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TN History for Kids

Elem Five: 95 Counties

Elem Five: 95 Counties

A jigsaw puzzle of Tennessee's ninety five counties

Are you kidding?

Imagine that Tennessee is a jigsaw puzzle with 95 pieces. Only instead of pieces, let's call the 95 parts "counties."

Tennessee is divided into 95 parts known as counties. Each has its own name and its own story.

On this 1818 map, note the size of Smith, Jackson
and Overton counties...

So what's a county? And why are there so many of them?

Counties are the basic building blocks of local government. Back when people first settled Tennessee, they got together and organized counties to do very simple things such as preserve law and order. The county system came from Great Britain.

...By 1900, look how many other counties had
been formed in the same part of the state

When there were few people in Tennessee there were few counties, because it took a lot of work to form a county.

In Tennessee's earlier days, some counties were tiny, while others, in parts of the state with less people, were quite large. But eventually the state was subdivided into 95 counties that are about the same size as one another.

To be formed, each county had to have a "seat" of government, or county seat, with all county government-related functions housed in a building called a courthouse.

Counties are small because this is how people
used to get to the courthouse.
PHOTO: TN State Library and Archives

And why are counties so small?

Counties were originally set up so a farmer could milk his cows in the morning, then leave home, go to the courthouse, and return home in time to feed his animals in the afternoon.

In parts of the state where there are lots of hills and mountains it takes longer to get around, which is why counties in those parts of the state are smaller than counties where the land is flat.

Had cars and paved roads existed way back when counties were formed, they would have certainly been bigger than they are today.

The poster Tennessee History for Kids
produced in 1997

Courthouses are among the most beautiful buildings in Tennessee. They are so pretty, in fact, that we have taken pictures of every single one of them.

A few years ago, Tennessee History for Kids and the Tennessee Historical Society produced and sent out 10,000 free copies of a poster featuring all 95 Tennessee courthouses (those posters were distributed long ago, in case you are wondering).

Click here to be taken to the web pages of all 95 counties and see our courthouse pictures.

And now let's talk about the importance of being a good citizen. Click here.