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Polk County, North Carolina facts for kids

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Polk County
Polk County Courthouse
Polk County Courthouse
Map of North Carolina highlighting Polk 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 1855
Named for Colonel William Polk
Seat Columbus
Largest town Tryon
 • Total 239 sq mi (620 km2)
 • Land 238 sq mi (620 km2)
 • Water 0.7 sq mi (2 km2)  0.3%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density 82.6/sq mi (31.9/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 11th

Polk County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2020 census, the population was 19,328. Its county seat is Columbus. The county was formed in 1855 from parts of Henderson and Rutherford counties. It was named for William Polk, a colonel in the American Revolutionary War. The Tryon International Equestrian Center, close to the community of Mill Spring was the location of the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games.


Polk nc elevation
Polk County Elevation

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 239 square miles (620 km2), of which 238 square miles (620 km2) is land and 0.7 square miles (1.8 km2) (0.3%) is water. It is the fifth-smallest county in North Carolina by total area.

The county's largest body of water is Lake Adger, located about 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Columbus. Lake Adger is a reservoir formed by the damming of the Green River, which flows from west to east across the county. The northern extent of the river's watershed forms the northern border of the county.

The elevation in the county ranges from just under 800 feet (240 m) near the confluence of the Green River and Broad River to over 3,200 feet (980 m) on Tryon Peak and Wildcat Spur, the highest peak in the county. Polk County is divided into two physiographic regions; the Blue Ridge Mountains in the western third of the county and Piedmont for the eastern two-thirds. Since it is in a transition zone between the two regions, Polk County is often referred to as being in the foothills.

Adjacent counties


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 4,043
1870 4,319 6.8%
1880 5,062 17.2%
1890 5,902 16.6%
1900 7,004 18.7%
1910 7,640 9.1%
1920 8,832 15.6%
1930 10,216 15.7%
1940 11,874 16.2%
1950 11,627 −2.1%
1960 11,395 −2.0%
1970 11,735 3.0%
1980 12,984 10.6%
1990 14,416 11.0%
2000 18,324 27.1%
2010 20,510 11.9%
2020 19,328 −5.8%
2021 (est.) 19,656 −4.2%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2013

2020 census

Polk County racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 16,716 86.49%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 689 3.56%
Native American 51 0.26%
Asian 60 0.31%
Pacific Islander 7 0.04%
Other/Mixed 779 4.03%
Hispanic or Latino 1,026 5.31%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 19,328 people, 9,071 households, and 5,550 families residing in the county.


Major highways

  • I-26
  • US 74
  • US 176
  • NC 9
  • NC 108

The interchange for I-26 and the US 74 freeway is located in Columbus. Interstate 26 provides Polk County with easy access to Asheville and Spartanburg.

Polk County is also served by an additional non-freeway U.S. Highway: US 176. This was the primary highway linking Saluda and Tryon to Hendersonville and Spartanburg, S.C. prior to the delayed completion of I-26 in 1976. Two North Carolina routes, NC 108 and NC 9, traverse the county as well. NC 108 begins in Rutherfordton and travels west through Columbus and ends at US 176 in Tryon. Oriented north-to-south, NC 9 connects Black Mountain and Lake Lure to Spartanburg and points southeast via Polk County. NC 108 and NC 9 intersect at the unincorporated town of Mill Spring.


Polk County and Saluda are infamous among railroad enthusiasts for the Saluda Grade, the steepest standard-gauge mainline railway grade in the United States. Norfolk Southern suspended freight traffic indefinitely along this route in December 2001. The track remains in place, but are cut near Flat Rock, North Carolina and Landrum, South Carolina.


Map of Polk County North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels
Map of Polk County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels




  • Columbus
  • Cooper's Gap
  • Green Creek
  • Saluda
  • Tryon
  • White Oak
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