This is the first post of the California Counties Project.
County Seat: Oakland
Alameda County has only the 7th largest population in California, but it has more residents than 10 states.The port of Oakland is the busiest in Northern California, and the 5th busiest in the US, handling nearly $50 billion in international trade every year. Long an economic hub, the county served as a coastal Gold Rush base and as the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. Now, the economy is driven by shipping, automobile manufacturing, and tech companies. For every 100 women in Alameda, there are only 91 men. In 2000, Alameda had the largest proportion of lesbian (same-sex female) couples in the US.
County Seat: Markleeville (unincorporated)
Alpine County is the most likely home to fewer than 1,100 people–by the far the smallest! Nested in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, there are hardly 2 people per square mile. Before the construction of two ski resorts in the 1960’s, the county only had 200 residents! Alpine is the snowiest county in the state, and Caples Lake is in the top 10 snowiest places in the US, receiving nearly 375 inches per year. In the 2010 census, one 1 same-sex couple was registered to live in Alpine County. Draw your own conclusions.
County Seat: Jackson
Population: 37, 383
Amador County is one of California’s original counties, earning the nickname “Heart of the Mother Lode” when it hosted some of the largest and most productive gold mines in the states. But, all of the mines were closed by the federal government in WWII, as gold was deemed “non-essential metal” to the war effort. Now, the region is better known for its viticulture, and famously is home to some of the oldest living Zinfandel vines in the world, some nearly 150 years old. The county was named for José María Amador, a gold prospector born in the village of Yerba Buena in 1781, which would later become the city of San Francisco.
Los Angeles County
County Seat: Los Angeles
Los Angeles is the most populous county in the United States, with over 10 million people. Only nine states have more people (California still has the most without it), and it covers an area larger than Delaware and Rhode island combined. Home to 1/4 of the state, Los Angeles County contains 88 cities, 4 million living in the city of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles has the largest port in the Western Hemisphere, and is the port of entry for nearly 40% of all containerized goods entering the US. Frankly, I could write this entire list about Los Angeles on its own, however, to let the other counties have their moment in the sun, I’ll keep it short. Los Angeles hosted the Summer Olympics twice, in 1932 and 1984. In 2028, it will become the third city to have hosted the games three times, after London and Paris.
County Seat: Madera
Madera (literally “wood” in Spanish) County was named in 1893 by the employees of the log flumes that carried timber down the mountain. The eastern edge of the county is the ridge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but there is no way across–a planned highway or tunnel to cover the 10-mile gap was blocked by Governor Ronald Reagan, who fell in love with the Mammoth Lakes wilderness after horsebacking riding and camping there. He honored his commitment to the region as president. The second-largest city in the county is Chowchilla, which is apparently a Yokut word for “murderer.”
County Seat: San Rafael
Marin County is located at the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. It has a per capita income of $89,936, the third highest of any county in the US. Mission San Rafael Arcángel was founded here in 1817 by three priests, who opened it to treat sick Native Americans for free. This is probably the first sanitarium in what would become the United States. Marin County is the setting for the 1983 film “Testament,” which was celebrated for its stark depiction of a suburban American family trying to survive after a nuclear apocalypse.
That’s six–only 52 more to go! The next six are here.