With the holidays about to wrap, a new County Board set for its New Year’s Day kickoff and schools back on Monday, let’s welcome 2016 with a little civics lesson.
Don’t worry: There’s no homework involved and you won’t be quizzed.
At 25.992 square miles of land area, Arlington, Va. is the smallest county in the U.S. that manages its own affairs. Three other counties get the size right, but each fails to pass the self-government test.
They don’t come smaller than Kalawao County, located on the island of Molokaʻi in Hawaii. Its total land area is just 11.991 square miles (plus there’s an additional 41 square miles of water within its jurisdication). Kalawao has a population of about 90 people (2010 Census) but its residents don’t govern themselves. Their county falls under the administration of the state’s Department of Health.
Second runner-up is New York County, N.Y., coming in at 22.656 square miles of land. Its boundaries are those of Manhattan Island, one of the five boroughs under New York City governance. Manhattan has no separate county framework.
And third runner-up is Bristol County, R.I., with 24.151 square miles of land. Instead of a unifying county government, the three towns within the boundaries – Barrington, Bristol, and Warren – each has a separate town government.
As you may know, Arlington was originally part of the “10 miles square” parcel of land designated in 1791 as the nation’s capital. But after decades of being the less-celebrated half of the District of Columbia, the Virginia portion was returned to the Commonwealth in 1847.
Today Arlington is one of only a handful of U.S. counties with the prized Aaa/AAA/AAA bond rating.