 people.
  • The largest county is North Slope Borough, Alaska, at 86,000 square miles.
  • The smallest county is Arlington county, Virginia, at 26 square miles.
  • There are 80 counties with a population of more than 500,000.
  • There are 2,142 counties with a population of less than 50,000.
Clay County History Facts
General Information
  • Clay County has a County Attorney that also acts as the city prosecutor for every incorporated city in Clay County.
  • Clay County was established in 1858 as Breckenridge County; the name of Breckenridge was rescinded in 1862 and the county was renamed Clay.
Clay County in Numbers
  • The county has approximately 450 election judges.
  • The county is comprised of 1,053 square miles and approximately 28,300 parcels.
  • It encompasses 104 lakes.
  • The county maintains a highway system composed of over 1,600 miles.
County Recycling
  • The county captures methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas produced by decaying waste at the landfill, for use as a renewable energy source.
  • The Solid Waste Department staff do presentations at schools and for community groups regarding what happens to waste in Clay County and how we can all do more to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
  • In 2009, we collected approximately 121,000 electronic items through the county residential electronics recycling program.
  • The county operates a materials exchange at the landfill; used building materials and more are available to residents at no cost.
  • Clay County has recycling bins available for residents for use at no cost for any special events in the county and funds recycling centers in towns throughout the county.
Clay County Elections
  • Much of the work preparing for and conducting elections is done at the county level through the Auditor's Office.
  • By state statute, the county must have an Emergency Manager, as do all counties in Minnesota
    • Clay County has an Emergency Operation Center.
    • The county has an all-hazard Emergency Operation Plan, which is updated annually.
    • Clay County is part of Region 8 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), headquartered in Chicago, Illinois.
    • Clay County is part of Region 3 Homeland Security Emergency Management.
    • We provide training for Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT), including teen CERT training in schools.
    • The county has CodeRed notification (Emergency Notification System.)
    • Clay County has been included in a Presidential Disaster Declaration in both 2009 and 2010 due to flooding and that in order to request inclusion in a Federal Disaster Declaration, the State of Minnesota has to have over 6.8 million dollars in damages.
Clay County Sheriff's Office
  • The Sheriff's Office licensed staff must be sworn in every 4 years.
  • The Sheriff's Posse volunteers assist with community events and search and rescue; training is provided for the volunteers by the Sheriff's Office.
  • County patrol operations are conducted in vehicles, snowmobiles, ATVs and boats.
  • The Sheriff's Office is responsible for the jail, civil process, warrants, transports, court security and medical examiner services.
  • Clay County has 4 Sheriff's Office substations, which include locations in:
    • Barnesville
    • Hawley
    • Sabin
    • Ulen

History of Counties is courtesy of County Government Works, an initiative to raise awareness and understanding of counties.