|Historic Travel Guide to Ripley County, Indiana|
The county form of local organization originated in England. The English counties, called shires, came into being as local units of government organization in the Ninth Century. The word "shire" derives from the Old High German word “scira" and means "care" or "official charge". A shire is a unit of local government control with a sheriff, appointed by the king, as the principal executive authority. The word "county" originated from the Old French word, "conté" which denoted a governmental division under the sovereignty of a count, or viscount. When the Normans of France conquered England in 1066, they brought the word with them. County and shire have become synonymous. When the English began colonizing North America they began organizing shires, or counties, as they spread inland. In the United States, and Canada, the county evolved as a local unit of government that originally used geographic features, such as creeks and rivers, as boundaries. These units typically have local officials, such as sheriffs and trustees, to govern them. Each county is subdivided into smaller divisions known as townships.
Counties in Indiana
Indiana has 92 counties, each with its own county seat, or capital, and governing local officials. The first county organized in what is now Indiana was Knox County, established when Indiana was still part of the Northwest Territory. Knox County, organized on June 20, 1790 included the current states, or parts of, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio. The last county organized in Indiana was Newton County, created by the state legislature on December 8, 1859. The oldest counties, in general, are in the southern part of the state along the Ohio River. Most modern counties were separated from either the original Knox County or other later counties. Indiana's counties were named after either United States Founding Fathers or Revolutionary War heroes. Most have little or no connection to the county whose name they bear.
In general, county seats, the seat of a county's government, are located near the geographic center of the county. The county court house is located in the county seat. During the early phase of the state's history, various towns within a county competed fiercely for the county seat. The seat, as the center of county government, attracted settlers in greater numbers and all citizens in the county had to visit the county seat periodically to pay taxes, obtain marriage licenses, file land deeds and other official tasks. Thus, businesses located in county seats had more traffic than businesses in outlying towns. Property values were usually higher and there was higher prestige in having the county seat located in a particular town. Many county seats have been moved at least once and sometimes several times. These moves sometimes created conflicts, both legal, and physical, over the relocation. Shots have been fired over relocations and more than one time county records had to be moved secretly in the middle of the night to stave off conflicts.
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