Polk County News, November 24, 2004 Page B l
Happy 165th Polk
by Marian Bailey Presswood
Polk County Historian


It was on November 28, 1839 that a new county was organized after
having petitioned the General Assembly to create the new county from
part of Bradley arid McMinn to be known and distinguished by the name
of Polk County in honor of his excellency. James K Polk' then Governor
of the State of Tennessee
The town of Columbus on the north bank of the Hiwasseee River was
already a thriving settlement, so it was a natural to be the first county seat.
However, that honor was short lived and the vote at the first County Court
meeting. In December 1839 was to move the seat four mile's south to
McCamy s Stock Farm, which is the present location of Benton First
known as Bentonvllle, a post office was established on July 15 1840 with
postmaster Jonas Hoyl, but on August 15 1845 the name was changed to
Benton.
We recently ran across a prediction made by an early Polk historian that
in a few years Benton would be a thriving metropolis with housed covering
Chilhowee Mountain. And, he may very well have been right, had not the
Cherokee National Forest swallowed up the whole mountain along with
approximately 155 thousand acres in Polk County. However, many native
Polk Countians would probably agree that we would much rather look at
the pristine mountainside with only a few cabins at the Benton Springs
than have the mountain full of houses that was envisioned (With apologies
to County Executive Firestone and Mayors Hood, Gibson and Stephens
who are committed to the promotion of growth of the county )
Actually. those first settlers probably wouldn't to too amazed at the growth
of the town they first laid out into 223 lots With the exception of Benton
Shooters, and a couple of service stations almost all the businesses are
still located around the courthouse square In fact, the William Wiggins
house still stands right there, it's just missing its porches and is called The
Drug Store these days The Harbison Hotel has been replaced with the
Golden Gallon, and the Benton Banking Company has moved a few feet
- on up the street to the former location of the old Clemmer Building Orchids
& Ivy Florist is on the old Lodge building site, lot # 134 which was
originally purchased by Alfred Weaver for $171
And, looking at pictures of the early Main Streets of Ducktown and
Copperhill, one could probably still recognize them as the Main street of
today Several of the old Burra Burra Mine buildings still sit atop the hill
overlooking Ducktown, and if we removed the automobiles and paved
streets, those early settlers wouldn' t feel too out of place driving their
horse and bugg`ies down the streets of Copperhill
The population of Polk County leveled out about 1910 and has not
fluctuated greatly until recent years The first year's census enumerated
3,570 people, (plus 304 slaves), the 1850 census showed a population of
6,338 and 1860's count was 8,759 The county lost 1,370 people after the
Civil War when many families moved west, leaving an 1870 population of
7,673 By 1880 we almost held our own with 7,269 and the 1890 count
was up a bit with 8,361 The 1900 enumeration was 11,357 1910 increased
to 14,116 and stayed within a couple of thousand, more or less, from then
until 2000 when the count went to 16,000 for the first time
Former county historian Roy Lillard almost always closed any article he
did on Polk County with a quote from A J Williams' book, The Confederate
History of Polk County, In which he stated, "No new county was ever settled
by a better citizenship Very few of them were wealthy, even for that day
and time, but they were industrious and frugal and were soon in good
circumstances " That remains about the best descriptions of our Polk Folk
that one could come up with today
Happy 165th Birthday to all of us who are proud to be called Polk
Countians!