Houghton County History
Houghton County, which is comprised of 1,044 square miles, is named after Douglas Houghton, Michigan's first State Geologist. In that capacity, Houghton conducted a survey of the Keweenaw Peninsula in 1840 and his resulting report of 1841, which discussed the area's rich deposits of copper ore, helped trigger the first great mining boom in American history.
On March 9, 1843, the Michigan Legislature divided the Upper Peninsula into six counties, Michimackinac, Chippewa, Schoolcraft, Ontonagon, Delta and Marquette. On March 19, 1845, Houghton County was established from parts of Marquette, Schoolcraft and Ontonagon Counties and originally included what are now Keweenaw and Baraga Counties. Baraga County was set off from Houghton County in 1875.
Eagle River, located in what is now Keweenaw County, was the first County seat and remained so until 1861 when Keweenaw County was set off from Houghton County. At that time the County seat was established in the Village of Houghton and in 1862 structures were built to house a courthouse, jail and Sheriff's office.
To reflect the area's increasing prosperity, Houghton County hired architect J.B. Sweatt to design the current County Courthouse. The cornerstone for the new structure was laid on July 24, 1886 and on July 28, 1887, the courthouse was dedicated. On May 12, 1975, the courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Structures.
The Michigan Constitution at the time of Houghton County's establishment provided that the supervisors of the County's townships constitute the County's Board of Commissioners. This practice was followed until 1967 after which county commissioners were elected directly.
The aforementioned mining boom led to Michigan becoming the largest producer of copper in the nation. In 1874, Michigan produced 88% of the nation's copper, while the mines of Houghton County produced 79% of that total.
The increasing mining operations led to a demand for workers and resulted in the continuing growth of Houghton County which reached a peak population of 88,098 residents in 1910. Those residents comprised one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the United States as the Federal Census of 1870 noted that 57% of the County's residents were foreign born, the third highest rate in the Country. At that time, fewer than 5% of the County's residents had American born parents. In 1900, Houghton County had the largest Chinese, Italian, Finnish, Slovenian and Croatian communities in Michigan.
While the mines have long since closed, Houghton County remains prosperous as a destination location for outdoor enthusiasts due to its over 50 miles of Lake Superior shoreline, 923 miles of rivers and streams and over 20,000 acres of lakes and ponds. Michigan Technological University, one of the preeminent engineering universities in the Country, draws over 7,000 students from throughout the Country and the world.