Polk County, North Carolina




A county created, then abolished, and again established - that is Polk County which survived a bitter controversy over where the county seat should be located.

The area now embraced in Polk County in the southwestern corner of North Carolina was settled long before the American Revolutionary War. The early tide of settlement acted as a buffer between Cherokee Indians in the West and the white settlers in the East. Cherokees had occupied the entire Alleghany Mountain area from the Blue Ridge to the Cumberland range, including the western half of Polk. Little evidence is available that they had villages in this territory. However, large numbers of the tribe used the lands as hunting grounds in summer. Hostile feelings on the Cherokees' part toward white settlers were a menace to people living near the foothills.

The North Carolina General Assembly in 1767 advised the English Colonial Governor William Tryon to meet Cherokee chiefs in the hope of setting a boundary line between the frontier of the Province of North Carolina and the Cherokee hunting grounds thus preventing disputes. The survey, resulting from the meeting, was undertaken on June 4, 1767. The treaty line extended from Reedy River to Tryon Mountain.

Until 1840 North Carolina was the notion's principal source for gold and Polk County was well prospected. The "gold rush" brought additional settlers, adding to the numbers already in the area who were establishing forms and plantations.

Across the years Polk County was a part of Bladen, then of Anson, Mecklenburg and Tryon counties. Still later it was part of Rutherford, and finally it was formed from portions of Rutherford and Henderson counties.

Initially counties were formed to hold court for the local inhabitants, to operate a jail, and to build roads. In age North Carolina's 100 counties range from Chowan, Currituck, Posquotank and Perquimans, created in 1670, to Avery and Hoke, created in 191 1. In size the counties range from Chowan with 180 square miles to Sampson, with 962.

The original formation of Polk County took place in 1847 and the area was named in honor of the late Colonel William Polk of American Revolutionary War fame.

Controversy among the population over the location of the county seat resulted in an Act on January 16, 1849 by the General Assembly repealing the Act which had created Polk County in the first place. A supplementary Act, passed a few days after January 16, provided that the lands which had been taken from Rutherford and Henderson counties should be returned to these counties.

Dr. Columbus Mills and Colonel William F. Jones of Cleveland were elected to the General Assembly in 1854 and their combined efforts recreated Polk County under Chapter 10, Public Laws of 1854-1855, ratified by the General Assembly on January 20, 1855. This provided that the county seat "shall be located by J. J. Irvin of Burke, Major Benjamin Burgin of McDowell and John R. Logan of Cleveland, or a majority of them, at the geographical center of the county, or within two miles thereto." A further section of this low provided that the county seat "be named Columbus in honor of Dr. Mills whose efforts had resulted in the reestablishment of the county of Polk."

Polk was scarcely six years old and had just begun to function in the family of North Carolina counties when the Civil War intervened. In the ensuing four years of conf lict (I 861-1865) her economy, as in other counties in the state, was severely taxed.

At the end of the war her people were in dire straits. Polk County did not recover from paralyzing lethargy following the Civil War until about 1900.

The town of Saluda was incorporated by the General Assembly of 1881. In 1885 the General Assembly incorporated Tryon and Mill Spring as municipalities.

During the administration of Governor Charles Brantley Aycock, 1901-1905, there was an awakening along educational lines. One of Polk County's first major schools, still used today, was the Stearns School in Columbus, made possible by Mr. Frank Stearns who settled in Columbus from Cleveland, Ohio. Mr. Stearns gave land and funds to help build the school which had a major influence on education in the area. Hundreds of children from the mountains went to Stearns School in the days when there was a dearth of school facilities.

Descendants of many of the original families helping to establish and settle Polk County still live here. The names of Gibbs, Laughter, Pace, Arledge, Lankford, Newman, Wilkins, Green, Williams, Fagan, Durham, Bradley, Fisher, Jackson, Nodine, Mills represent the fourth generation of Polk County Pioneers and there are probably many more. Few centurion counties anywhere, of small population, can count today so high a percentage of descendants from its first settler families.


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 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 Charleston 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 the 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 this the highest place on White Oak -- Tryon Peak.

Determination of the boundary, however, failed to insure 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, named to honor the Revolutionary War hero, 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 courthouse, built of handmade brick in 1855. The ancient slave block still remains on the courthouse 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 Low Country 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 egress 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 Columbus NC.

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