Washtenaw County, MI
Located in the southern portion of the Wolverine State, Washtenaw County had a population of just under 350,000 as of the 2010 US Census. The largest community and county seat is Ann Arbor, but the first community in the county was Ypsilanti, MI. Historically connected to Wayne County, Washtenaw was created as its own distinct county in 1826.
The name is derived from the native Ojibwe word “Wash-ten-ong,” meaning “far away waters,” after the headwaters of the Grand River, though the modern county doesn’t contain this river. Rather, the Huron and Raisin River flow through Washtenaw county, providing residents with many opportunities for outdoor activities. These waterways informed the early history of the area, as nearby swamps were drained to create farmland. Some of these swamps still appear today as they did back then, though everything else has changed, with modern highways and cities being built due to the area’s steady growth.
Over the decades, the area has become a center for education in the state, with the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University, as well as many community colleges, located in picturesque Washtenaw County communities. Leading this trend is the county seat of Ann Arbor, MI, home to the University of Michigan’s main campus.
The county seat was founded in 1824 and named after the many oak trees as well as the wives of the village founders, both named Ann. In 1837 when state founders were picking a new state capitol, Ann Arbor lost the designation to Lansing, and so the city was given the University of Michigan (founded in Detroit in 1817) as a consolation. The university has shaped the history of the city, helping it become a transportation and education hub for the area, and it is now one of the major employers not only in the city but the county as a whole. Ann Arbor has grown over the decades, but has kept this focus on education and culture, becoming a center for political activism in the 1960s and 70s. These days, Ann Arbor is consistently voted as one of the best places to live in the US, offering residents high quality schools, beautiful residential communities, modern shopping centers, and plenty of greenspaces along area waterways. For example, Scenic Gallup Park on the Huron River offers canoeing, kayaking, picnicking, swimming, and more.
Ypsilanti Charter Township
The first settlement in the county was founded here in 1809 by French traders. Ypsilanti Township is the second-most populous community in the county, with around 50,000 residents as of the 2010 US Census. Willow Run Airport is located in the community and is a major employer. The township surrounds the city of Ypsilanti, with a 2010 population under 20,000, home of Eastern Michigan University. The university offers plenty of cultural activities like art museums and concerts, and there are many local parks providing opportunities to enjoy the area’s natural beauty. The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum celebrates the area’s history of automotive manufacturing, and the town is the location of the last dealership for Hudson cars.
Pittsfield Charter Township
First founded as the Township of Pitt in 1834, the town got its modern name in 1839 and was officially chartered over a hundred years later in 1972. As of the 2010 Census, the population was around 35,000. A county-run waterpark, Rolling Hills, is located in Pittsfield, providing visitors and residents with family water fun, and the city has several municipal parks for residents to enjoy. A popular attraction in the area is Wiard’s Orchards, which offers seasonal attractions and souvenirs at their Country Store.
Just west of Ann Arbor, Scio is a town with a 2010 population of just over 20,000. Many residents enjoy the small town life in Scio and the economic opportunities in surrounding communities. Like nearby townships Ypsilanti and Webster, Scio was named with a translation of a Greek word as a way to foster relations between Greece and the US following Greek independence in the 1830s. The township has quite a few nature parks and reserves, including Metroparks along the Huron River and the University of Michigan’s Saginaw Forest.
Superior Charter Township
Officially called the Charter Township of Superior, this community also includes an unincorporated town named Dixboro, and is surrounded by other communities like Ann Arbor, Canton, and Ypsilanti. Frains Lake lends its name both to a nearby lake and a small farming community considered part of Superior Township. The town is a mix of rural and residential commuter communities serving the larger nearby cities, and it maintains that small town feel.
Named for salt flats found in the area by French settlers, Saline, Michigan is a small town with a population of only 8,000 according to the 2010 US Census that was founded along with nearby communities in the 1830s. The historic Curtis Mansion (or Davenport House) celebrates this early history, offering information on local history. The town is famous in the area for their annual Celtic Festival, celebrated with their British sister cities of Brecon and Wales, as well as the quaint Saline Farmers Market.