Created as a county in 1792, it was named for Norfolk, England. Between 1815 and 1825 the capital of the London District was located in the Norfolk community of Vittoria. Primarily an agricultural region, the county was noted for its fruit production in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Around World War I, the introduction of flue-cured tobacco dramatically increased the value of local crops. It was also the home of many small factories, particularly in the towns of SIMCOE and Waterford. In 1908 the first provincial forest nursery in Canada was established at St Williams.
In 1974 Norfolk merged with a neighbouring county, Haldimand, into the Regional Municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk. In 2001 the region split into 2 municipalities, roughly coinciding with the original county boundaries. Norfolk County consists of a number of smaller towns and townships, including the townships of Norfolk and Delhi, the town of Simcoe and part of the former city of NANTICOKE.
Agriculture is a significant part of Norfolk County's economy. Tobacco and small grains are key field crops; the area also produces alternative crops, including peanuts and ginseng. Service businesses and small to medium manufacturing predominates, although many residents are employed in heavy industries in neighbouring Haldimand County centered on the hamlet of Nanticoke.
Tourism is increasingly important, especially along the Lake ERIE shore. Norfolk County has outstanding natural attractions, notably the Long Point BIOSPHERE RESERVE. Pride in its history is evident in historic sites and excellent small museums. Backus Heritage Conservation Area, near Port Rowan, includes a mill built around 1798. It is the oldest continually-operating mill in Ontario. The Norfolk Historical Society, founded in 1900, runs Simcoe's Eva Brook Donly Museum and maintains a significant archival collection. Among Norfolk County's most famous residents were writer Frederick Philip GROVE; educator Egerton RYERSON; diarist Amelia Ryerse Harris (1798-1882); and hockey star Leonard "Red" KELLY.