Polk County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2010)



William Polk


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1760s / Settlers of Tryon County

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Battles & Skirmishes

Coming Later

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Airports in Polk County

Maps of Polk County

Books About Polk County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Polk County

Polk County was formed in 1855 from Rutherford and Henderson counties. It was named in honor of Lt.-Colonel William Polk "who rendered distinguished service in the Battles of Germantown, Brandywine and Eutaw, in all of which he was wounded." It is in the southwestern section of the state and is bounded by the state of South Carolina and Henderson and Rutherford counties in North Carolina. The present land area is 237.85 square miles and the 2010 population was 20,510.

The Legislative Act directed that the court and records should be kept at the home of J. Mills until a court house could be erected. It also named commissioners to obtain a site for public buildings, lay out a town by the name of Columbus, and erect a court house. Columbus has been the county seat ever since. 

By 1540, some 47 years after Columbus discovered the New World, Hernando DeSoto had arrived in the mountain country, probably here in Polk County, where he found the Cherokee tribe already in an advanced state of civilization. The Indians lived in substantially-built log houses. Though accomplished hunters, they subsisted chiefly by their knowledge of agriculture. They raised corn, pumpkins, and beans.

The area was a fine place in which to live, as the first white settlers quickly learned. Several decades before the American Revolution a sprinkling of families had set down their roots in the mountain coves in the midst of the Cherokee hunting lands. By 1768, traders were already traveling up the old Blackstock Road from Charlestown to bargain for furs and hides. The proximity of the two civilizations resulted in many clashes and much bloodshed. The conflicts became so numerous that Royal Governor William Tryon, himself journeyed west from the colonial capital to parley with the Cherokees and negotiate a boundary line.

The new line agreed upon extended from a point near Greenville in South Carolina to the highest peak on White Oak Mountain. When the treaty had been signed, Governor Tryon was flattered to learn that the settlers had named the highest place on White Oak as Tryon Peak.

Determination of the boundary, however, failed to ensure safety for the pioneers to the east or for Indians to the west. Many vicious raids continued despite the establishment of forts. One of the heroes of the time was the Indian, Skyuka.

As its population slowly increased, the area became a favorite stopping place for drovers transporting livestock from Kentucky and Tennessee to seaboard harbors. With political independence, towns gradually emerged.

Polk County, named to honor the Revolutionary War hero, Lt.-Colonel William Polk, did not achieve county status until 1855. Columbus, the county seat, was named for Dr. Columbus Mills of Mill Spring. One of his ancestors, Colonel Ambrose Mills, was a Loyalist who was hanged by Patriots after his capture at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The town of Columbus is distinguished by an imposing court house, built of handmade brick in 1855. The ancient slave block still remains on the court house lawn.

Tryon is the largest city in the area and is most unusual in the versatility of its residents. Half the population has migrated from other parts of the country to enjoy the mild climate and beauty of the surrounding countryside. The transplanted residents are chiefly writers, artists, educators, professional people, and industrial executives who are fascinated with the tranquility of the community life and who contribute so greatly to the social advantages of the city. The hunting country abounds in large estates and stables to make an equestrian paradise. There are hundreds of miles of marked riding trails. The fox hunts, horse shows, and steeplechase are well known throughout the country.

Saluda, on the county's western border, has long enjoyed fame as a vacation area and place of retirement. Many of the lowcountry people seek its pleasant summer climate as well as the sheer beauty of its mountain setting. Saluda is noted for its fine apple orchards which constitute the main source of farm income.

Other communities such as Mill Spring, Sunny View, and Green Creek have retained the charm of the old South. The local roads are all good and provide easy access. An interstate highway, extending from Charleston to Asheville, provides convenient access from the outside world.

The mountain slopes of the region experience a climatic phenomenon known as the thermal belt. This is due to a temperature inversion which results in a belt, rather indefinite in width, wherein the frosts of the valley - or the freezes of the higher altitudes - do not occur. Botanically, the area is rich in native flora.

Lakes Adger and Lanier provide aquatic sports and fishing. Some of the clear, cold mountain streams offer good trout fishing in season. Golf, riding and hiking attract devotees who need not await appropriate seasons for such outdoor activities.

The county boasts a small museum now housed in the former baggage room of the Southern Railway Station in the heart of Tryon.

The inborn courtesy of the native people makes even daily shopping chores a memorable experience with, "You all come back."

Written by Joseph Placak [with minor edits]

© 2019 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved