Smallest County in the USA, Part 2

On February 18, 2008 · 1 Comments

The previous post discussed why Kalawao County, Hawaii may not really be the smallest county in the United States because it is not actually a county except in name only. The next two smallest by area, New York County in New York and Bristol County in Rhode Island are similarly problematic.

If you are to believe no less of an authority than the beverage company Snapple and their Real Fact #146, you might consider what they’ve published on the inside of countless ice tea lids: “The smallest county in America is New York County, better known as Manhattan.” This is flat-out wrong. If New York County is to be considered a functional entity then so does Kalawao County, which is clearly smaller. At 22.96 square miles, New York County is indeed small. But it’s not the smallest.



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New York County is roughly analogous to Manhattan along with Roosevelt Island plus some outlying spots. It is part of a 1898 city-county consolidation that created a unified New York City with its five famous boroughs: The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. It is sometimes described as a sui generis arrangement (“one that is of its own kind”) as it is truly a unique creation. New York County is governed by the New York City Charter. The 1898 consolidation did create the office of Borough President which until recently had a meaningful influence on city budgets and land use. However this was declared unconstitutional by a 1989 United States Supreme Court case, Board of Estimate of City of New York v. Morris. Basically it was held to violated the “one man, one vote” doctrine due to population differences between the boroughs. Today the Borough President serves in a largely powerless advocacy position. Therefore it can be logically concluded that New York County is a non-governing entity within greater New York City. Manhattan is no doubt one of the most meaningful and influential places on the planet but New York County has been transformed into a county without stature.


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So now we’re forced to move on to the next larger county in an attempt to determine whether it might be the right candidate or whether it’s just another plot of land masquerading as a county. This is Bristol County, Rhode Island with a landmass of 24.68 miles. It is a pretty clear-cut case. Rhode Island disestablished its county structure as confirmed both by the Office of the Secretary of State of Rhode Island and the National Association of Counties. Rather it has 39 self-governing municipalities. The county structure still exists for purposes of the census, which recorded about 50,000 residents for Bristol County in the most recent count, but otherwise it’s a historical artifact and simply a geographic designation. Three self-governing towns fill the borders of what was once Bristol County: Barrington; Warren; and the Town of Bristol. By definition it is a meaningless county.The three smallest and most likely possibilities have been examined and yet there still isn’t a definitive choice for what might actually be the “smallest county in the United States.”

Other Posts in this Series:

On February 18, 2008 · 1 Comments

One Response to “Smallest County in the USA, Part 2”

  1. […] Smallest County in the United States series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). Collectively these are by far the most popular pages on Twelve Mile Circle. A […]

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