Polk County is located on the southeastern corner of Tennessee and is bordered by North Carolina and Georgia. The county was established in 1839 and named in honor of Governor and President James K. Polk and the county seat is Benton. One of the prominent industries in the history of the county has been copper mining that was first discovered at Ducktown in 1843. As a result of the copper mining, vegetation was killed for miles near the sites and left the landscape open to erosion. In addition to copper mining, the county has three hydroelectric plants on the Ocoee River and one on the Hiwassee River that are operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Polk County has eight Century Farms and the oldest is the Boyd Farm that was established in 1838. For more information regarding Polk County, please go to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History & Culture website.
Polk County was originally part of Cherokee territory that once included 40,000 square miles in portin sof eight states. The first european people to tread the soil of what is now Polk County were probably Spaniards–members of the Hernando DeSoto expedition. DeSoto and his men are believed to have camped on the Hiwassee River June 1, 1540. The white man acquired what is now Polk County from the Cherokees by two treaties–the Calhoun Treaty of 1819 and the Treaty of Removal of 1835. Basically, the Cherokees inhabited all of present-day Polk County.
Polk County became Tennessee’s 72nd county, and the 12th county in the United States to carry the name of Polk–all being named for James K. Polk except the one in North Carolina. Polk County was created by an act of the Tennessee General Assembly, November 28, 1839, from parts of Bradley and McMinn Counties.
By 1840 Polk County reported a population of 3,570 including 304 slaves, and by 1850 the populatio reached 5,884 including 400 slaves. By 1900, the county reported a population of 11,054. On February 4, 1840, Polk County’s first election was held to decide on the permanent County Seat. Columbus had served as the temporary County Seat. Benton, also known as Four Mile Stand and located on James McKamy’s farm, was chosen by a handsome majority of 103 votes. It was named in honor of Thomas Hart Benton, A U.s. Senator for Missouri.
At the time Polk County was formed, the Ducktown or Copper Basin attracted few settlers because of its location and poor soil conditions. However, following the discovery of copper in 1843, the area later flourished. At one time in mineral resources Polk County was one of the richest counties in the state.