History of Harju County
The oldest records describing the administrative division of Estonia date back to the beginning of the 13th century. At that time Harju County was situated further inland and covered the larger part of the territory of the present-day Rapla County. Most of the present-day Harjumaa was then part of the Revala County and was divided between the parishes of Vomentaga, Ocrielæ and Rebala. The majority of the villages found in Northern Estonia had already taken shape by that time.
Revala and Harju were amalgamated into Harjumaa in the middle of the 13th century, after the submission of Northern Estonia to the Danish Crown. By the end of the 13th century, ecclesiastical parishes had emerged around churches: Keila, Nissi, Jüri (then Vaskjala), Jõelähtme, Harju-Jaani, Kuusalu, Hageri, Juuru, Kose, Rapla and Harju-Madise. In 1638 Risti, formerly part of Harju-Madise, became a separate parish. Parishes eventually proved instrumental in creating the ethnographic, cultural and dialectal homogeneity of the rural people.
Harjumaa retained the boundaries fixed under Denmark’s rule for the next 700 years. The administrative functions performed by the county primarily included national tax collection, military service, and regulation of ecclesiastical and judicial affairs, combined with the nobility’s right of self-government. The manorial economy undergoing substantial development and the share of state-owned land holdings constantly declining, the local administrative and law enforcement authority was gradually transferred to the lords of the manor. By the 17th century, the manor had essentially become an administrative unit. The territory of the manorial estate populated by peasants became known as a township.
When serfdom was abolished in the 19th century, townships were gradually transformed into peasant communes, which took over the local administrative tasks from the manor. During the Republic of Estonia (1918-1939), Harjumaa had 43 townships, of which only 32 persisted after the reform of 1939.
In 1950 the Soviet regime dissolved townships and counties as administrative units. Townships were reorganised into village councils. The Harju County was divided into five regions: Harju, Keila, Kose, Loksa and Rapla. Soon enough, however, a merger process was launched, by 1962 fusing the aforementioned five regions into two larger ones – the Harju Region and the Rapla Region. In 1990 the regions were renamed counties again. After the restoration of the Republic of Estonia, the village council was reorganised into township and granted a municipal status.