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Michigan Counties

The boundaries of the eighty-three counties in Michigan have not changed substantially since 1897. Wayne County was the sixth county in the Northwest Territory, formed 15 August 1796 and organized in 1815. Wayne County was created 21 November 1815 as an original county of Michigan.

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Alpena County, Michigan

Alpena County Education, Geography, and HistoryAlpena County, Michigan Courthouse

Alpena County is a county located in the state of Michigan. It was founded originally in 1840 as Anomickee County. In 1843, the name was changed to Alpena . Based on the 2010 census, the population was 29,598. The county seat is Alpena. It is considered to be part of Northern Michigan.

Alpena County comprises the Alpena, MI Micropolitan Statistical Area.

Etymology - Origin of Alpena County Name

Alpena County was a name created by Henry Schoolcraft. It was founded originally in 1840 as Anomickee County. In 1843, the name was changed to Alpena, a pseudo-Native American word - a neologism coined by Henry Schoolcraft, meaning something like "a good partridge country."


County QuickFacts: Census Bureau Quick Facts

Alpena County History

Alpena county was first laid out in 1840, at which time it was attached to Mackinaw, and remained so until the year 1853. Alpena was then unsettled and almost uninhabited - the only inhabitants being a few transient fishermen. It derived its name from an Indian word meaning a "good partridge country."

Among the fishermen present at that time, was W.F. Cullings, who arrived at Thunder Bay island about the year 1835. Mr. Cullings has resided in the county more or less ever since, and is yet a citizen of Alpena, so that he is fully entitled to the credit of being the first settler. Cullings states that the first buildings erected on the site of the present city, were built some three or four years after his arrival by some hunters from Mackinaw, and consisted of three log shanties. The next building was erected by Walter Scott, and consisted of a fish-house (where Johnson's warehouse now stands) and a sort of trading post, which was built somewhere near Mr. David Plough's present residence. Mr. Scott's business was to trade with the Indians, his principal commodity being whiskey.

In 1836 Johnathan Birch visited Alpena for the purpose of making arrangements for building a sawmill. He examined the rapids and finding that there were good facilities for building a dam, commenced getting out timber for the enterprise he had in view. The Indians, however, objected to the improvement, and drove Mr. Birch away. Mr. Birch and party went off to Sulphur Island, and, while there, held consultation as to whether it would be the most profitable to put up the mill at Devil river, or go back to Alpena and commence over again, as an Indian chief had assured them of his protection. Alpena was certainly the best place for lumbering, but then a dam could be built at Devil river with considerably less money than it could at Alpena, and this was a very important consideration to the enterprising mill men. At last they determined to leave it to chance, so they stuck a stick in the ground, and resolved to commence operations at the point towards which the stick fell. The stick fell towards Devil river, and the first mill in the county was built there.

In 1840, Mr. J.W. Paxton landed on Thunder Bay island, and in 1842 Mr. O.S. Warner paid a visit to the Indians at the mouth of Thunder Bay river, for the purpose of trading with them. Mr. Paxton engaged extensively in gill-net fishing about the year 1856. Soon after he purchased Sugar island, and removed his fishing, rig and buildings thereto in 1858. Mr. Paxton has remained a settler ever since, and was the first to make gill-net fishing a regular business. Fishing prior to that time had been carried on by means of six or eight nets in a gang, and small, sprit-sail boats. There was a light-house on Thunder Bay island at the time of Mr. Paxton's arrival, but it was not the present magnificient structure, built in 1857.

In 1853 the county of Alpena was attached to the county of Cheboygan, and remained so until 1857, when Alpena was organized as a separate county.

Mr. Daniel Carter arrived in Alpena, November 26th, 1856. He was looking after Mr. Geo. N. Fletcher's interests, and when he had accomplished his mission, he started for Thunder Bay island, intending to take the first steamboat that passed that place and go below, as this was the only direct communication between Alpena and the lower ports at the time. When he arrived at the island, he found Mr. Geo. N. Fletcher, Mr. J.S. Minor, Mr. J.K. Lockwood, Mr. E.A. Breckenridge, and another gentlemen. These gentlemen were on their way to Alpena for the purpose of locating and surveying the place, and, also, to look after the valuable property they had acquired in that part of the country.

At this time the Fremont election fever was running very strong, and as Messrs. Fletcher, Lockwood, and Breckenridge were Republicans, they, of course, were strong Fremont men, and so they had brought up with them a Fremont election flag. Messrs. Minor and Oldfield were neutral, and Mr. Carter, a strong Democrat. As soon as the party had landed at the little clearing near the mouth of the river, they commenced making preparations for raising their Fremont flag. They cut a good-sized cedar pole, nailed the flag to the top end of it, and then endeavored to raise the flagstaff and plant it in the ground so that the emblem of their political faith might wave defiantly above the newly named village of Fremont. The flagstaff was not very heavy, and if it hadn't been election time, the party of Fremonters could easily have set it upright; but, somehow or other being affected by the water they had imbibed, they were unable to manage, so they requested Mr. Carter, who, during this time had been looking on, to help them. Mr. Carter being a strong Democrat refused, declaring, "that he wasn't going to help them raise a Fremont flag," and, going a little way from the party, sat down and watched the performance. Several times the Fremonter succeeded in nearly raising the pole, getting it almost up only to have it tumble down again, but they were determined to succeed, and after several futile attempts, the Fremont flag waved proudly above their heads. This was the first introduction of politics into Alpena.

After the party had rested a little, they proceeded to survey the village of Fremont, but so jubilant were they with their politicial success, that instead of commencing at the section corner, they started from the first place that suited them, and laid out the street now known as River street. When they had surveyed the street a short distance, they found it would interfere with the mill privileges on the south side of the river, so they made a short turn, near the present site of Golling's brick block, and then proceeded with the survey. This was the commencement of the first survey of Alpena, and the greater part of what they surveyed was covered with green woods.

Sometime after the events just narrated, the settlers began to be much annoyed by the noisy howlings of the Indians who were camped on the north side of the river. Walter Scott, the trader, had considerable whisky in his shanty, which he used to give the Indians in payment for their furs, etc., and as long as the Indians were able to purchase it, they kept up a constant pow-wow, howling, whooping, and raising "cain" generally. At last the settlers determined to put an end to the cause of the disagreeable annoyance, and so one night Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Trowbridge went over to Scott's store house and finding no one in it, proceeded to bore holes in the whisky barrels and let the liquor run out. There was considerable disturbance next morning when the Indians came over to get their morning bitters, and Scott found his whisky all gone; but the damage could not easily be repaired, for communication with the lower ports was very uncertain, and by the time another supply of fire-water could have been received, the Indians would have been on their way to Mackinaw to receive their annual gifts from the government. Scott, after threatening to set the Indians on the settlers, declared that the place (containing less than a dozen white persons) was too thickly settled to suit him, and so he left. Thus ended the first whisky struggle in Alpena - the second had a far worse ending.

Mr. A.F. Fletcher arrived in Alpena in August 1857, and Mr. J.K. Miller in September of the same year. During the summer of 1857, Mr. Carter built a small house on River street. This was the first regular residence erected, as the preceeding ones where only temporary structures.

In 1857 Alpena county was organized into a separate county by the following act of Legislature:

AN ACT to organize the county of Alpena, and locate the county seat thereof.

SECTION 1. The people of the State of Michigan enact, That the county of Alpena shall be organized, and the inhabitants thereof entitled to all the rights and privileges to which, by law, the inhabitants of other organized counties of the State are entitled.

SEC. 2. The county seat of said county is hereby established at the village of Fremont, at the mouth of Thunder Bay river, in said county: Provided, That the proprietors of lands therein shall convey to said county, for the exclusive use thereof, for county buildings and county purposes, free of all charge, the following described lots, to wit: two entire blocks, each twenty-four rods square, lying between Eighth and Ninth streets, and River and Lockwood streets, in the village of Fremont, as surveyed by E.A. Breckenridge, Esq., In the year (1856) eighteen hundred and fifty-six , on section (22) twenty-two, in town (31) thirty-one north of range (8) eight east, in said county.

SEC. 3. There shall be elected in said county of Alpena, on the first Tuesday of November (1857) eighteen hundred and fifty-seven, all the several county officers to which, by law, the said county is entitled; and said election shall in all respects be conducted and held in the manner prescribed by law for holding elections for county and State officers: Provided, That the county officers so to be elected shall be qualified, and enter upon the duties of their respective offices, on the first (1) Monday of January (1858) eighteen hundred and fifty-eight, and whose term of office will expire at the time prescribed by the general law.

SEC. 4. The board of canvassers of said county, under this act, shall consist of the presiding inspectors of elections from each township therein; and said inspectors shall meet at said village of Fremont, on the first Tuesday after the election, and organize by appointing one of their number chairman, and another secretary, of said board, and shall there-upon proceed to discharge all the duties of a board of county canvassers, as in other cases of election for county or State officers.

SEC. 5 The sheriff and county clerk, elected by the provisions of this act, shall designate a suitable place in the village of Fremont for holding the circuit court in said county, and also suitable places for the several county offices, as near as practicable to the place designated for holding the circuit court; and they shall make and subscribe a certificate in writing, describing the several places thus designated, which certificate shall be filed and preserved by the county clerk; and thereafter the places thus designated shall be the places of holding the circuit court and the county offices, until the board of supervisors provide suitable accommodations for said court and county officers.

SEC. 6. The counties of Alcona, Oscoda, Montmorency, and that portion of the county of Presque Isle lying east of range four east, be and the same are hereby attached to said county of Alpena for judicial and municipal purposes.

SEC. 7. All acts, and parts of acts, contravening the provisions of this act, be and the same are hereby repealed.

Approved February 7, 1857.

ALPENA WEEKLY ARGUS of May 24, 1876:

If our readers will try and imagine what the situation was in this region some twenty or thirty years ago, what would be the contrast between then and now. Where now stands the city of Alpena, twenty years ago was a dense forest, inhabited only by the red man and wild birds and beasts. Probably very few if any of our early settlers, who came to this region, less than twenty years ago, had the slightest idea that the then vast wilderness which formed Alpena city and county, would in so few years be converted into the most thriving and prosperous city on the shore and some of the most valuable farming land in the whole State of Michigan. Let our readers look back even sixteen years, and there was but little to show that the prospects were at all favorable for much of a settlement at the mouth of the Thunder Bay river. But how different the situation now, - when we have a flourishing city of 5,000 human souls, and the number increasing every year.

When parties first talked of farming in Alpena, the idea was ridiculed by nearly everybody, as it was thought that the land in this vicinity was entirely worthless, except for the timber growing upon it. But in this those who laughed at the adventurer who went forth into the wildernes to carve out his fortune and make him a home and a farm, have lived to see, within the short space of ten years, Alpena county dotted here and there with many farms, the productiveness of which cannot be excelled in the Union. And still, year by year, the woodman dives deeper and deeper into the forest, and as he marches on is left behind him the clearings, houses and broad acres of beautiful land that produces crops far in excess of his brightest anticipations.

Nor does it stop here, for while those who have become farmers in this county are meeting with such success, may others are induced to follow in the wake, and it seems that the time is not very far in the future when farming in Alpena county will attract as much and even more, attention than the manufacture of lumber, which is now our principal production.

There are thousands upon thousands of acres of State lands yet in this country, awaiting for enterprising men to take them up and convert them into valuable farms; and this they are doing at a rapid rate.

Alpena County,
Written by: William Boulton, 1876
Entered according to Act of Congress on the 2d day of June 1876,
by William Boulton,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.


As reported by the Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,695 square miles (4,390 km2), of which 572 square miles (1,480 km2) is land and 1,123 square miles (2,910 km2) (66%) is water.

Alpena County is in the northeast of the mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Lake Huron and Thunder Bay are to the east, Alcona County to the south, Oscoda County to the southwest, Montmorency County to the west, and Presque Isle County to the north. Most of the county is drained by the Thunder Bay River and its tributaries. The Mackinaw State Forest occupies large tracts of land in the county. The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is located offshore adjacent to the county.

The 45th parallel bisects the county, meaning it is half way between the North Pole and the equator.

Several islands in Thunder Bay are part of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge. There are automated lighthouses on Middle Island and Thunder Bay Island.

Neighboring Counties

Bordering counties are as follows:

  • Alcona South
  • Montmorency West
  • Oscoda Southwest
  • Presque Isle North


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