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Philadelphia County is the most populous county in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The county is the second smallest county in Pennsylvania by land area. Philadelphia County is one of the three original counties, along with Chester and Bucks counties, created by William Penn during November 1682. Since 1854, the county has been coterminous with the City of Philadelphia, which also serves as its seat of government. Philadelphia County is the economic and cultural anchor of the Delaware Valley, the eighth-largest combined statistical area in the United States, with a population of 7.2 million.

Native American tribes of Lenape were the first known occupants in the area that became Philadelphia County. The first European settlers were Swedes and Finns who arrived during 1638. The Netherlands seized the area during 1655, but lost control to England during 1674. William Penn received his charter for Pennsylvania from Charles II of England during 1681, and November 1682 he divided Pennsylvania into three counties. During the same year, Philadelphia was planned and was made the county seat and the capital of the Province of Pennsylvania.

Penn wanted Philadelphia, meaning “love brotherly”, to be a place where religious tolerance and the freedom to worship were ensured. Philadelphia’s name is shared with an ancient city in Asia Minor mentioned by the Bible’s Book of Revelation. It was William Penn’s desire, as a Quaker, that his “Holy Experiment” would be found blameless at the Last Judgment.

When established, Philadelphia County consisted mainly of the area from the Delaware River west between the Schuylkill River to the south and the border with Bucks County to the north; the western boundary was undefined. Two counties would be formed out of Philadelphia County, Berks County which was formed during 1752 (from parts of Chester, Lancaster, and Philadelphia counties), and Montgomery County established during 1784. From these separations, as well as other border changes, was created the present-day boundaries of the county.

The City of Philadelphia, as planned by Penn, comprised only that portion of the present day city situated between South and Vine Streets and the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. Other settlements were made beyond the boundaries of the city, and in the course of time they became incorporated separately and had separate governments.

Several of these settlements were situated immediately contiguous to the “city proper” of Philadelphia, such as Southwark and Moyamensing in the south, the Northern Liberties District, Kensington, Spring Garden and Penn District to the north, and West Philadelphia and Blockley to the west — which combined with the City of Philadelphia formed practically one continuously urban area, the whole group being known abroad simply as Philadelphia.

Besides these, there were a number of other outlying townships, villages and settlements throughout the county. Over time, as the population expanded out from the City of Philadelphia, those closer to the City of Philadelphia became absorbed into Philadelphia.

During this period, the city government of Philadelphia and the county government of Philadelphia acted separately. By the mid-19th century, a more structured government bureaucracy was needed. A reform charter, on February 2, 1854, defined all the boroughs, townships and districts of the County of Philadelphia as being within the City of Philadelphia, thus abolishing the patchwork of cities, boroughs, and townships that had comprised Philadelphia County since its founding.

The city-county consolidation was a result of the inability of a colonial-type government by committees to adapt to the needs of a growing city for new public services, for example, better streets, police, transportation, sanitation and schools.

The newly integrated districts had marked characteristics between them, but over time, after the consolidation, these characteristics were generally integrated into the City of Philadelphia. Presently, the names of some of these old districts survive as the names of neighborhoods in the city, with their boundaries roughly matching their historic boundaries.

During 1951, a new law known as the Home Rule Charter merged city and county offices completely. This new charter provided the city with a common structure and outlined the “strong mayor” form of government that is still used.

The county offices were merged with the city government during 1952, effectively eliminating the county as a government. Even though the county no longer has a government structure by law, in both the Unconsolidated Pennsylvania Statutes and The Philadelphia Code and Charter, the County of Philadelphia is still an entity within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is thus subject to the provisions and laws of the Commonwealth concerning counties. Exceptions include restrictions stated in the Home Rule Charter of Philadelphia, Act of Consolidation, 1854, and subsequent legislation. The county also is the only First Class County, meaning it had a population of 1.5 million or more at the last census, in the Commonwealth.

Philadelphia has become racially and ethnically diverse over the years, and this process continues. Since 1990, (the year that immigration began increasing), thousands of immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Europe have arrived in the county. Presently, the city has some of the largest Irish, Italian, German, Polish, Puerto Rican, Korean, Vietnamese, Russian, Ukrainian, Jamaican, Chinese, Arab, Thai, and Cambodian populations in America. The county has the fourth largest concentration of African Americans in North America, including large numbers of Liberians, Nigerians, and Sudanese. The Northeast section of the city, and more significantly the suburbs of Philadelphia, contain large numbers of Indian Americans and Mexicans.

At the 2010 census, the city was 41.0% White, 43.4% Black or African American, 0.5% American Indian or Alaskan Native, 6.3% Asian, 0.0% Native Hawaiian, 2.8% two or more race, and 5.9% were some other race. 12.3% of the population were Hispanic or Latino.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Philadelphia County has a total area of 143 square miles (370 km2), of which 134 square miles (350 km2) is land and 8.6 square miles (22 km2) (6.0%) is water. It is the second-smallest county in Pennsylvania by area. Bodies of water include the Delaware River, Schuylkill River, Cobbs Creek, Wissahickon Creek, and Pennypack Creek.

The lowest point in the county is 10 feet above sea level near Fort Mifflin in Southwest Philadelphia, at the convergence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. The highest point is in Chestnut Hill, at 432 feet above sea level, near Evergreen Place, just north and west of Evergreen Avenue.

Currently, Philadelphia County has no government structure. Prior to the Act of Consolidation during 1854 a Board of Commissioners governed the county in accordance with the law of Pennsylvania at the time.

The origins of the Board of Commissioners are found in the office of Tax Assessor of Philadelphia County, established by an Act of the Pennsylvania General Assembly on November 27, 1700. Tax Assessor was an office of six persons, elected annually to estimate the County’s fiscal needs, to make an assessment and levy a tax to meet them, and to appoint its collectors and the County Treasurer.

On March 28, 1710, the Assembly approved an act that created an appointed Board of County Commissioners, which was changed to a notable elected board during 1725. The Commissioners were empowered to demand accountings of the Assessors and Collectors and to appoint new collectors if necessary. Subsequent acts passed by the Assembly during 1715, 1718 and 1722 increased the power and the scope of the Board, granting the Commissioners authority to share with the assessors in the assessment process and in the allocation of tax receipts among the various county projects, to participate with the appointment of the County Treasurer, and to issue warrants and levy fines against delinquent taxpayers and collectors. Other Acts passed during the eighteenth century gave the Commissioners regulatory powers and maintenance functions in regard to county lands, roads, bridges, wharves and landings, courts and the county prison.

During 1780, the Assembly passed an Act that abolished the Board of County Assessors and left its functions with the Commissioners alone, who continued to appoint the assessors and collectors of each of the county’s boroughs, townships and districts. Further legislation during 1799 and 1805 formally established the Commissioners’ functions of furnishing lists of voters to election officers and aiding the Sheriff in the selection of jurors, as both were based upon lists of taxpayers. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the Commissioners’ duties were further increased to include the leasing of polling places, the provision of ballot boxes, and related duties.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.org

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