According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,570 km² (606 mi²). 1,565 km² (604 mi²) of it is land and 5 km² (2 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 0.33% water.
As of the census2 of 2000, there are 17,119 people, 7,211 households, and 5,141 families residing in the county. The population density is 11/km² (28/mi²). There are 9,342 housing units at an average density of 6/km² (16/mi²). The racial makeup of the county is 97.14% White, 0.49% Black or African American, 0.68% Native American, 0.12% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.16% from other races, and 1.39% from two or more races. 0.98% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There are 7,211 households out of which 25.80% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.90% are married couples living together, 8.10% have a female householder with no husband present, and 28.70% are non-families. 25.60% of all households are made up of individuals and 14.40% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.34 and the average family size is 2.79.
In the county the population is spread out with 21.90% under the age of 18, 6.30% from 18 to 24, 22.80% from 25 to 44, 25.50% from 45 to 64, and 23.60% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 44 years. For every 100 females there are 92.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 90.20 males.
The median income for a household in the county is $25,152, and the median income for a family is $29,691. Males have a median income of $23,329 versus $16,884 for females. The per capita income for the county is $14,143. 18.20% of the population and 13.20% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 25.40% are under the age of 18 and 13.20% are 65 or older.