St. Louis County office buildings will be closed Monday, May 27, in observance of Memorial Day.

County History



St. Louis County History

St. Louis County was established by legislative act on March 1, 1856. It is named for the St. Louis River, which flows through the County's southeast corner into Lake Superior.

The courthouse in the county seat of Duluth was built in 1909, and followed the next year with the building of a courthouse in Virginia.

Today, St. Louis County continues to contribute to the state and national economy in a variety of ways. For instance, we are home to the majority of Minnesota's iron mines, which produce 85% of the country's domestic iron. The Port of Duluth-Superior is the #1 tonnage port on the Great Lakes, handling a variety of cargo including coal, iron ore, grain, limestone, wood pulp and wind turbine components. It's been said that the United States couldn't have won World War II without the iron ore mined on the Iron Range, and the shipbuilding that took place in the shipyards in the Duluth-Superior Harbor.

The mission of the St. Louis County is to promote health and safety, ensure sound infrastructure, embrace our natural resources, and support an environment where communities prosper.


County Government Structure

Source: Association of Minnesota Counties

History of County Government

Minnesota’s 87 counties have changed from a purely quasi-municipal corporation of the state, to a general-purpose form of government which, for many counties, has necessitated a change in the way services are delivered and, sometimes, the structure of the county itself. In their infancy, counties were organized to be the administrative arm of the state. But now counties provide services far beyond the original scope of county government.

Traditionally, counties performed state mandated duties including assessment of property, keeping property records and vital statistics, maintaining rural roads, administration of elections and judicial functions, keeping the peace in rural areas, and providing relief for the poor. Today, counties have moved into other areas, such as public health and human services, corrections, child protection, library services, planning and zoning, economic development, parks and recreation, water quality protection, and solid waste management. Relief for the poor is now generally provided by the federal and state governments through their income maintenance programs.

County Boards of Commissioners

County boards are elected by voters of a specific geographic district, serve a four-year term, and are responsible for the operation of the county and its delivery of services. There are usually five commissioners on county boards in Minnesota, but counties with a population over 100,000 may, by board resolution, increase the size of the board from five to seven members. Six counties - Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, and St. Louis - have boards consisting of seven members.

Election and Appointment of Other County Officials

Beginning with President Andrew Jackson’s administration (1829-1837), it became a common practice to increase the number of elective county offices. Appointed positions were changed to elected ones, and new elective offices were created. This caused the list of elected county officials to grow from a few, such as the coroner and the sheriff, to many, including the auditor, recorder, treasurer, surveyor, clerk of court, watershed district directors, judges of probate, assessors, and county attorneys.

Fifty Years of County Reform

Since the mid-1960s, Minnesota counties have gradually reduced the number of elective county offices. Hennepin and Ramsey counties were the first to benefit from special organizational reform legislation. Today, the list includes Anoka, Blue Earth, Scott, and Washington. In those counties, the positions of county auditor, treasurer and recorder are no longer elective positions, but the county sheriff, county attorney, and watershed district directors continue to be elected. In addition, Dakota, Olmsted, and St. Louis counties appoint the position of county recorder, but the county auditor/treasurer continues to be elected. In recent years, twenty-nine Minnesota counties have combined the position of county auditor and county treasurer into one elected position.

1973 saw the passage of the “Optional Forms of County Government” legislation.  While this offered several major options for the modernization of county government, most counties have instead made structural changes by seeking special legislation. For example, in 1987 enabling legislation was passed to allow Ramsey County to become a “home rule charter” county. With this authority, Ramsey County now operates under the guidance of that charter and is the only home rule charter county in Minnesota.

Professional County Management

County boards across the state have recognized the need to adopt a professional management model for their counties, mostly as a result of increasing demands for the delivery of services.

St. Louis County adopted a “County Administrator Plan” for the professional management of the county in 1987. Under this plan of government, a County Administrator is appointed by the County Board to serve as the head of the county, managing all county affairs placed in the administrator’s charge. If required by the County Board, the administrator acts as the supervisor of all county institutions, departments, and agencies, and of all non-elected department heads.

The administrator is also responsible for the preparation and execution of the county budget, including a long-range capital expenditure plan. Currently, nearly sixty Minnesota counties have established the position of county administrator or coordinator. (Ramsey County uses the title of County Manager.) The county administrator serves at the pleasure of the County Board, and is the only employee hired directly by county commissioners.


Duluth Office
100 North 5th Avenue West
Duluth, MN 55802
Phone: 218-726-2000

Ely Office
320 Miners Drive East
Ely, MN 55731
Phone: 218-365-2399

Hibbing Office
1810 12th Avenue East
Hibbing, MN 55746
Phone: 218-312-8100

Virginia Office
300 South 5th Avenue
Virginia, MN 55792
Phone: 218-749-7100