Wisconsin Counties
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Wisconsin Counties

There are seventy-two counties in the state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin became part of the Territory of Michigan and divided into two counties: Brown County in the northeast along Lake Michigan and Crawford County in the southwest along the Mississippi River. The state of Wisconsin was created from Wisconsin Territory on May 29, 1848, with 28 counties.

Douglas County, Wisconsin

Douglas County Education, Geography, and History

Douglas County, Wisconsin Courthouse

Douglas County is a county located at the northwest corner of the state of Wisconsin. Based on the 2010 census, the population was 44,159. Its county seat is Superior.

Douglas County is included in the Duluth, MN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Etymology - Origin of Douglas County Name

Douglas County was named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas, US senator from Illinois (1847-61), and Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1860.

[Source: Kellogg, Louise Phelps. "Derivation of County Names" in Proceedings of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin for 1909, pages 219-231.]


County QuickFacts: CensusBureau Quick Facts

Douglas County History

The early history of Douglas County is a story of the Indian. The first known inhabitants of what is now Douglas County were Mound Builders. These were an advanced group of people that appeared on the shores of Lake Superior sometime after the last glacier receded. They mined copper in the Minong Range and at Manitou Falls on the Black River. They pounded this metal into weapons, implements, and ornaments which were later found buried in mounds with their dead.

The next major group of Indians were the Mascoutins, "People of the Fire", a branch of the Potawatomi. They were forest hunters, who lived by trapping beaver, harvesting wild rice, spearing whitefish, and hunting deer. They remained until about 1400 when the Dacotah (Sioux), who were forced westward by the Iroquois, drove them out. From this time on, there were successions of Indian tribes from the northeastern United States invading and inhabiting this region, until 1490 when the Chippewa's built a settlement on Madeline Island.

The first known white men to visit the area were the French. In 1618, Stephen Brule, a voyagers for Champlain, coasted along the south shore of Lake Superior where he met the Ojibwa. Upon returning to Quebec, he carried back some copper specimens and a glowing account of the region. In 1632, Champlain's map appeared showing "Lac Superior de Tracy" as Lake Superior and the lower end shore as "Fond du Lac". Soon after, fur trading companies established settlements, while missionaries came bringing the first touches of civilization. Names and dates of some of those who pioneered in exploring the Douglas County areas were Father Menard (1653), Radisson and Grosseilliers (1655), Father Claude Allouez (1668), Nicolas Perrot (1671), Sier Randin (1673), Daniel Greysolon Du L'Hut (1679), and Pierre Charles Le Sueur (1693).

Douglas County lies on one of the major water highways used by early travelers and voyagers of inland America. This water trail, the Bois Brule-St. Croix River Portage Trail, was the most convenient connecting link between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. The Bois Brule and St. Croix River systems were only separated by a short portage over the Continental Divide near Solon Springs. The northward traveler used this water trail to take him to Lake Superior, while the downstream traveler could use it to go southwest to the Gulf of Mexico, unhindered by portages, by using the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers. This waterway was also an important route in the Wisconsin fur trade, particularly when the French War with the Fox Indians closed the more southern routes. This territory was transferred to British rule by the treaty of Paris in 1763 at the conclusion of the French and Indian War. It was explored by Capt. Johnathon Carver in 1767 and came under the flag of the United States government in 1783 under terms of the Treaty of Peace of that year.

Indian control of what is now Douglas County began to diminish in the early 1800's and in 1847 the Chippewa signed a treaty giving up all rights to the region. White settlers began to pour into the region to cut timber and prospect for minerals. In 1852, the government survey of townships in the county was completed. That same year, the first settlers founded the City of Superior.

A law enacted February 8, 1854, separated Douglas County from the larger County of La Pointe. Superior was immediately selected as the county seat; however, it wasn't incorporated as a city until 1887. St. Louis was actually the first name proposed for the County; however, R.R. Nelson submitted an amendment to change the proposed name to Douglas County after Nelson's friend, Stephen A. Douglas, Illinois Senator, who was financially interested in the new settlement.

The opening of the Federal Land Office at Superior in 1855 marked the beginning of the white man's transformation of this area. Some notes from the census of 1860 show the population of Douglas County as 812 souls.

The first courthouse was built in 1871. It was a two-story frame building built near 25th Avenue East and East Fifth Street. The present courthouse was built during the year 1919 and was occupied in March, 1920. It is considered the finest courthouse in the Northwest. The construction consists of selected Bedford blue cut stone and Pavanazza marble.

After more than a quarter of a century of patient waiting and many disappointments, on the 17th day of December, 1881, (the most memorable one in its history) the Northern Pacific Railroad formally opened to Superior. This marked the boom for Superior's industry and growth.

From: Handbook of Wisconsin by S. Silas, 1855
pg. 64-68

This County was formed from La Point in 1854. A few surveys have been made along the shore of Lake Superior, and settlers are rapidly directing their course to that point. Though the most Northern county of the State, the winters are represented to be mild and pleasant. The present communication with the outer world is through Lake Superior or down the St. Croix River. A road is now building from Superior, near the mouth of the St. Louis to a point on the St. Croix River. The Bay of Superior, at the head of the Lake, is said to be the best harbor on the Lake. Superior is a rapidly growing place. The first settlement being made in 1853, and in the fall of 1855 numbered about 700. A newspaper is now published there. Prospectively this occupies an important point. It is the head of the chain of inland Lakes on the north-west. It is the north-western terminus of the Wisconsin system of Rail Roads. It is the point, and the main point, from which the Pacific Rail Road is to leave the Lake Navigation, and from this point the road is to be built.

A road is opening from Superior striking the St. Croix, and following down the Minnesota side which will be ready for use the coming winter. The land along this road is reported good, timbered with maple, lynn, clm, ash and white oak, interspersed with pine.

The head of Lake Superior is about twelve miles wide, and forms two semi-circular points. The Southern, or Wisconsin point, is four miles long, and the northern, or Minnesota point, is eight miles long. The St. Louis and Left Hand Rivers meet and discharge their waters into the Lake between these points. Inside of the points the river forms a bay eight miles long, and from one to two miles wide, with from six to twenty-four feet of water. The points are from twenty to sixty rods wide, sandy grounds, covered with yellow pine and an undergrowth of whortleberry. These are the great summer camping grounds of the Chippewa Indians, and here large quantities of the Siskawit, Trout and Whitefish are caught in the Lake and around the entry to the Bay. The St. Louis River is navigable for Lake steamers for eighteen miles to the American Fur Company's post, sometimes called Fond du Lac, and is a succession of bays, islands covered with blue joint grass, bayous, and channels, among which a stranger would easily be lost in the at-attempt to navigate it without a guide. The Left Hand river is a narrow, deep stream, and can be navigated with keel boats for a distance of ten miles. These rivers abound in the Muskelonge, Pickerel, Pike, Bass, and other river fish.

The entry to the bay is sixty rods wide, with nine feet of water on the bar--is a hard gravel bottom, and does not shift.

The country to the north and south, and nearly parallel with the Lake, rises into lofty ranges of primitive and trappean rocks. That to the south lies about six miles from the lake or bay. Native Copper in regular and well defined veins--some of them ten feet wide, with distinct walls of clay and traceable to any distance--have been discovered on this range, and will be opened and worked the coming summer. The conglomerate and sand-stone have the same relative position to the trap that they have on other parts of Lake Superior. There is another range ten miles south from this, and running parallel with it, forming a beautiful valley between, and meandered by the American river,, along the banks of which are meadows of blue joint grass, and well timbered with pine, spruce, maple, birch, red oak and cedar. The country on the north side of the Lake is bold, rugged and mountainous; and the coast from the mouth of the river to the Canada line, and beyond is what a sailor would call iron bound--precipices several hundred feet high, extending along the shore. The water is very deep and but few places where a vessel could anchor. There are three good harbors on this shore, in Minnesota--"Camp Harbor" forty-five miles from the head of the Lake, forming a bay about one mile wide, with an island in front, "Grand Marias" fifty-five miles farther down, is a circular inland bay, three-fourths of a mile in diameter, with a good entrance from the westward--and "Grand Portage Bay" and Island, near the mouth of Pigeon River, and between that river and Fort Williams, in Canada, are several fine bays completely land-locked, with good entrances, deep and spacious inside, and full of siskawit, trout, and sturgeon.

Isle Royal is visible here, about twenty miles to the south. Pie Island and Thunder Cape rise about one thousand feet above the water, and stand facing each other like the Russians and Allies, now and then throwing several hundred tons of rock from off their bald pates down to the bottom of Lake Superior. All of the streams except Pigeon river, and the river at Fort Williams are small, and fall rapidly from the mountains several hundred feet, in beautiful cascades, some of which are over a hundred feet deep. These streams contain speckled trout of a large size, and weighing sometimes over ten pounds. Numerous small lakes lie inland, around which on beaten trails roam herds of Red Deer, together with rabbits and partridges.

The ranges of mountains are of various kinds of rock, coarse granite of different colors, and stone, grey and red trap, amigdaloyd, greenstone, and slate--the latter sticking up edgewise--with spar veins of the sulphuret of copper and iron from ten to twenty feet wide, some crossing the regular formation of rock, and others running with it. Native copper, also, in smaller veins is found.

Geography: Land and Water

As reported by the Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,480 square miles (3,833 km2), of which, 1,309 square miles (3,391 km2) of it is land and 171 square miles (442 km2) of it (11.54%) is water.

Neighboring Counties

Bordering counties are as follows:

  • Bayfield County - east
  • Sawyer County - southeast
  • Washburn County - south
  • Burnett County - southwest
  • Pine County, Minnesota - southwest
  • Carlton County, Minnesota - west
  • St. Louis County, Minnesota - northwest


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