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Columbus County, North Carolina facts for kids

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Columbus County
Columbus County Courthouse in Whiteville
Columbus County Courthouse in Whiteville
Flag of Columbus County
Official seal of Columbus County
"We are ready to grow with you."
Map of North Carolina highlighting Columbus County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  North Carolina
Founded 1808
Named for Christopher Columbus
Seat Whiteville
Largest community Whiteville
 • Total 955.00 sq mi (2,473.4 km2)
 • Land 938.12 sq mi (2,429.7 km2)
 • Water 16.88 sq mi (43.7 km2)  1.77%
 • Total 50,623
 • Estimate 
 • Density 53.96/sq mi (20.83/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 7th

Columbus County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina, on its southeastern border. Its county seat is Whiteville. As of the 2020 census, the population is 50,623. The 2020 census showed a loss of 12.9% of the population from that of 2010. This included an inmate prison population of approximately 2,500.


Early history

The area comprising Columbus County was originally inhabited by the Waccamaw people. Historically, the "eastern Siouans" had territories extending through the area of Columbus County prior to any European exploration or settlement in the 16th century.

English colonial settlement in what was known as Carolina did not increase until the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Following epidemics of new infectious diseases, to which indigenous peoples were exposed in trading and other contact, the Waccamaw and other Native Americans often suffered disruption and fatalities when caught between larger tribes and colonists in the Tuscarora and Yamasee wars. Afterward most of the Tuscarora people migrated north, joining other Iroquoian-speaking peoples of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy in New York State by 1722. At that point the leaders declared their migration ended and the tribe officially relocated to that area.

The Waccamaw Siouan ancestors retreated for safety to an area of Green Swamp near Lake Waccamaw. Throughout the 19th century, the Waccamaw Siouan were seldom mentioned in the historical record. If descendants intermarried with whites and/or African Americans, their children were assumed to lose their Indian status, although they were often reared in Indian culture. Since North Carolina was a slave society, whites classified anyone with visible African features as slaves and blacks first.

Colonial settlement

As America was colonized by the British, the area encompassing Columbus County was first organized part of the Bath Precinct of North Carolina, established by the British Crown in 1696. In 1729 a southern portion was split off by the General Assembly to create New Hanover County, and five years later Bladen was formed out of part of New Hanover. In 1764 Brunswick County was formed out of Bladen and New Hanover. Throughout this time the area was largely forested and had few white settlers, though the General Assembly established two roads through the area in 1764. William Bartram, a botanist from Pennsylvania, journeyed to Lake Waccamaw to study the flora and fauna of the region in the 1730s, creating the first detailed written account of the area. At least two skirmishes of the American Revolutionary War were fought on Columbus soil: one near Pireway and another at Brown Marsh.


Columbus County was created by the General Assembly on December 15, 1808, to make it easier for local residents to conduct official business without having to travel to the seat of Brunswick County. Columbus was formed from parts of Bladen and Brunswick counties and named in honor of Christopher Columbus. The county's borders were modified several times by legislative act between 1809 and 1821. In 1810, a community was platted on land owned by James B. White for the purpose of creating a county seat. It was originally known as White's Crossing before being incorporated as Whiteville in 1832. The first courthouse and jail, made of wood, were built there in 1809.


Loading strawberries in Chadbourn, 1907
Farmers loading strawberries onto rail cars in Chadbourn c. 1907

At the time of its creation, Columbus County was sparsely populated. A new brick courthouse and jail were erected in 1852. The construction of a railroad along the Bladen-Columbus border in the 1860s spurred growth. The laying of the Wilmington, Columbia and Augusta Railroad later in the decade connected Whiteville with Wilmington and supported the development of strong lumber and naval stores industries. The county also produced corn, wheat, cotton, and wool.

Most white men in the county fought during the American Civil War, while most free blacks and mulattoes were exempted from service. The county was spared direct fighting, but the war demands stressed the local labor and food markets, and severe rains in 1863 diminished grain yields. Most residents resorted to trade via the barter system. After Wilmington fell to Union troops in February 1865, Union marauders sacked Whiteville. After the war Columbus' economy grew more heavily reliant on corn and cotton production. In 1877, part of Brunswick County was annexed to Columbus.

In the post-Reconstruction period, after white Democrats regained dominance in politics, they emphasized white supremacy and classified all non-whites as black. For instance, Native Americans could not attend schools for white children. Toward the end of the century, the U.S. Census recorded common Waccamaw surnames among individuals in the small isolated communities of this area.

Tobacco was introduced as a crop in Columbus in 1896, and that year a tobacco warehouse was established in Fair Bluff. It remained a marginal crop until 1914, and at the conclusion of World War I overtook cotton as the county's major cash crop. The county's first bank was opened in 1903. Strawberries were introduced at Chadbourn in 1895, and by 1907 Chadbourn had become one of the leading strawberry producers in the world. Another courthouse and jail were built in 1914.

Economic stagnation

The manufacturing sector in Columbus County began a decline in the 1990s. Between 1999 and 2014, the county lost about 2,000 manufacturing jobs. The number of local farmers also declined. The county was heavily impacted by Hurricane Florence in 2018.


Columbus County is bordered by Bladen County, Pender County, Brunswick County, and Robeson County in North Carolina and Horry County and Dillon County in South Carolina. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total land area of 938.1 square miles (2,430 km2), of which 938.12 square miles (2,429.7 km2) is land and 16.88 square miles (43.7 km2) (1.77%) is water. It is the third-largest county in North Carolina by land area. Columbus is drained by the Lumber River and Waccamaw River. There are several large lakes within the county, including Lake Tabor and Lake Waccamaw.

One of the most significant geographic features is the Green Swamp, a 15,907-acre area in the north-eastern portion of the county. Highway 211 passes alongside it. The swamp contains several unique and endangered species, such as the venus flytrap. The area contains the Brown Marsh Swamp, and has a remnant of the giant longleaf pine forest that once stretched across the Southeast from Virginia to Texas.

State and local protected areas

Major water bodies


As of the 2020 census, there were 50,623 people residing in the county. Unlike the 2010 census figures, the population of incarcerated persons were included in the 2020 figures. In proportions, the county was racially/ethnically 59.3 percent white, 28.6 percent black, 5.8 percent Hispanic, 3.4 percent American Indian, 0.3 percent Asian, 0.2 percent Pacific Islander, 3 percent two or more races, and 0.3 percent other. Compared to state averages, the county reported higher proportions of black and American Indian residents and lower proportions of white, Asian, and Hispanic residents. Whiteville is the largest municipality.

Demographic change

Between 2010 and 2020, Columbus County lost 7,475 residents, a population decline of 12.9 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau recorded declines in 12 of 14 reported communities. Census experts anticipate a further population decline between 2020 and 2030.

Government and politics

Columbus County is governed by a seven-member Board of Commissioners. The county is represented in the North Carolina Senate in district 8 and in the North Carolina House of Representatives in district 46. The county is a member of the regional Cape Fear Council of Governments, where it participates in area planning on a variety of issues.


The economy of Columbus County centers on agriculture and manufacturing. Columbus farmers produce crops such as pecans and peanuts, along with soybeans, potatoes, and corn. Cattle, poultry, and catfish are other agricultural products in the county. Factories in the region produce textiles, tools, and plywood. Household products such as doors, furniture, and windows are also manufactured in Columbus. The county hosts two industrial parks and shares a third with Brunswick County. International Paper is the largest employer. According to census figures, over 14,000 Columbus residents commute to other counties for work, while about 7,600 residents work within the county. The North Carolina Department of Commerce classifies the county as economically distressed and it has regularly suffered from a higher unemployment rate than the state average.


Airplane facilities are provided by the Columbus County Municipal Airport in Whiteville. The R.J. Corman Railroad Group operates a shortline railroad in the county.

Major highways

  • Future I-74
  • US 74

  • US 74 Bus.
  • US 76
  • US 701

  • US 701 Bus. (Clarkton)

  • US 701 Bus. (Tabor City)

  • US 701 Bus. (Whiteville)
  • NC 11
  • NC 87
  • NC 130
  • NC 131
  • NC 211
  • NC 214
  • NC 242
  • NC 410
  • NC 904
  • NC 905


Columbus is one of the few counties in North Carolina that has two public school systems: one for the county, which mostly serves rural areas, and one for the city of Whiteville. Both are led by elected school boards. The county government maintains a system of six libraries. The county also hosts Southeastern Community College. According to the 2021 American Community Survey, an estimated 14.1 percent of county residents have attained a bachelor's degree or higher level of education.


Map of Columbus County North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels
Map of Columbus County with municipal and township labels


  • Whiteville (named county seat in 1832 and the largest community)



  • Bogue
  • Bolton
  • Bug Hill
  • Cerro Gordo
  • Chadbourn
  • Fair Bluff
  • Lees
  • Ransom
  • South Williams
  • Tatums
  • Waccamaw
  • Welch Creek
  • Western Prong
  • Williams
  • Whiteville

Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Condado de Columbus para niños

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