Not the City

On December 24, 2014 · 8 Comments

I examined a stack of family files online and I learned that a distant relative lived in Houston, Texas. That wasn’t completely unexpected because I’ve traced numerous family members back through there. However the records didn’t make sense as I read through them. Geographic identifiers seemed unfamiliar and out of place. I slowly realized that they referenced Houston County, not the City of Houston. Wouldn’t it make sense for Houston, the city, to actually reside within Houston County? Yes it would although that wasn’t the case. The City of Houston fell more than a hundred miles away in Harris County.

There were a handful of other instances where counties and major cities that shared their names in the same state failed to overlap. I examined the top 100 cities by population in the United States and found six occurrences, Houston included. The cities had more inhabitants than the same-named counties in every example, usually considerably larger and sometimes ridiculously larger. Invariably the counties were prefaced by "not to be confused with…" when described by sources, such as in "Houston County, not to be confused with Houston."

I attempted to rank the six examples based on two factors, the percentage difference in their respective populations and the physical distance that separated them. Then I focused my attention on the counties because they were so much more obscure than the cities. Each one had at least a single bit of interesting trivia.

Wichita County, Kansas

Grain Elevator
Grain Elevator by Eric Crowley, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Wichita County (map) had a population of 0.5% of the City of Wichita, and was located 262 miles (422 kilometres) away. That was by far the biggest difference in population and distance. Wichita won.

Kansas was notably violent in the Nineteenth Century along a lawless frontier. Fights often broke out in the western counties as they were being drawn, settled, and placed within a governance structure. Money could be made or lost based on a location where a county seat might or might not be established. The dispute in Wichita County was called the "Bloodiest of Them All." A history written as part of a Depression-era project of the Works Progress Administration, Kansas, a Guide to the Sunflower State, described the situation:

With the organization of Wichita County in 1886, the two towns became bitter rivals for the county seat. As usual, both factions resorted to extralegal measures. Gunmen were imported "to preserve order." From Dodge City the Coronado partisans brought a former sheriff while Leoti sent to wild and wooly Wallace for a crew of "fun-loving" cowboys who terrorized all law-abiding citizens… On the eve of the county seat election Coulter and six or seven other young men from Leoti loaded a case of beer into a rig and drove over to the rival town… A burst of gunfire precipitated a pitched battle in the town’s main street.

Perhaps that’s one reason why Wichita County still prohibits the sale of alcohol by the drink even though Kansas amended its Constitution to allow that about thirty years ago.

Houston County, Texas

Houston County -- First County Created Under Republic of Texas, June 12th 1837
Houston County — First County Created Under Republic of Texas, June 12th 1837 by bk1bennett, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Houston came in second place in my analysis so let’s go ahead and talk about it. Houston County (map) had a population of 1% of the City of Houston, and was located 116 miles (187 kilometres) away.

The ever-useful Handbook of Texas became indispensable once again. It noted that Houston was the first county created in the brand-new Republic of Texas in 1837. Sam Houston, President of Texas, signed the order. He won the war so he could name anything after himself, and he did. The City of Houston was founded in the same year, obviously also named for Sam Houston. The city did better, about a hundred times better at least by population.

Austin County, Texas

Old Austin County Jail, Bellville, Texas 0130101401BW
Old Austin County Jail, Bellville, Texas by Patrick Feller, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Texas had too few heroes from the Revolution for its very large geographic footprint, it seemed, and only so many names to share. I found a similar situation for Stephen F. Austin. Austin County (map) had a population of 3% of the City of Austin, and was located 114 miles (183 kilometres) away. The area that became the County of Austin played an important role during the years immediately prior to Texas forming into a republic in 1836. Although Washington-on-the-Brazos became the initial capital of an independent Texas upon the establishment of its constitution (as 12MC described in One Star Many Centers), San Felipe had served that same purpose as the provisional capital immediately prior to and during the revolution. San Felipe (map) was the focal point of the original Stephen F. Austin colony and it was located in what later became Austin County.

Lincoln County, Nebraska

Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center, North Platte, Nebraska
Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center, North Platte, Nebraska by David Becker, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Lincoln County (map) had a population of 13% of the City of Lincoln, and was located 226 miles (364 kilometres) away. It had a fairly sizable town — North Platte — so that pushed it farther down on the list. North Platte was noted for the world’s largest rail yard at Bailey Yard. Lincoln County displayed a justifiable sense of pride in its monstrous rail yard and erected the Golden Spike Tower, "an eight-story building which overlooks the expansive railroad staging area" (map). This must be nirvana for rail fans.

Boise County, Idaho

Horseshoe Bend Idaho
Horseshoe Bend Idaho by Richard Bauer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Boise County (map) had a population of 3% of the City of Boise, and was located 27 miles (43 kilometres) away. The downfall of Boise County in my calculations was that it practically abutted the City of Boise, pushing it way down on the list. Boise county had two major towns, Idaho City and Horseshoe Bend. I used the term "major" loosely as neither had more than a few hundred residents. Nonetheless the fine citizens of Horseshoe Bend, being the larger of the two, attempted to grab the county seat of government by wrestling it away from Idaho City. They made at least two recent attempts, in 1974 and in 2004. However, unlike their counterparts in Kansas a century ago, their weapon of choice was a petition for referendum rather than a gang of drunken cowboys with guns. Their attempts failed. They might have had been more successful with drunken cowboys.

Richmond County, Virginia

Richmond County Courthouses
Richmond County Courthouses by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Richmond County (map) had a population of 4% of the City of Richmond, and was located 52 miles (84 kilometres) away. Interestingly, the two Richmond places in Virginia represented different things. Richmond County, formed in 1692, derived its name from Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond. The City of Richmond, founded in 1737, was named for the town of Richmond in the southwestern part of London, England. I’m sure if I tried hard enough I could probably connect those two Richmonds together somewhere back in English history. I took a basic glance and followed threads back from both directions and grew tired of the task. Someone with more patience than I should feel free to give it a go.


I’ll mention two other possibilities that I discovered and discounted: Baltimore City vs. Baltimore County in Maryland and St. Louis City vs. St. Louis County in Missouri. Those were both instances where a city split from a county and became an independent entity. Those didn’t feel like the same situation presented elsewhere.

On December 24, 2014 · 8 Comments

8 Responses to “Not the City”

  1. Big Foxy says:

    Georgia is full of these non city-county pair combos: Douglas, Macon, Quitman and there are others I can’t think of right now.

  2. St Misbehavin says:

    By cutting off at the top 100 cities (the link in your article is broken, by the way – did you mean Wikipedia?), you just barely include Boise and Richmond (98th and 99th), but just barely exclude Des Moines, Iowa (104th), which was within 1,000 people of Richmond at the last census. Des Moines County, Iowa is a substantial distance away from, and maybe 10% the population of, the city. I get that you have to draw a line somewhere, but having just done a fun piece on another part of Iowa, it would have been nice to see this in your article too. Cheers!

    • Thanks — the link has been fixed. Yeh, I picked 100 arbitrarily because I was checking each city by hand and got tired of looking at the list. I’d have included Des Moines if I knew it was 104th, but then again, I didn’t know checking any further would produce that result.

  3. Bill Harris says:

    How about a case where the county is much larger than the city? The county of Chester in Pennsylvania is a growing suburb of Philadelphia with a population of over 500,000, while the city of Chester (in Delaware COunty) is a dying, post-industrial town of less than 50,000 souls.

  4. Jasper says:

    What about Fairfax (City) and Fairfax County?

  5. TB says:

    Arkansas has many of them too. Technically not making the list though is Hot Springs, which is in Garland County, and Hot Spring County, which is just next door to the east. The singular/plural versions of “Spring” trip a lot of editors up.

  6. Rhodent says:

    Regarding Richmond County: First of all, there seems to be some dispute as to just what the county is named after. Even the people of Richmond County can’t figure it out. If you go to the Richmond County website’s “About Us” page (, it shows the historical marker for Richmond County, which states that it is named after Richmond, Surrey — i.e., the Richmond that is now in the same part of London (and is the same Richmond that the City of Richmond is named after). But the text of the page says “There is no consensus on the origin of Richmond County‚Äôs name, but it has been accepted that the county was named for the First Duke of Richmond.”

    In any case, there is a link between the Duke of Richmond and the portion of London known as Richmond. The story starts with a feudal barony called the Honour of Richmond. The Honour of Richmond is centered on a town named (predictably) Richmond, located in modern-day North Yorkshire. From soon after the Norman Conquest until the end of the 15th Century, this Richmond was an earldom, and periodically got transferred to the Crown (the last time being when Henry, Earl of Richmond became King Henry VII in 1485) and later re-created as a separate peerage.

    When Henry VII became king, he built a castle on the banks of the Thames which he named Richmond Palace, after his earldom. The area around Richmond Palace came to be known as Richmond-upon-Thames, and it is this Richmond for which the City of Richmond, Virginia (and possibly Richmond County?) is named.

    Forty years after Henry VII became king, his son Henry VIII created a new peerage for the Honour of Richmond, this time as a dukedom. As with the earldom, the Dukedom of Richmond periodically returned to the crown and got re-created. The fourth and last creation was in 1675, when it was given to Charles Lennox, who may or may not be the origin of Richmond County’s name.

    So assuming that the county is named after the duke, the short version is that the City of Richmond is named after an English town which is named after an area in northern England whose duke gave his name to Richmond County.

    Incidentally, the fourth creation of the Dukedom of Richmond still exists, and the current holder of the title is the Tenth Duke of Richmond. The ten dukes have been named, and I promise you I am not making this up, 1) Charles Lennox, 2) Charles Lennox, 3) Charles Lennox, 4) Charles Lennox, 5) Charles Gordon-Lennox, 6) Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, 7) Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, 8) Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, 9) Frederick Charles Gordon-Lennox, and 10) Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox.

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