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Researched, Compiled & Written by Gary Brand

Summary Table of the Number of Municipalities in Cities Databank™, listed by state

Records of Some Example Cities in the Database:
Chicago, Illinois
New Orleans, Louisiana
Paris, Kentucky
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
To Order Cities Databank™
Testimonial of an Academic Who Purchased the Entire Database
Accurate Dates from Original Sources
What Defines the Beginning of a City or Town?
When does a Municipality Become Self-Governing?
Why Use the Earliest Incorporation Date?
When Are Incorporation Laws Effective?
Self-Governing Dates Other than Incorporation
U.S. Census Bureau Definitions and Data
Independent, Consolidated and Merged Cities
Town Companies and Proprietorships
Dates Prior to the Calendar Change
Municipal Incorporation History in Each State
Database Components (Fields)
Copyright Notice & Licensing Agreement
Summary Table of Cities and Towns in Cities Databank, by state

The cities database, called Cities Databank™, is a collection of earliest self-governing and incorporation dates for U.S. municipalities that began in 1992 because a source of city and town incorporation dates that Gary had been using in his research for clients contained a number of errors.  As a result, he began his own collection and, because he lived in a state capital at that time, the state library was an ideal location for conducting research on the earliest incorporation date of cities in that state.  The Cities Databank collection of over 9,300 U.S. city, town, village, and borough incorporation or earliest self-governing dates and township inception dates is unprecedented in its scope because it is substantially larger than other similar collections.  Other compilations of such dates are typically for a single state, not for the entire U.S., as is this database.  At the present time, the scope of the database of earliest self-governing dates is limited to U.S. municipalities in 49 states, although Gary is also collecting creation dates of U.S. counties as well (eventually these will be entered into a separate database).  The only state missing from the database is Hawaii, which presently has no incorporated places (however, Honolulu is included in the collection because it was once incorporated).

Cities Databank contains the earliest self-governing and/or incorporation date for many of the suburbs and bedroom communities of the country's largest cities, as well as the core cities themselves.  As most of the older, large U.S. cities with populations numbering over 100,000 that are located east of the Mississippi River have declined since 1990, the trend in population growth is often in the suburbs of these cities and smaller, outlying towns and villages.  Exceptions to this pattern include most cities with a population over 100,000 in the southeastern States of Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and in Illinois (and a few large cities in other states east of the Mississippi River) whose populations are increasing.  The vast majority of cities with over 100,000 people that are located west of the Mississippi River are growing.  There are currently 214 cities and townships with a population of 100,000 or more in the database.

For all muncipalities in the database, Gary has personally researched or has verified that the date of self-government is the earliest by searching each year of legislative session laws, or by consulting a reliable source of such dates for cities in a particular state, or by verifying a date with a second source.  The earliest self-governing or incorporation dates have been obtained from official or reliable sources such as the following:

  • a law passed by a colonial, territorial or state legislature
  • an appendix to each session of laws passed by the legislature of some states (e.g. incorporation dates of some cities in Michigan)
  • a state government repository of municipal incorporation dates
  • the U.S. Bureau of the Census
  • a telephone interview with the city/town/village clerk or the clerk of the county court
  • a legislatively mandated state publication (e.g. incorporation dates of some cities in Ohio)
  • a city charter or code or seal
  • a charter, law or document reproduced in a book about the history of a city
  • a state publication that lists municipal incorporation dates
  • a list issued by a state government (however, dates in lists compiled by some states are unreliable)
  • a book researched by people officially sanctioned (e.g. by the WPA) to collect incorporation dates in a particular state (e.g. incorporation dates for cities in Florida)
  • a book researched and authored by someone who previously worked for a state repository
  • a book of extensively researched historical dates for municipalities in a particular state
  • a book about the history of the city (e.g. Philadelphia and New Orleans)
  • a book about the history of the state (e.g. New York City)
  • a city or town Web site, if it contains a history that is detailed enough to include a calendar date of earliest incorporation that is confirmed by a government source that has the year of incorporation (only 1.4% of the cities and towns in the database have an incorporation date obtained from their Web site)
Who finds this data useful?  The list of users who have purchased the data include private companies, the University of California, the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany (they purchased all 9,300 records in the database), and an Indian swami.

The following quote is from an e-mail sent to Gary on April 2, 2013 by the professor at this University who purchased the entire database:
I am amazed by this dataset!  My co-author and I used it to analyze age heterogeneity among U.S. cities and the correlation between city age and city size.  We have worked intensively with the CitiesDatabank for over six months now and I can confirm that the data is very accurate and very precise.  Moreover, it is very diversified and contains entries along all important dimensions (old/young cities, huge/small cities, all regions, etc.).  I had several contacts with Mr. Brand and I very much appreciated his responsiveness and cooperativeness.  I can, therefore, strongly recommend this dataset.

Great effort has been expended to obtain city and town incorporation dates from primary or legal sources and over 98% of the incorporation dates in the collection are from such sources but all incorporation dates contained therein are accompanied by legal or standard library citations or they are from an authoritative source (i.e. a city clerk, a court clerk, a state repository, a book with an in-depth history, or the U.S. Census Bureau).  For city and town incorporation dates, a primary source citation is the legal citation of a law, court order, county commission order, or city charter, or a legally designated repository, or the standard library citation for a published source (including a city Web site).  The primary sources of city and town incorporation dates in the database are the laws of each state, which were searched from each state's inception as a colony, territory, as part of an earlier territory or state, or as a state.

Source document research is important because the date that a municipality was established by the legislature (when commissioners were appointed to lay out the town or village) or other such founding date is sometimes mistaken for the earliest self-governing or incorporation date (see the following section “Why not Use a Founding or Establishment Date for a Community?”).  An example is a date obtained from a library in a city with a population over 50,000 in North Carolina (not a small-town library).  A book consulted by a reference librarian in this library claimed that the earliest incorporation date of that city was in 1741.  However, when the colonial legislation was researched, the records revealed that an act for laying out the town was approved that year but the town did not exist at that time and no self-government was granted by this law.  Therefore, an event relating to the founding of that city did occur in 1741 but it was not incorporated then, as claimed by the reference consulted.  Another example is the date that Charlottesville, Virginia was established by law in 1762.  This law appointed commissioners to survey the town and sell lots, nothing more, and the town did not exist at that time.  Yet, John Moore described this law as an “act of incorporation” and anyone consulting this source could be mislead by it (J.H.M., p. 29 (1976)).  Although the year on the city seal is 1762, Charlottesville was not incorporated or truly self-governing until January 19, 1801 (citation).

The complexity and scope of this collection lend themselves to the possibility of errors.  However, every effort has been made to achieve as much accuracy as possible and to consult primary sources.  Several types of errors that may possibly reside in the database include, but are not limited to:  (1) the date thought to be the earliest date of self-government was preceded by an earlier date unknown by the compiler, (2) a municipal incorporation law passed by the legislature that was contingent upon approval by voters in a special election was not approved, (3) in some states there were two avenues for incorporation - by individual or special law passed by the legislature or under a general incorporation law - so it is possible that some towns or cities were first incorporated under a general law, unbeknownst to the compiler, and then were later incorporated again by a special law (the date of which is in the database), and (4) the date obtained from a repository or published source is a typographical error.  The compiler invites the user to contribute to the accuracy of this collection by contacting him with the source citation for any self-governing or incorporation date found that precedes the date provided for a municipality in the database.  Any errors that are accompanied by complete source citations will be corrected.

For the purposes of this commentary, an appropriate definition of the word “community” is from the Arizona statutes:  “a locality in which a body of people resides in more or less proximity having common interests in such services as public health, public protection, fire protection and water which bind together the people of the area, and where the people are acquainted and mingle in business, social, educational and recreational activities” (Section 9-101, p. 4).  What marks the beginning of a community?  Texts that chronicle municipal histories often use the term “founding date” as an early or initial date in the European settlement of the area now occupied by a municipality.  Webster's New World Dictionary defines the verb “to found” as “to begin to build or organize; . . . establish; set up (to found a college)” (p. 551).

Unfortunately, there is no agreement on the actual application of the term “founding date” by historians, librarians, or even city or town governments recounting their history.  Some authors claim it is the date that the first settlers arrived at the site but in some cases the day of the month or even the year is uncertain.  Other historians claim that it is the date that the deed for the land was granted or when the land for the town site was sold.  Other significant dates often included in historical accounts are the date the town site was surveyed and the date of the first sale of lots.  The date the town plat was filed at the county seat could likewise be considered an official founding date.  The beginning of construction or the completion of the first house or building, often the courthouse, if the city or town is or was a county seat, is another historically significant pair of dates.  However, such dates are often lost to antiquity.

Early in their histories, the legislature of a number of states and territories east of the Mississippi River (e.g. Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, the Mississippi Territory, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin) established towns by individual laws (like Charlottesville, Virginia in the above example).  In some of these states (e.g. Illinois and Wisconsin), such legislation merely named the town as the county seat.  In other states (e.g. Georgia, Maryland and Virginia), these laws appointed and empowered trustees to survey and lay out lots and streets and to sell the lots.  Chester Bain in A Body Incorporate points out that such laws did not bestow “. . . any of the governmental powers usually vested in a governing body of a municipality” (p. 10).  Bain further notes that, “while these areas were referred to as 'towns' and were created by the General Assembly, they were not, as such, governmental units” (Id.).  They were “towns” in name only because they were not in any way legally or functionally similar to a municipality, and they contained very few, if any, dwellings at the time they were established.

What all of the above events have in common is that they occurred prior to the presence of a community.  Though they represent historical milestones in the earliest development of a community, they do not qualify as the beginning of a functioning, thriving, self-governing community or municipality.

Webster's New World Dictionary defines a municipality as “a city, town, etc. having its own incorporated government [italics added] for local affairs” and the definition of municipal is “having self-government locally” (p. 936).  It stands to reason that a municipality first becomes self-governing when it becomes a functioning community that is sanctioned by the state to govern itself instead of being governed by a larger political unit, usually the surrounding county or township.  The word corporate is derived from the Latin verb corporare, meaning “to make into a body” (Id. at p. 318).  This definition explains why most municipal incorporation legislation designates the residents or the governing officials as “a body corporate and politic.”  The definition of corporation applicable to municipalities is, “a group of people, as the mayor and aldermen of an incorporated town [italics added], legally authorized to act as an individual” (Id.).  Incorporation is usually, though not always (see “Self-Governing Dates other than Incorporation” below), the best definition of self-governance because it represents legal, territorial and regulatory independence and separate identity.  American Jurisprudence defines municipal corporation:
It is only when the community is granted the privilege of self-government from the state, and is created as a separate entity with power to act as such, and to hold property as its own, to levy taxes and expend them, and to select its own officers, and is not merely a geographical name, a territorial subdivision of the state, and the sphere of the authority of a particular public officer, that it is entitled to be called a 'municipal corporation.'  The power of local government is said to be the distinctive purpose and the distinguishing feature of municipal corporations proper (citation).
In the U.S., self-governing communities are titled or “styled” villages, boroughs, towns, townships, and cities.  Webster's New World Dictionary defines a village as “a group of houses in the country, larger than a hamlet and smaller than a city or town; such a community incorporated as a municipality” (p. 1584).  The definition of a town is “a more or less concentrated group of houses and private and public buildings, larger than a village but smaller than a city; in parts of the U.S., same as TOWNSHIP - in New England and some other States, a unit of local government having its sovereignty vested in a town meeting; in England, a village that holds a market periodically” (Id. at p. 1504).  The definition of borough is “in certain States of the U.S., a self-governing, incorporated town; in England, a town with a municipal corporation and rights to self-government granted by royal charter” (Id. at p. 164).  Use of the style of “borough” is limited to some of the oldest eastern states (e.g. Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) and was the style used for the earliest incorporations of a few of the oldest municipalities in states of the Northwest Territory (e.g. Ohio and Wisconsin), which was established in 1787.

Webster's New World Dictionary defines a city as “a center of population larger or more important than a town or village; in the U.S., an incorporated municipality [italics added] whose boundaries and powers of self-government are defined by a charter from the State in which it is located” (Id. at p. 260).  American Jurisprudence states that “the term - city - ordinarily indicates a municipal corporation of the largest and highest class. . . having broad powers of local self-government under a charter. . . .  A city is unquestionably a municipal corporation, and is the most highly developed type of corporation created for municipal purposes, because it is a miniature government, having legislative, executive, and judicial powers” (citation).  In distinguishing between county and city governments, the courts have ruled that “a city is a voluntary organization, whereas a county is merely an arm of state government” (citation).  This same principle could be equally applied to other municipal corporations.  Cities are grouped by most state statutes in three basic categories:  special law cities, general law cities, and charter cities.  Special law cities received their incorporation charter by an individual or “special law” passed by the legislature and most of the incorporation dates in this database fall in this category.  The powers of general law cities are enumerated and specified by general incorporation laws or state statutes.  Charter cities, called “home rule” cities in some states, are formed by citizens adopting a charter which establishes the basic law of the city.  Of the three classifications, charter cities have the greatest autonomy.

What all of the above definitions have in common is that they are based upon incorporation or self-government, which distinguishes them from communities that are unincorporated or that have no local form of government.  Although many municipalities take pride in their early roots and equate their beginnings with a founding date, it was usually their incorporation that literally put them on the map.  Few unincorporated communities are widely recognized and few are included on standard maps (some New England townships that are referred to as towns are an exception).  In addition, incorporation sets legal boundaries that the U.S. Census Bureau uses to determine the local census.  For unincorporated population centers or areas, the Census Bureau must designate the boundaries they will use for the census, which they call CDPs or Census Designated Places (see “U.S. Census Bureau Definitions and Data” below).

In most states, individual laws incorporating municipalities were lengthy since they contained detailed governing specifications.  Incorporation legislation is fairly uniform from state to state in its basic content and it meets specific legal definitions.  One reason for this general uniformity is that, as the country grew westward, the newer territories and states borrowed incorporation legislation from the older adjacent territories or states.  Municipal incorporation laws almost universally specify:
  • that the municipality shall be a body politic and corporate
  • the power to make bylaws and regulations (the most important power)
  • the power to buy and sell real property
  • the right to have a common seal and to alter it at will
  • the power to sue and be sued
  • the power to plead and “be impleaded” in court
  • the names of the first corporate officers if they were appointed by the law
  • how elections are to be held and when
  • the corporate boundaries
Today, municipalities are self-governing, incorporated communities that are typically responsible for passing local laws, providing public services such as drinking water, sewage treatment, garbage collection and disposal, fire and police protection, health inspections and services, local licensing, street maintenance, revenue collection and the administration of public parks, libraries, recreation facilities, and local elections.  Surely, the date of the beginning of construction or completion of the first house or the date the plan was filed for a housing development that will eventually become a municipality in the future does not compare in significance with the date that a community becomes self-governing.  In the vast majority of cases, incorporation represents the beginning of independence and self-determination for a community.

Most municipalities have been incorporated several times since their inception as municipal governments.  When municipal incorporation laws were enacted by the legislature, those subsequent to the earliest often do not refer to any previous law nor do they state that they are actually a reincorporation.  Although subsequent incorporation laws for cities and towns in some states refer to the initial charter, in most states the only way to determine whether a particular incorporation law is the earliest is by examining the laws of each legislative session of each territory, colony and state, a very time-consuming, but worthwhile and ongoing process.  Incorporation dates subsequent to the earliest are provided in the collection only when the style changed (i.e. from a village, town, borough or township to a city) or when an incorporation was by a different political unit (i.e. colonial or territorial vs. state) or when the political nature changed (i.e. when a city and county were consolidated).  All of the cities in a few states (e.g. Nevada and Wyoming) and some cities in many states were never incorporated as villages, towns or boroughs so their earliest incorporation was as a city.  Use of the term “1st incorporated” in the “Date Type” field (abbreviated “1st inc.”) is often deduced from the wording in the law.  For example, incorporation laws in Florida sometimes specifically state that the incorporation is of a new municipality.

The earliest incorporation as a village, borough, town, township or city is usually the most significant because it established the beginning of self-government and political autonomy.  When an incorporation law is not the earliest, it is still of some historical significance because it often further defined or enlarged the powers of the municipality to govern itself.  Incorporation of a town or city under colonial law was usually limited by the terms of the royal charter of the colony or, in the case of the earliest charters of New York City, they did not grant elections, though they did allow some measure of self-rule.  Some cities were initially chartered by the British or Dutch crowns, by the royal governor of the colony, or by the colonial legislature.  For a city that was self-governing prior to the American Revolution, the earliest incorporation date or charter may not be the only appropriate initial date of self-determination for such a city.  Some cities were self-governing long before they were incorporated.  An example is Boston, Massachusetts which has been self-governing since 1630 but was not incorporated until 1822, almost two centuries later!  However, this is a rare exception to the rule.

The earliest incorporation date for many municipalities in states west of the Mississippi River were enacted by a territorial legislature.  In some instances, the earliest incorporation was granted by a territory that preceded the territory with the same name as the state.  For example, the initial incorporation, as a city, of Cheyenne, Wyoming was by the Territory of Dakota, which included present-day Wyoming and preceded the Territory of Wyoming.  Other such instances are included in the commentaries for each state and are noted in the “Style Earliest” field for pertinent municipal incorporation dates.

There are several examples of incorporations by blanket legal fiat.  In some instances (e.g. Florida and Oklahoma), laws were passed that declared all municipalities previously incorporated under general laws to be legally incorporated; these laws were passed because some incorporations were in question or were “irregular” in nature.  Similarly, in Massachusetts a law passed late in the 18th century incorporated all towns in existence at the time.  However, the effective date of such laws is not used for any municipalities in the database because earlier dates of self-governance for each city, town or township have been found.

Most laws that incorporated municipalities individually or in groups were legally effective and in force from and after their passage by the legislature or their approval by the Governor.  In a few instances, such laws became legally effective without the signature of the Governor, usually when they were filed in the office of the Secretary of State, or the effective date is set forth in a statement after the text of the law.  Other legal effective dates of incorporation laws fall into several categories:  the date of a court order, the date of an order by the county board of supervisors or commissioners, the date of filing in the office of the Secretary of State or county recorder, the date the law was published in one or two local newspapers, the date the incorporation was approved by a majority vote in a referendum, the date of election of the first municipal officials, the date of the first meeting of residents (e.g. for some townships), or the date of the first meeting of elected officials.

In Iowa and Indiana, the individual laws incorporating some towns were legally effective when published in one or two local newspapers.  An example is the law incorporating Des Moines, Iowa as a city.  It was approved by the legislature on January 28, 1857 but the last section of this law states, “this act shall take effect from and after its publication in the Iowa Citizen and Iowa City Republican . . . .”  After the approval date is the statement, “I certify that the foregoing act was published in the Iowa City Republican February 12, 1857, and Iowa Citizen February 16, 1857,” followed by the Secretary of State's name (1856 Iowa Acts, Chapter 185, pp. 281-296).  Another example is the law incorporating Fort Wayne, Indiana as a city that was approved on February 22, 1840 and was effective upon publication in the Fort Wayne Sentinel (1839 Indiana Laws, Chapter 5, pp. 16-31).  However, the Fort Wayne library is unable to ascertain the date of publication so the approval date of the incorporation law is used as a proxy for the effective date.

It is a judgment call regarding which date to use as the date of initial independence for some cities when the choice is between a self-governing date and a later incorporation date but the general rule used by the compiler is the earliest date of self-determination or self-government.  In Kentucky, the legislature passed laws to establish towns on an individual basis in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Under these laws, town trustees were granted the power and authority to make such rules and regulations for the government of the town as was deemed necessary.  Therefore, towns so established in this state were self-governing from their inception and the date they were established by law is given as the earliest date of self-government.  The date of incorporation of these towns in later years are often included in the database as well (in the “Incorporated as a Town” field, abbreviated in the database as “Inc as Town.”).

There are other states that passed self-governing laws for individual municipalities as well.  Early in the history of North Carolina, self-governing laws were passed for some towns that appointed resident commissioners to regulate them.  In the late 1700s, the Maryland Legislature enacted self-governing laws that authorized elections and empowering trustees to make bylaws and regulations for some towns (e.g. Cambridge, Easton and Havre de Grace).  Also late in the 18th century, the Tennessee Legislature passed similar laws for some towns (e.g. Clarksville, Greeneville and Knoxville).  Because such laws granted self-government, they were tantamount to incorporation laws and, therefore, the date they became effective is the earliest date of self-government.  Nonetheless, the date that these towns were incorporated in a later year is often included in the “Incorporated as a Town” field, abbreviated in the database as “Inc as Town.”  For a few towns (e.g. Belleville and Edwardsville, Illinois), the incorporation of a college is the de facto earliest incorporation of the town because the college trustees were also designated trustees for the town.

The U.S. Census Bureau is a Congressionally mandated repository for incorporation dates that are used for Congressional redistricting and allocation of tax revenues based on population estimates or census enumerations of incorporated places.  However, the Census Bureau only maintains a list of municipalities in each state that were initially incorporated or that changed style and status (i.e. from an incorporated town to a city) since the last census.

The Census Bureau defines “incorporated places” as cities, boroughs, towns and villages incorporated under the laws of their state except the towns in the New England states, New York and Wisconsin, which the Census Bureau classifies as Minor Civil Divisions (see “Townships”).  The Census Bureau defines Minor Civil Division (MCD) as a “type of governmental unit that is the primary legal subdivision of a county in 28 states and created to govern or administer an area rather than a specific population.  The several types of MCDs are identified by a variety of terms, such as town, township, and district, and include both functioning and non-functioning governmental units” (citation).  The Census Bureau defines a “Central City” as “one or more of the largest population and employment centers of a metropolitan area” (Id.).  Almost all central cities are incorporated; exceptions are Honolulu, Hawaii; Arlington, Virginia; Yarmouth in Barnstable County, Massachusetts; and Dover, New Jersey (Id.).  These exceptions are termed Census Designated Places (CDPs) and are defined by the Census Bureau as “densely settled concentrations of population that are identifiable by name, but are not legally incorporated places” (Id.).  They “have no legal status, nor do these places have officials elected to serve traditional municipal functions” (Id.).  Hawaii is the only state with no incorporated places so all places or population concentrations in this state are designated CDPs by the Census Bureau.

Census Bureau population enumerations for the April 1, 2000 Census are given in the “2000 Census” field for each city in the database.  Exceptions include municipalities that were erroneously omitted from 2000 Census and the city of New Orleans, which lost significant population after Hurricane Katrina.  In such cases, a Census population estimate is supplied and the year of the estimate appears in the “% Change” field.

All but a few cities are part of a county, both geographically and politically, and the county has jurisdiction over some issues and provides services that affect the municipalities it contains.  Virginia cities are exceptions because they are completely independent of any surrounding county.  Baltimore, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and San Francisco are other exceptions because they were long ago separated from or consolidated with the surrounding county of the same name.  The U.S. Census Bureau applies the designation “independent city” to the above cities.

Other, more recent examples of city and county consolidations include Jacksonville, Florida; Athens, Georgia; and Nashville, Tennessee.  In some cases (e.g. Hampton and Virginia Beach, Virginia), new cities were formed by the merger of one or more towns or cities with the surrounding county.  There are also examples of adjacent towns being consolidated: Denver, Minneapolis, the five boroughs of New York City, Scranton, and Winston-Salem.  Mergers (e.g. Denver, Minneapolis, Scranton, and Winston-Salem) are not termed “consolidated cities” by the U.S. Census Bureau.  This designation is only applied to cities that are consolidated with the surrounding county (except that Baltimore, Philadelphia, and San Francisco are labeled “independent cities” by the Census Bureau as noted above).  The Census Bureau defines a “consolidated city” as:

. . . a unit of local government for which the functions of an incorporated place and its county or minor civil division (MCD) have merged.  The legal aspects of this action may result in both the primary incorporated place and the county or MCD continuing to exist as legal entities, even though the county or MCD performs few or no governmental functions and has few or no elected officials.  Where this occurs, and where one or more other incorporated places in the county or MCD continue to function as separate governments, even though they have been included in the consolidated government, the primary incorporated place is referred to as a 'consolidated city.' (citation)
Dates of mergers and consolidations are important milestones in the self-governing history of such cities because they represent significant, fundamental changes in local government and administration and they change the character of the political unit enough to warrant including them as separate entries in the collection.  Therefore, Athens (Georgia), Jacksonville (Florida), New York City, some Virginia cities and a few other cities have two separate records in the database.  One record is based upon the date that these municipalities were first incorporated as a town or borough and such records are labeled “(1st incorporated)” following the municipal name.  The other record is based upon the date that these cities were consolidated with the surrounding county and such records are labeled “(merger)” or “(consolidated)” after the name.  Annexations are not included unless they significantly changed the area or nature of the resultant city.

Incorporation of “town companies” and “city companies” is a phenomenon that occurred in some states (e.g. Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas).  Town or city companies (this style followed the name of the town or city) were incorporated bodies with the same basic powers as town governments but the company's stockholders were the electorate and owners of municipal property, including town lots and streets.  The directors of these companies were typically appointed, in perpetuity, by the law that incorporated the company.  These companies were later incorporated as municipalities by the state legislature or under a general incorporation law.  Town/city companies were often publicly owned but some towns (e.g. Henderson, Kentucky) were originally established by a private company.  When a municipality was originally incorporated as a town or city company, the date of that incorporation is used as the date of earliest self-government.

Many towns and villages in the U.S. were initially owned by one or several proprietors.  The proprietor(s) typically had a piece of their land surveyed and recorded the plat in the office of the county recorder.  They then had the town laid off into lots and streets, according to the plat, and sold the lots.  Often the land for a town or village was deeded or donated by the proprietor.  In the case of some mining towns, the mining company retained ownership of all the real estate in the town.

TOWNSHIPS top of page
Webster's New World Dictionary defines a township as “orig., in England, a parish or division of a parish, as a unit of territory and administration; in parts of the U.S., a division of a county, constituting a unit of local government with administrative control of local schools, roads, etc.” (p. 1504).  Under the definition for town, the above source says, “in parts of the U.S., same as TOWNSHIP; in New England and some other states, a unit of local government having its sovereignty vested in a town meeting” (Id.).  The traditional distinction between a town and a city in the New England states is that a town is “governed directly by qualified inhabitants” whereas a city is “governed indirectly by inhabitants through representatives” (citation).  In some states (e.g. New Jersey), townships with the same name as the village (or city) they contain were incorporated before the village.  In such instances, the date of incorporation of the township is included in the collection.  In other states, townships are not formally organized governing bodies but were and are merely geographic subdivisions of counties.

The U.S. Census Bureau classifies townships (including towns in the New England states, New York, and Wisconsin) as “minor civil divisions” (MCDs) and not as “incorporated places,” even when they are incorporated.  The Census Bureau defines a township as “a type of governmental unit that is the primary legal subdivision of a county in 28 states [including the New England states] and created to govern or administer an area [italics added] rather than a specific population” (U.S. Census Bureau).  The implied difference in this definition between government of an area versus a specific population is that an area may contain a dispersed population whereas the term “specific population” implies a concentration of dwellings.  In these states, townships are civil subdivisions of counties that are formed to aid in the administration of local government.  As noted earlier, the courts have ruled that “a city is a voluntary organization, whereas a county is merely an arm of state government” (citation).  As subdivisions of counties, townships were usually formed involuntarily by state legislatures, although they were sometimes created in response to a petition from local residents.  American Jurisprudence states that,

While towns and townships are sometimes referred to or treated for certain purposes as municipal corporations, they may be so regarded only in a very broad or general sense, in the absence of statutes constituting them true municipal corporations.  As ordinarily constituted, they are to be distinguished from municipal corporations in the strict or technical meaning of the term.  Also, while the character, status, or powers of a municipality may be conferred upon a town or township by appropriate legislation, not every delegation of corporate power to a town or township will constitute it a municipal corporation.  Counties, townships, towns, and some other political subdivisions of the state are not strictly municipal corporations but are public quasi-corporations, sometimes defined as involuntary political or civil subdivisions of the state, created by general laws to aid in the administration of government (citation).
In some states (e.g. Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio) townships are incorporated.  In the New England states, New York and Wisconsin, townships are called towns, though they often contained small communities and rural land at the time they were created.  In these and a few other states, such townships or towns are governed directly by electors attending annual town meetings at which a board of town supervisors is elected.  Therefore, they are the only examples of government in the U.S. that approach a true democracy.  Towns and townships in the U.S. Northeast (see "Region" under Database Components (Fields) for the list of states in this region) and a few other states (e.g. Michigan and Minnesota) generally have broad, self-governing powers so they are included in the database.  In some states, townships contain all or part of a municipality with the same name or they are coextensive with the municipality (i.e. they have the same area).

On September 14, 1752, England and its American colonies changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar by adding 11 days to the date under the old calendar.  In addition, the first day of the calendar year was changed from March 25 to the first of January.  Citations for dates in the “Source of Date” field in the database that are prior to the conversion date are given as both Julian or Old Style (O.S.) and Gregorian or New Style (N.S.) when a cited source specifies that the dates they contain are Old Style.  Historians sensitive to this issue note Old Style dates from January 1 through March 24 with a double year (i.e. February 5, 1739/40) or they specify any date prior to September 14, 1752 is Old Style.  Reprinted or reproduced British or colonial documents containing dates prior to the calendar change are, of course, Old Style.  For consistency and to avoid confusion, all self-governing dates prior to the calendar change are presented in New Style or Gregorian calendar format in the database.

There is a commentary for each state and the District of Columbia that you will receive when you purchase any significant subset of cities in the database.  If you only purchase cities in select states, you will receive the commentaries only for the states you purchase.  The state commentaries describe variations in legislative practice for municipal incorporation laws and they include a related brief history.  These summaries are not exhaustive studies in each state and are only intended to outline the changes in municipal incorporation procedure over time.  For example, at some point in their history, most states delegated the authority to incorporate municipalities, through the passage of general incorporation laws, to county commissioners (or board of supervisors), circuit courts, county courts, or the governor.  The year when such significant changes occurred, such as the passage of a general incorporation law, is provided in these introductions.  The following information pertinent to each state is included in these state commentaries, as applicable:
  • The colonial or territorial history relative to municipal incorporation laws.
  • Dates of organization as a colony or territory and admission as a state.
  • Whether the oldest cities were incorporated or chartered by a colonial or territorial legislature.
  • Practices such as establishing towns or incorporation of town companies.
  • The practice of passing self-governing laws prior to incorporating towns.
  • The period during which municipal incorporation laws were individually enacted by the legislature.
  • State constitutional provisions that affected municipal incorporation laws.
  • Whether the state contains independent, consolidated or merged cities.
  • The basis for the use of the designation "first incorporated" (abbreviated "1st inc." in the "Date Type" data field).
  • The legislative sessions that have been searched for municipal incorporation laws.
  • Reasons for under-representation of cities in some states.
  • Exceptions to the use of incorporation legal effective dates.
  • Sources of incorporation dates other than individual laws.
  • If townships are incorporated or are quasi-municipal, self-governing entities in a particular state, this is so stated.

Municipal Name.  A hyphenated name means that the municipality is consolidated with the surrounding county (e.g. Nashville-Davidson, Tennessee) or that the name resulted from a merger of two towns or cities (e.g. Winston-Salem, North Carolina) or hyphens are used to connect a series of words in the name (e.g. Carmel-by-the-Sea, California) or when a city was named after two people (e.g. Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania).  When a comma appears in a name, it either indicates that the style is part of the name and the comma is used to indicate that the style normally precedes the name (e.g. Monroeville, Municipality of) or it is part of the name, as in "Islamorada, Village of Islands."  In some instances, a designation like "1st incorporation" appears in parentheses after the city name that distinguishes the event from another, later event that significantly changed the legal boundaries of the city (like a merger or consolidation) but, in some cases, the other significant date has not been researched so there is only one entry for these cities (e.g. Nashville-Davidson, Tennessee and Carson City, Nevada).  If there is more than one entry for a particular city, designations in parentheses such as (1st incorporated), (incorporation), (2nd incorporation), (consolidated), (merger) after the city name distinguish the separate entries.  When more than one entry is included for a city, each entry contains a significant date for that city and the decision is left to the user as to which date to use.  Cities with multiple entries include one with the date of earliest self-government and one with the date the city was later consolidated with other cities and/or surrounding counties.  New York city has four entries from which to choose.  The user is not charged for multiple entries.

State.  The unabbreviated name of the state in which the municipality is located.

Region.  These are based on U.S. Census Bureau divisions:  West, abbreviated W (includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming); South Central, abbreviated SC (includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas); Central Midwest, abbreviated CM (includes Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota); Eastern Midwest, abbreviated EM (includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin); Southeast, abbreviated SE (includes Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia); and Northeast, abbreviated NE (includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont).

County.  The name of the county containing the municipality.  If the city and county are consolidated, or if the city is an “independent city,” the designation “N/A” appears instead of the county name (see “Independent, Consolidated and Merged Cities”).  If a city spans more than one county, the counties containing it are separated by slashes.  Louisiana county equivalents are called parishes.

Style.  The present style of the municipality, such as village, borough, town, township, charter township, city, independent city (abbreviated “ind. city”), or consolidated city (abbreviated “con. city”).

County seat/state capital.  If the city, town, village or borough is a county seat and/or a state capital, such designations are included in this field.

2000 Census.  Population within the corporate or legal limits at the time of the 2000 Census.  Exceptions include municipalities that were erroneously omitted from 2000 Census and the city of New Orleans, which lost significant population after Hurricane Katrina.  In such cases, a Census population estimate is supplied and the year of the estimate appears in the following field.  When there is more than one record for a particular city, the 2000 Census population only appears in the record with the latest date.  The population for other records of the same city is zero.  This allows the user to total the populations of all cities in a particular state or region without over-counting.

Percent Change in Population.  The percent change in population from the 1990 Census to the 2000 Census for some municipalities.  These were obtained when that data was readily attainable on the Bureau of the Census Web site, which is no longer the case.  Exceptions to the use of the 2000 Census enumeration (e.g. population estimates, as explained in the preceding field) are noted in this field.

Date Type.  Generally, this is the earliest incorporation, (designated “1st inc.”), charter or self-governing date (designated “self-gov.”).  When “inc.” appears in this field, the date is believed to be the earliest incorporation but it has not been confirmed as such, although it is from an authoritative source.

Earliest Self-Governing Date.  Usually this is the earliest incorporation, charter or self-governing date in standard American date format (MM/DD/YYYY).  See “When a Municipality Becomes Self-Governing” for definitions.  All dates prior to the calendar change in the American Colonies (in 1752) have been converted to New Style (N.S.) or Gregorian calendar dates (see “Dates Prior to the Calendar Change”).  This is usually the effective date of the incorporation, charter or self-governing act.  Using this field, the user can arrange self-governing dates from earliest to latest or vice versa (if you order the data in Microsoft Access format).  The type of event that occurred on this date is given in the previous field.  In many states, legislative sessions began in November or December and continued into the first few months of the following year.  Therefore, laws approved early in the following year of such sessions have citations beginning with the previous year.  An example is Los Angeles, California which was incorporated on April 4, 1850, but the legislative session began in December 1849, so the citation for this city's incorporation is: 1849 California Laws, Chapter 60.

Effective.  Usually the effective date is when the earliest incorporation or self-governing act was approved by the governor or passed by the legislature but it can also be the date the municipality was erected or granted or first chartered.  If the effective date is different than the approval or passage date, the difference is explained in this field.  In some cases, the effective date is the date of the first meeting of residents.  If this field is blank, the actual event that occurred on the date in the preceding field is unknown but it is presumed to be the effective date.

Earliest Style.  The style of the municipality (town, town company, village, hamlet, borough, township or city) on the effective date of earliest self-government, if known and as specified in the source document.  If the municipality first became self-governing under a different name or if it was in a different county at the time, or if it was enacted by a territory with a name different than the present state, such information is specified in this field.  If the original style is unknown, this field is blank.

Source of Date.  This field contains the legal or standard library citation for the source of the earliest self-governing date.  If the earliest date of self-government is the earliest incorporation, the legal citation is provided.  If the source is a book, publication, Web site, city clerk, or official repository, the standard library citation is given.  If this field begins with an abbreviation, such as LMCF in the case of many Florida cities, this is for the convenience of the compiler and a full citation follows.  For some of the oldest cities (i.e. New York, New Oleans, Philadelphia and Boston), historical background or explanations for the selection of the date chosen is provided in this field.

Former Name.  If a name change or previous name was found during the course of research, such information is provided in this field.  Prior spelling variations are also often included here.  This field is blank in most records.

Same Name.  If there is another style of municipality with the same name in the same state, usually in the same county, it is listed here.  In some states (e.g. Michigan, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania), there are examples of numerous municipalities with the same name and style but in different counties (e.g. six Washington townships in New Jersey).  This field is blank in most records.

Established.  The date the municipality was established by the legislature, which usually preceded the date it first became self-governing, but sometimes they are one in the same.  Often laws that established communities simply provided only for the laying off of the town and/or the selling of lots.  Also included in this field is the date a town became the county seat or the date a city was established as the state capital.  This field is blank in most records.

Earliest Incorporation as a Town.  The date the municipality was first incorporated as a town, if applicable.  If the municipality was never incorporated as a town, N/A appears in this field.  If the municipality was first incorporated as a village or borough, those designations are typically specified in this field, followed by the date.  If this date is unknown, the field is blank.  If the form of government is a township or New England town and has never been incorporated or was incorporated with all other townships in the state at the same time by one law, this field has N/A for not applicable.

Incorporation as a City.   The date the municipality was incorporated as a city, if applicable.  If this date has not been obtained, the field is blank.  If the municipality has never been incorporated as a city, N/A for not applicable is entered in this field.  If the earliest incorporation was as a city and it was never incorporated as a town, village or borough, the date in this field is the same as the "Earliest Self-Governing" date.

Copyright Notice and Licensing Agreement.  The information in each record in this collection is copyrighted by Gary Brand.  All rights are reserved.  No part of the information contained in this database may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the author.  This copyright notice and a brief licensing agreement are included in the "Source of Date" field of the first record when the records are ordered by municipal name, state, region, style, or earliest self-governing date.

Gary owes several people his deepest gratitude for their help and support in creating this collection.  Donna Cavallini, J.D., is a legal librarian and dear friend who, long ago, recognized the value of this work, encouraged the dissemination of it, and has been a tireless support during the years of research that preceded it.  She also collected some of the data in the collection, answered many of Gary's questions about proper citations, and helped him interpret some of the laws he encountered.  Raymond Hubbard, another dear friend and client, collected some of the dates in the collection and obtained citations for some of the more obscure references cited.  Natalie Milani, another friend, was instrumental in helping Gary conceptualize and formulate the requisite criteria for self-government.  Donna Cavallini and Raymond Hubbard also helped in the conceptualization process and have been invaluable contributors to the decisions about what to include in the explanatory sections of this commentary.  Gary is also indebted to Sarah Shepherd and Irwin Friedman for their efforts and help in obtaining dates for certain cities and in verifying the accuracy of the data.

Gary is very appreciative of the help he has received from the staff of librarians at the University of Virginia Law Library.  The wealth of historical information contained in this library and in the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia is one of the reasons that he moved to Charlottesville in 1998 and was able to acquire dates for such a diversity of municipalities in the database.  Last, but by no means least, Gary wishes to express his heartfelt thanks to his wife for her unwavering support, patience and editorial suggestions.

10,000+ Population Under 10,000 Population Cities Towns Villages Boroughs Townships Total in Database
All States1 2,178 7,138 4,261 598 1,599 819 2,038 9,316
Alabama 30 42 65 7       72
Alaska 2   2         2
Arizona 12 3 13 2       15
Arkansas 26 211 188 49       237
California 243 87 319 11       330
Colorado 12 5 15 2       17
Connecticut2 19 15 4     2 28 34
Delaware 3 14 8 9       17
Florida 130 158 209 68 11     288
Georgia 57 83 137 3       140
Hawaii3 1   CDP         1
Idaho 4 4 8         8
Illinois 192 1,051 270 17 956     1,243
Indiana 27 33 37 23       60
Iowa 30 646 676         676
Kansas 10 19 29         29
Kentucky 32 312 344         344
Louisiana 26 248 56 116 102     274
Maine2 17 373 21       369 390
Maryland 22 44 25 40 1     66
Massachusetts2 99 38 32       105 137
Michigan4 145 632 169   257   351 777
Minnesota4 32 107 99   1   39 139
Mississippi 25 51 60 16       76
Missouri 21 30 51         51
Montana 5 3 7 1       8
Nebraska 7 21 20   8     28
Nevada 8 7 15         15
New Hampshire2 18 61 8       71 79
New Jersey4 203 262 43 18 2 207 195 465
New Mexico 4   3 1       4
New York2 123 367 35   83   372 490
North Carolina 57 75 56 76       132
North Dakota 6 314 320         320
Ohio 93 194 116   171     287
Oklahoma 4   4         4
Oregon 38 189 218 9       227
Pennsylvania4 102 1,017 50 1   610 458 1,119
Rhode Island2 11 2 2       11 13
South Carolina 26 40 42 24       66
South Dakota 2 4 6         6
Tennessee 36 40 55 21       76
Texas 45 43 80 8       88
Utah 24 7 31         31
Vermont2 3 4 5   1   1 7
Virginia 32 49 35 46       81
Washington 59 139 176 22       198
West Virginia 9 24 25 8       33
Wisconsin2 43 69 68   6   38 112
Wyoming 2 1 3         3
1 This data is for all 50 states, except Hawaii (see footnote #3).  It does not include Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, or Palau because these U.S. territories have no incorporated places.
2 In the New England states, New York and Wisconsin, townships are called towns and are self-governing entities.  Despite being incorporated in some of these states, the U.S. Census Bureau classifies such townships as Minor Civil Divisions (MCDs) rather than incorporated places.
3 There are presently no incorporated municipalities in Hawaii.  Honolulu is the only entry for this state because it was incorporated at one time.  All densely populated areas in this state are termed Census Designated Places (CDPs) by the U.S. Census Bureau.
4 In these states, townships are self-governing entities but the U.S. Census Bureau classifies them as Minor Civil Divisions (MCDs).

Attention to Detail and Devotion to Accuracy

Gary Brand, Researcher & Compiler
Tallahassee, Florida

© 2004-2013 Gary Brand.  All Rights Reserved.