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About the County

The Basics

Washtenaw County is located in southeast Michigan, covering an area of 720 square miles. Its 27 cities, villages and townships are home to about 354,000 citizens in urban, suburban, and rural settings.  This mix of different settings provides many opportunities for education, recreation, business, agricultural, and home life.  The two largest cities are Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, homes to two large universities - the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.

History of Washtenaw County Government

Washtenaw County is situated in southeastern Michigan approximately 30 miles west of Detroit: Ann Arbor is the County Seat. Six cities: Ann Arbor, Dexter, Ypsilanti, Saline, Chelsea and Milan; and two incorporated villages: Manchester, and Barton Hills are located within the County. The County spans a distance of 30 miles east-west and extends 24 miles in the north-south direction. In 1990 the population was nearly 283,000 persons. By the year 2000 the population is expected to reach 350,000. It is one of the few Michigan counties which continues to grow at a moderate rate.

1822 Boundary Lines The Washtenaw County boundary lines were established on September 10 by the Legislative Council, but the land area was attached to Wayne County, Territory of Michigan, for administration.

1823 Settlement About a mile southeast of Ypsilanti, Benjamin Woodruff began the first permanent European settlement.

1824 Allen Cabin The first cabin in what is now Ann Arbor was built near Allen Creek by Elisha W. Rumsey and John Allen during Spring of this year. Later in the year Ann Arbor was selected as the seat for County government. It is reported that there were 15-30 settlers in the "County" at that time..

1825 Public Services Post Office was established and John Allen became the Postmaster. The first school was a log building in Ann Arbor and Miss Monroe taught the classes. Old Chicago Road, the first public road in the County, was surveyed. This road, for the most part, followed the Detroit to Chicago Indian Trail.

1826 Formal Organization During the year the requirements for legally organizing into an independent county took place.

1827 County Established On January 1, Washtenaw County, Territory of Michigan, legally came into being. Division of the County into 20 townships began later that year. The population was nearly 1,000. The first session of County Court was held in the home of Erastus Priest by Samuel W. Dexter, Chief Justice; and by Oliver Whitmore, Associate Justice. The Legislative Council approved the first Circuit Court on April 13, and a Probate Judge was appointed. Marriages recorded.

1828 Circuit Court In November, the first session of Circuit Court was held by Honorable William Woodbridge.

1829 County Jail A jail was the first public County building to be constructed. The first newspaper, "The Western Emigrant" a five column folio, edited by Thomas Simpson, was published on November 18th, in Ann Arbor.

1833 Naturalization Filing of naturalization information began.

1834 Courthouse The County was seven years of age when construction of the first Courthouse was completed.

1835 Supervisors Records Filing of County Supervisors' records was initiated.

1837 Statehood The Territory of Michigan became a State.

1867 Vital Statistics The recording of births and deaths began.

1877 Second Courthouse A larger Courthouse replaced the one that was built 44 years earlier.

1955 Third Courthouse A new building replaced the Courthouse that was in use for 77 years.

1969 County Commissioners The Board of County Supervisors, composed of one representative from each Township and two or more persons from each City, was replaced by a smaller Board of Commissioners. Each Commissioner represented one of 13 districts into which the County was divided. Following the 1970 Census, Commissioner districts were increased in number to keep the population per district at approximately the previous level: the result, 15 districts.

Compiled by the Planning Department

What does the word "Washtenaw" mean?

There are many legends concerning the name Washtenaw. Some people think it was the name of an Indian who lived near the mouth of the river. Other people think it was the Potawatamie word for large stream or river. Emerson Greenman, a former curator of the museum of anthropology at the University of Michigan, wrote that Washtenaw derived from the Algonquin and meant 'Far Country' with Detroit as the Point of reference. Source: Michigan GenWeb .

Which County Officials Are Elected?

The following County officials are elected:

  • County Commissioners
  • County Clerk/Register of Deeds
  • County Prosecutor
  • County Sheriff
  • County Treasurer
  • County Water Resources Commissioner
  • Judges

What is the symbolism of the Washtenaw County Seal?


How far back do County historical records go?

The historical records of Washtenaw County are located in the County Clerk/Register of Deeds Office, beginning with the following dates:

  • Births* 1867
  • Circuit Court Files 1828
  • Deaths 1867
  • Elections 1829
  • Land Records 1824
  • Marriages 1827
  • Military Discharges* 1919
  • Supervisors Proceedings 1835

*confidential except as provided by law

What Other Local Governments are There in Washtenaw County?

Government in Michigan has many levels. Check out

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