County seat

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A county seat is an administrative center, seat of government, or capital city of a county or civil parish. The term is in use in five countries: Canada, China, Hungary, Romania, and the United States. An equivalent term, shire town, is used in the U.S. state of Vermont and in several other English-speaking jurisdictions. [1] County towns usually serve a similar function in Ireland, Jamaica, and the United Kingdom.[ citation needed ]



The old courthouse in Centreville, Maryland, the county seat of Queen Anne's County, Maryland, U.S. QACourthouse QueenstownMD.jpg
The old courthouse in Centreville, Maryland, the county seat of Queen Anne's County, Maryland, U.S.

In most of the United States, counties are the political subdivisions of a state. The city, town, or populated place that houses county government is known as the seat of its county. Generally, the county legislature, county courthouse, sheriff's department headquarters, hall of records, jail and correctional facility are located in the county seat, though some functions (such as highway maintenance, which usually requires a large garage for vehicles, along with asphalt and salt storage facilities) may also be located or conducted in other parts of the county, especially if it is geographically large.

A county seat is usually an incorporated municipality. The exceptions include the county seats of counties that have no incorporated municipalities within their borders, such as Arlington County, Virginia, where the county seat is the entire county. [2] Ellicott City, the county seat of Howard County, Maryland, is the largest unincorporated county seat in the United States, followed by Towson, the county seat of Baltimore County, Maryland. Likewise, some county seats may not be incorporated in their own right, but are located within incorporated municipalities. For example, Cape May Court House, New Jersey, though unincorporated, is a section of Middle Township, an incorporated municipality. In some states, often those that were among the original Thirteen Colonies, county seats include or formerly included "Court House" as part of their name, such as Spotsylvania Courthouse, Virginia.


In Canada, the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia have counties as an administrative division of government below the provincial level, and thus county seats. In the provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia the term "shire town" is used in place of county seat.[ citation needed ]


County seats in China are the administrative centers of the counties in the People's Republic of China. Xian have existed since the Warring States period and were set up nationwide by the Qin dynasty. [3] [4] The number of counties in China proper gradually increased from dynasty to dynasty. As Qin Shi Huang reorganized the counties after his unification, there were about 1,000. Under the Eastern Han dynasty, the number of counties increased to above 1,000. About 1400 existed when the Sui dynasty abolished the commandery level (郡 jùn), which was the level just above counties, and demoted some commanderies to counties.

In Imperial China, the county was a significant administrative unit because it marked the lowest level of the imperial bureaucratic structure; [5] in other words, it was the lowest level that the government reached. Government below the county level was often undertaken through informal non-bureaucratic means, varying between dynasties. The head of a county was the magistrate, who oversaw both the day-to-day operations of the county as well as civil and criminal cases.

The current number of counties mostly resembled that of the later years of the Qing dynasty. Changes of location and names of counties in Chinese history have been a major field of research in Chinese historical geography, especially from the 1960s to the 1980s. There are 1,355 counties in Mainland China out of a total of 2,851 county-level divisions.


Miaoli, the county seat of Miaoli County in Taiwan Miao Li Xian Zheng Fu Miaoli County Government - panoramio.jpg
Miaoli, the county seat of Miaoli County in Taiwan

In Taiwan, the first counties were first established in 1661 by the Kingdom of Tungning. The later ruler Qing empire inherited this type of administrative divisions. With the increase of Han Chinese population in Taiwan, the number of counties also grew by time. By the end of Qing era, there were 11 counties in Taiwan. Protestant missionaries in China first romanized the term as hien. [6] When Taiwan became a Japanese colony in 1895, the hierarchy of divisions also incorporated into the Japanese system in the period when Taiwan was under Japanese rule.

By September 1945, Taiwan was divided into 8 prefectures ( and ), which remained after the Republic of China took over.

There are 13 county seats in Taiwan, which function as county-administered cities, urban townships, or rural townships.

Lists of county seats

United States

Allentown, Pennsylvania, the third-largest city in Pennsylvania and county seat of Lehigh County Allentown.jpg
Allentown, Pennsylvania, the third-largest city in Pennsylvania and county seat of Lehigh County
Many county seats in the United States feature a historic courthouse, such as this one in Renville County, Minnesota. Renville County Courthouse MN.jpg
Many county seats in the United States feature a historic courthouse, such as this one in Renville County, Minnesota.

In the United States, a county is an administrative or political subdivision of a state that consists of a geographic area with specific boundaries and usually some level of governmental authority. [7]

U.S. counties with more than one county seat

Most counties have only one county seat. However, some counties in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont have two or more county seats, usually located on opposite sides of the county. Examples include Harrison County, Mississippi, which has both Biloxi and Gulfport as county seats, and Hinds County, Mississippi, which has both Raymond and the state capital of Jackson. The practice of multiple county seat towns dates from the days when travel was difficult. There have been few efforts to eliminate the two-seat arrangement, since a county seat is a source of civic pride for the towns involved, along with providing employment opportunities.

There are 36 counties with multiple county seats in 11 states:

Other variations


Alaska is divided into boroughs rather than counties; the county seat in these case is referred to as the "borough seat"; this includes six consolidated city-borough governments (one of which is styled as a "municipality"). The Unorganized Borough, Alaska, which covers 49% of the state's area, has no borough government or borough seat. One borough, the Lake and Peninsula Borough, has its borough seat located in another borough, namely King Salmon in Bristol Bay Borough.


In Louisiana, which is divided into parishes rather than counties, county seats are referred to as "parish seats".

New England

In New England, counties have served mainly as dividing lines for the states' judicial systems. Rhode Island has no county level of government and thus no county seats, and Massachusetts has dissolved many but not all of its county governments. In Vermont, Massachusetts, [9] and Maine [10] county government consists only of a Superior Court and Sheriff (as an officer of the court), both located in a designated "shire town." Bennington County, Vermont has two shire towns; the court for "North Shire" is in the shire town Manchester, and the Sheriff for the county and court for "South Shire" are in the shire town Bennington.[ citation needed ]

In 2024, Connecticut, which had not defined their counties for anything but statistical, historical and weather warning purposes since 1960, along with ending the use of county seats in particular, will fully transition with the permission of the United States Census Bureau to a system of councils of government for the purposes of boundary definition and as county equivalents. [11]

South Dakota

Two counties in South Dakota, Oglala Lakota and Todd, have their county seat and government services centered in a neighboring county. Their county-level services are provided by Fall River County and Tripp County, respectively. [12]


In Virginia, a county seat may be an independent city surrounded by, but not part of, the county of which it is the administrative center; for example, Fairfax City is both the county seat of Fairfax County and completely surrounded by Fairfax County, but the city is politically independent of the county. When the county seat is in the independent city, government offices such as the courthouse may be in the independent city under an agreement, such as in Albemarle, or may in be enclaves of the county surrounded by the independent city, such as in Fairfax. Others, such as Prince William, have the courthouse in an enclave surrounded by the independent city and have the county government, the Board of Supervisors, in a different part of the county, far from the county seat. The following counties have their county seat in an independent city:

Bedford was an independent city from 1968 to 2013, while also being the county seat of Bedford County. Bedford reverted to an incorporated town, and remains the county seat, though is now part of the county.

Lists of U.S. county seats by state

The state with the most counties is Texas, with 254, and the state with the fewest counties is Delaware, with 3.

See also

Related Research Articles

Shire is a traditional term for an administrative division of land in Great Britain and some other English-speaking countries such as Australia and the United States. It is generally synonymous with county. It was first used in Wessex from the beginning of Anglo-Saxon settlement, and spread to most of the rest of England in the tenth century. In some rural parts of Australia, a shire is a local government area; however, in Australia it is not synonymous with a "county", which is a lands administrative division.

A county is a geographic region of a country used for administrative or other purposes in some nations. The term is derived from the Old French comté denoting a jurisdiction under the sovereignty of a count (earl) or a viscount. Literal equivalents in other languages, derived from the equivalent of "count", are now seldom used officially, including comté, contea, contado, comtat, condado, Grafschaft, graafschap, and zhupa in Slavic languages; terms equivalent to 'commune' or 'community' are now often instead used.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">County (United States)</span> Subdivision used by most states in the United States

In the United States, a county or county equivalent is an administrative or political subdivision of a U.S. state or other territories of the United States which consists of a geographic area with specific boundaries and usually some level of governmental authority. The term "county" is used in 48 states, while Louisiana and Alaska have functionally equivalent subdivisions called parishes and boroughs, respectively. The specific governmental powers of counties vary widely between the states, with many providing some level of services to civil townships, municipalities, and unincorporated areas. Certain municipalities are in multiple counties; New York City is uniquely partitioned into five counties, referred to at the city government level as boroughs. Some municipalities have been consolidated with their county government to form consolidated city-counties, or have been legally separated from counties altogether to form independent cities. Conversely, those counties in Connecticut, Rhode Island, eight of Massachusetts's 14 counties, and Alaska's Unorganized Borough have no government power, existing only as geographic distinctions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fairfax, Virginia</span> Independent city in Virginia, United States

Fairfax, Virginia, formally the City of Fairfax, and colloquially known as Fairfax City, Downtown Fairfax, Old Town Fairfax, Fairfax Courthouse, FFX, or simply Fairfax, is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the United States. As of the 2020 census, the population was 24,146. It is the county seat of Fairfax County, Virginia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Unincorporated area</span> Region of land not governed by own local government

An unincorporated area is a region that is not governed by a local municipal corporation. There are many unincorporated communities and areas in the United States and Canada. Most other countries have very few or no unincorporated areas.

A minor civil division (MCD) is a term used by the United States Census Bureau for primary governmental and/or administrative divisions of a county or county-equivalent, typically a municipal government such as a city, town, or civil township. MCDs are used for statistical purposes by the Census Bureau, and do not necessarily represent the primary form of local government. They range from non-governing geographical survey areas to municipalities with weak or strong powers of self-government. Some states with large unincorporated areas give substantial powers to counties; others have smaller or larger incorporated entities with governmental powers that are smaller than the MCD level chosen by the Census.

A civil township is a widely used unit of local government in the United States that is subordinate to a county, most often in the northern and midwestern parts of the country. The term town is used in New England, New York, as well as Wisconsin to refer to the equivalent of the civil township in these states; Minnesota uses "town" officially but often uses it and "township" interchangeably. Specific responsibilities and the degree of autonomy vary in each state. Civil townships are distinct from survey townships, but in states that have both, the boundaries often coincide and may completely geographically subdivide a county. The U.S. Census Bureau classifies civil townships as minor civil divisions. Currently, there are 20 states with civil townships.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Local government in the United States</span> Governmental jurisdictions below the level of the state

Most U.S. states and territories have at least two tiers of local government: counties and municipalities. Louisiana uses the term parish and Alaska uses the term borough for what the U.S. Census Bureau terms county equivalents in those states. Civil townships or towns are used as subdivisions of a county in 20 states, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New England town</span> Unit of government in New England, US

The town is the basic unit of local government and local division of state authority in the six New England states. Most other U.S. states lack a direct counterpart to the New England town. New England towns overlay the entire area of a state, similar to civil townships in other states where they exist, but they are fully functioning municipal corporations, possessing powers similar to cities and counties in other states. New Jersey's system of equally powerful townships, boroughs, towns, and cities is the system which is most similar to that of New England. New England towns are often governed by a town meeting, an assembly of eligible town residents. The great majority of municipal corporations in New England are based on the town model; there, statutory forms based on the concept of a compact populated place are uncommon, though elsewhere in the U.S. they are prevalent. County government in New England states is typically weak at best, and in some states nonexistent. Connecticut, for example, has no county governments, nor does Rhode Island. Both of those states retain counties only as geographic subdivisions with no governmental authority, while Massachusetts has abolished eight of fourteen county governments so far. Counties serve mostly as dividing lines for the states' judicial systems and some other state services in the southern New England states, while providing varying services in the more sparsely populated three northern New England states.

The following is a set–index article, providing a list of lists, for the cities, towns and villages within the jurisdictional United States. It is divided, alphabetically, according to the state, territory, or district name in which they are located.

The administrative divisions of Virginia are the areas into which the Commonwealth of Virginia, a U.S. state, is divided for political and administrative purposes. Some are local governments; others are not. However, all local governments are political subdivisions of the state.

In the United States, an independent city is a city that is not in the territory of any county or counties and is considered a primary administrative division of its state. Independent cities are classified by the United States Census Bureau as "county equivalents" and may also have similar governmental powers to a consolidated city-county or a unitary authority. However, in the case of a consolidated city-county, a city and a county were merged into a unified jurisdiction in which the county at least nominally exists to this day, whereas an independent city was legally separated from any county or merged with a county that simultaneously ceased to exist even in name.


  1. VT Shire Towns: Visiting The Shires of Vermont
  2. "Counties in Virginia and the Location of Their Seats of Government" (PDF). Virginia Commission on Local Government. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2018. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  3. Hsu, Cho-yun (2012) [2006]. China: A New Cultural History. Translated by Baker, Timothy D. Jr.; Duke, Michael S. Columbia University Press. p. 102. ISBN   9780231159203.
  4. Goodman, David S.G., ed. (2015). Handbook of the Politics of China. Edward Elgar Publishing Limited. p. 159. ISBN   9781782544364.
  5. Zarrow, Peter (2006). China in War and Revolution, 1895–1949. Routledge. p. 58. ISBN   978-1-134-21976-6.
  6. Davidson, James W. (1903). The Island of Formosa, Past and Present: History, People, Resources, and Commercial Prospects: Tea, Camphor, Sugar, Gold, Coal, Sulphur, Economical Plants, and Other Productions. London and New York: Macmillan & Co. p.  93. OL   6931635M.
  7. "An Overview of County Government". National Association of Counties . Archived from the original on April 17, 2013. Retrieved April 25, 2013.
  8. Coffee County, Alabama. "History of Coffee County". Archived from the original on 27 October 2011. Retrieved 19 August 2011.
  9. "MGL c. 231, s. 82" . Retrieved 15 July 2013.
  10. "Title 33, §701: Office in shire town".
  11. "Proposed Change to County Equivalents in Connecticut" (PDF). US Census Bureau.
  12. "Shannon County, South Dakota". Archived from the original on 25 April 2012. Retrieved 1 May 2015.