MI County Government History


The largest unit of local government in Michigan today is the County. It is also the oldest political subdivision of the State having attained stature and importance before any other form of government now in existence. Wayne County, named in honor of General Anthony Wayne, was the first Michigan County organized in the Northwest Territory in 1796 by Winthrop Sargent, Acting Governor.  During those early years of territorial government, there was a tendency to establish counties covering extensive areas. For example, Wayne County, when first organized, comprised all of Michigan and parts of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin.

However, as it became evident that matters affecting the common good welfare such as schools, roads, law enforcement and public health were limited to local settlements, it became necessary to make government as convenient to the people as possible. The result of this early conclusion was the division of our state in 83 counties 68 in the Lower Peninsula and 15 in the Upper Peninsula. Most of the counties in the Lower Peninsula 15 in the Upper Peninsula are approximately square in shape with about 24 miles on a side.

By 1836, when the first constitution fo r Michigan was prepared, Counties were an established unit of government. Provision was made to incorporate and use them for locally administering State Government operating only within its own boundaries and performing certain specific work for the State.

The services rendered by County Government affects each of us from before we were born until we are dead.

Before you were born, it is quite possible your mother attended a pre-natal cli nic sponsored by the County Health Department. The day you were born, a clerk in the County Clerks office filed your birth certificate. As a baby, you may well have attended a baby clinic or received immunization shots from your County Health Department. As a child, you were the recipient of educational programs sponsored by the County Intermediate School District and undoubtedly used the services of the County Library. When you were married, the County Clerk's office issued the marriage certificate. When you went into business, you filed your assumed name certificate in the County Clerks office and when you bought a home; your deed and mortgage were recorded in the office of the County Register of Deed. If you had legal problems, they were attended to by the County Courts, either Circuit, District or Probate; if you or members of your family have had emotional or mental problems, you have had access to the services provided by your County's Community Mental Health Board, and throughout your life you found that the state laws were enforced by the county sheriff. Also you have been using County Roads and living in a physical environment which is the responsibility of the County Drain Commissioner. The day you died, your death certificate was filed into the County Clerk's Office and not long after your death, you estate will be probated in the County Probate Court. Thus, all our lives we were in one way or another using the service of some facet of the County Government.

Most of the functions of County Government are performed by officials elect ed by the citizens of the individual county, which is as it should be. The general supervision of county governmental functions is performed by the County Board of Commissioners. The separate operating offices, departments and bureaus of County Government are in the charge of the separately elected officials.