Put it this way: If not for the fickle finger of historical fate, Minnesota Vikings fans in Washington County could well have ended up rooting today for the, um, Green Bay Packers. Or even the Detroit Lions. Or Indianapolis Colts. Would you believe, Da Bears?
The area we now know as Washington County went through many identities and transformations. It first became part of a county in 1800. Over the course of 50 years, it would be part of four very different and ever-evolving counties — St. Clair, Madison, Crawford and St. Croix — that were part of five territories — Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and, finally, Minnesota — before settling into its familiar confines.
Here is a timeline for how things unfolded:
1800: Indiana Territory was organized by Congress, a vast area extending all the way from present-day Indiana and Michigan to the Arrowhead region of Minnesota, along with parts of the state east of the Mississippi River. St. Clair County was a huge area within the territory that included the land in Minnesota and most of Wisconsin.
1809: Illinois Territory was formed after being split off from Indiana Territory, and St. Clair County went with it. Three years later, St. Clair County became Madison County.
1818: Illinois became a state, so the land in Minnesota east of the Mississippi River became part of Michigan Territory. The area that includes present-day Washington County was located in what was dubbed Crawford County.
1836: Wisconsin Territory was subdivided from Michigan Territory and, once again, the area now known as Washington County changed territories. The territorial Legislature made the area part of the new St. Croix County a few years later.
1848: Wisconsin became a state on May 29, with its western border set along the St. Croix River. For the area west of the river, things got complicated. Because the region was not yet part of an organized territory, it briefly became something of a no man’s land, but kept the St. Croix County name.
1849: Minnesota Territory was formed after a lobbying effort and an organizing convention in Stillwater. At the first meeting of the territorial Legislature, one of the first actions of the half-dozen members was to organize nine counties on Oct. 27. The patriotic name “Washington” was picked to avoid having two St. Croix counties on either side of the namesake river. As it is today, the county was long and narrow, bordered by the St. Croix River, but also included much of what is now Chisago and Pine counties.
1851: Minnesota Territory’s county lines were reconfigured, and Washington County was the only one that assumed its present borders.
1858: With settlers pouring in, Minnesota became a state. By this time, the bulk of today’s 87 counties had been established.
Jim Anderson • 651-925-5039