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Polk County, North Carolina facts for kids

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Polk County, North Carolina
Map of North Carolina highlighting Polk County
Location in the state of North Carolina
Map of the USA highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location in the U.S.
Founded 1855
Seat Columbus
Largest town Tryon
 - Total
 - Land
 - Water

239 sq mi (619 km²)
238 sq mi (616 km²)
0.7 sq mi (2 km²), 0.3%
 - (2010)
 - Density

86/sq mi (33/km²)
Time zone Eastern: UTC-5/-4
Named for: Colonel William Polk

Polk County is a county located in the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 20,510. Its county seat is Columbus. The county was formed in 1855 from parts of Henderson County and Rutherford County. 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 will be 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%
Est. 2015 20,366 −0.7%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2013

As of the census of 2000, there were 18,324 people, 7,908 households, and 5,337 families residing in the county. The population density was 77 people per square mile (30/km²). There were 9,192 housing units at an average density of 39 per square mile (15/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 92.26% White, 5.89% Black or African American, 0.19% Native American, 0.24% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.63% from other races, and 0.76% from two or more races. 3.01% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

As of the census of 2000 the largest self-reported ancestry groups were:

  • English - 17%
  • Irish - 13%
  • German - 13%
  • Scotch-Irish - 7%
  • African - 5.89%
  • Scottish - 4%
  • Italian - 3%

There were 7,908 households out of which 23.50% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.30% were married couples living together, 7.90% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.50% were non-families. 28.90% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.28 and the average family size was 2.78.

In the county, the population was spread out with 20.10% under the age of 18, 5.80% from 18 to 24, 24.20% from 25 to 44, 26.30% from 45 to 64, and 23.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 45 years. For every 100 females there were 90.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.10 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $36,259, and the median income for a family was $45,096. Males had a median income of $29,375 versus $23,070 for females. The per capita income for the county was $19,804. 10.10% of the population and 6.40% of families were below the poverty line. 11.70% of those under the age of 18 and 8.80% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.


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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