Formed on February 20, 1805, Athens County was named for Athens, Greece. Athens County was originally part of Washington County. Ohio University, the earliest institution of higher education in Ohio, was established in Athens in 1804. The county also was home to Ohio's first library, the Coonskin Library, established in 1804.
Athens County is located in the southeastern portion of Ohio and sits squarely in the heart of Appalachia. Its southeastern corner resides on the Ohio River. The county consists of 507 square miles of land, and it is primarily rural, with only 1.4 percent of the county deemed to be urban areas. The county seat is Athens, which is the largest city in the county, with a population of just over 21,300 people in 2000. The county experienced a 4.5 percent population growth between 1995 and 2000, with approximately 62,200 people calling the county home in 2000.
The largest employer in Athens County is the government, principally Ohio University and the county's two state parks and national forest, including Zaleski State Forest, Burr Oak State Park, and Wayne National Forest. The county's next largest employers occur in sales positions and in service industries. In 1995, the per capita was 18,202 dollars, with over nineteen percent of the county's residents living in poverty, one of the highest rates in Ohio.
Most voters in Athens County claim to be independents, yet in recent years, they have overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates at the national level.
Educator William Holmes McGuffey ranks among Athens County's more famous residents.