|POLK COUNTY occupies the extreme southeastern portion
of the State, and includes
an area of 400 square miles. About three-fourths of the coul1ty lies in
the Chilhowee and Unaka Mountains, which abound in rich veins of iron and
copper ores, with smaller quantities of gold and silver. The iron, being
so remote from railroads, has never been mined, but with better
transportation facilities it will make the county one of the richest in
the State. Besides the minerals mentioned, there are large deposits of
marble, talc, mica and ocre.
The best land for agricultural purposes is found in the western portion of
the county and along the rivers and creeks. The Ocoee and Hiwassee Rivers
traverse the county, running in a course a little north of east, and
divide it into three very nearly equal parts. They unite about one mile
from the west line of the county. The Conasauga River, in
the southwestern portion of the county, belongs to the Gulf system. These
streams, with their tributaries, furnish an abundance of water.
The territory now embraced in Polk County. with the exception of a small
part north of the Hiwassee River, was formerly a part of Ocoee District,
and was mainly settled after 1836. The first village established in this
territory was Columbus, situated on the north bank of the Hiwassee River.
about four miles north of the present town of Benton. It was on the old
Federal road, running from Knoxville, by the way of Maryville to
Cassville, Ga. Over this road stock from Kentucky and southwestern
Virginia was driven to the Southern markets, and during the fall and
winter seasons immense droves of hogs. mules and cattle followed each
other in close succession. Stands, at which drovers camped for the night,
were established at convenient distances, usually about eight miles apart.
The site of Benton, known as the " four mile stand," was first occupied by
James Lindner, who, with his Cherokee wife, lived in a double log cabin.
Levi Bailey, his brother-in-law, also resided in the vicinity. In 1838
Lindner sold out to James McKamy, who continued to keep the stand until
after the town was laid out.
Among the first settlers of the county were William M. Biggs, Abraham
Lillard, Nelson Lawson, Thomas Jones, R. W. McClary, Erby Boyd, John N.
Taylor, Travis Rodgers, William Higgins, Michael Hilderbrand and A. R.
Stephenson. The early settlers were nearly all remarkable for their great
size and strength, and some of them were conspicuous in the numerous free
fights which attended militia muster, political speakings and court days.
Among these latter were Abraham McKissick, Erby Boyd, Joseph Blanton,
Thomas Crawford, Bert Sylcox and John F. Hannah.
The first store in Benton was opened by Jonas Hoyl, who continued in
business for several years. Samuel M. Reid, Albert and Brazeale Blair. and
WillIam B. and Isaac W. Reynolds, were also early merchants. D. C.
Haskins. W. P. Cooper and J. C. Donaldson, Knox & Boyd, Mass & McKamy.
0'Neal & Hood, M. B. Grady, Joseph Fetzer, J. W. Hilderbrand, Denton &
McClary and Greenlee & Marshall were also in business there before the
war. The town was most prosperous about 1850. The completion of the East
Tennessee & Georgia Railroad took away most of its trade, and since the
suspension of the copper mining it has still further declined. The present
business men of the town are Rymer & Clemmer, Lillard & Son and J. E.
Taylor. A grist-mill and cotton-gin are owned by Rogers & Johnston. The
first hotel in the town was kept by Commodore White. He was succeeded by
Samuel J. Rowan. Later J. Q. A. Lewis and a Mr. Higgins kept houses of
Entertainment. The present hotel is conducted by J. L. McClary. The first
physicians in the town were J. H. Stuart and Robert N. Fleming, the latter
of whom is still engaged in practice. Dr. J. C. C. Garner has also
practiced medicine in Benton for about twelve years.
In 1844 Ocoee Academy was established with Robert W. McClary, James McKamy,
W. W. Henry, A. Lillard and W. E. McConnell as trustees. It was conducted
as a boy's school until. the war, since which time it has been occupied by
a mixed school. For a few years previous to 1860, it was under the
management of Rev. J. L. Milburn, and was very prosperous. The present
teacher is T. L. Arnwine, a graduate of Emory and Henry College. About
1850 a female school was established in a brick building in the north part
of town. It was continued for several years, but has now been abandoned
and the property sold.
The first church in the county, known as the Four Mile Church was
organized about 1887 by the Baptists, who rented a house one-half a mile
east of Benton. The Baptists were then the most numerous of any
denomination in the county, and the congregation which assembled at this
church were very large. Later the Methodists, assisted by the
Presbyterians, built a brick house in the town, and both denominations
have since continued to occupy the house. A third church was erected by
the Cumberland Presbyterians a few years before the war. The first
minister of this church was Houston Henry. He was succeeded by J. L.
Milburn. The first Baptist preachers were Jason Matlock and Zachariah
Rose; the first Presbyterian was John N. Blackburn.
As has been stated, Columbus was established some time in the twenties,
and prior to the location of Benton was a place of considerable
importance. Among the merchants who did business there were S. M. Reid.
John White, William and John Shields, Samuel McConnell, Pearson & Bro. and
John Shamblin. This town has longsince disappeared.
In 1850 copper in large quantities was discovered in the eastern portion
of the county, and during, the next four years several mines were opened.
The principal ones were the Burra Burra, Hiwassee, Old Tennessee,
Cherokee, Mobile, Polk County, Copper Hill, Culchota, Eureka, London,
Isabella, Mary and East Tennessee. For some time no smelting was done at
the mines. The ore was hauled in wagons to Cleveland, and shipped by rail
to New York. but after a time smelting works were erected. During the war
operations were suspended bu\t were resumed at its close by the Union
Consolidated Mining Company, which continued until 1878. At that time
wood, which was the only fuel, had become so scarce as to render smelting
unprofitable, and the business was suspended. When better transportation
facilities have been secured, these mines will again become a source of
great profit, both to owners and to the county.
The act to erect a new county from portions of Bradley and McMinn
Counties, to be named Polk County in honor of James K. Polk, was passed on
November 28, 1889. John Towns, Jonas Hoyl, James Hawkins, Andrew
Stevenson, Erby Boyd, John Williams, Allen Armstrong, Thomas Harper and
John F. Hannah, were appointed commissioners to hold an election for a
county seat, and to superintend the erection of county buildings. Five
places were presented to them as eligible sites for the seat of justice.
They were Hildebrand's, Ferguson's, McKamy's, Johnston's and at the ferry
opposite Columbus. They chose McKamy's and Ferguson's as the two most
eligible sites, and these were presented to the people at an election held
on February 8, 1840. McKamy's received a majority of 103 votes, and the
town was soon after laid out by John F. Hannah. The. lots, numbering 223,
were sold at auction during the second week of April, for an aggregate of
$11,386, only a portion of which was ever received by the county. The
county court was organized at Columbus. on May 4, 1840, by the following
justices: R. H. McConnell, Sylvester BlackwelI, Z. Rose, Stephen
Blankenship, John Williams, R. Horn, A. R. Stevenson, W. W. Henry, William
Wiggins, A. McKissick, A. Taylor, B. Ellis, J. H. Witt, James Ainsworth,
L. L. Thruwitt, John Cannon and John Davis. At the next term of the court
the county commissioners were ordered to erect a temporary courthouse in
Benton, and at the August term it was occupied. It was a frame building
20x30 feet, and stood on the public square, just north of the present
courthouse. Soon after a brick jail twenty-two feet square, and lined with
heavy timbers was erected. The principal cell was in the lower story, and
,vas reached through a trap door in the floor of the upper story. A
debtor's room was also constructed in the upper story. The present jail
was erected upon the present site in 1871. The present brick courthouse
was begun in 1843, and completed during the following year. In 1846 a poor
farm, consisting of 115 acres, and located in the Third District was
purchased, and R. Thompson, R. H. McConnell and A. R. Stephenson were
appointed the first commissioners. It has since been maintained as an
asylum for the poor.
The following have been the officers of Polk County since its
Clerks of the county court-James Parks, 1840-48; E. P. Douglass,
1848-60; W. A. Bible, 1860-64; James Gamble, 1864-68; J. E. Taylor,
1868-70; D. C. Haskins, 1870-74;. F. E. Lindner, 1874-82; W. W. Dodd,
1882-86; W. M. Bain, 1886.
Clerks of the circuit court- W .M. Biggs, 1840-44; John Williams,
1844-48; James Smith, 1848-59; J. A. Donaldson, 1859-64; James Parks,
1864-66; Spencer B. Boyd, 1866-68: W. A. Denton. 1868-70; John Henry,
1870-71; John a. Williamson, 1871-78; James H. Bible, 1878-80; M. H.
Hancock, 1880-82; Jesse Rymer, 1882-86; J. L. Smith, 1886.
Sheriffs-John Shamblin, 1840-46; David Bradford, 1846-52; William I.
Hughes, 1852-54; M. H. Hancock, 1854-62; W. P. Cooper, 1862-64;. P. L.
McClary, 1864-68; J. A. Duff, 1868-70; M. H. Hancock, 1870-74; I. B.
Brock, 1874-80; J. a. Hannah, 1880-82; B.P. Rollins. 1882; N. B. Witt.
1882-84; F. M. Luttrell, 1884.
Trustees-Abraham Lillard, 1849-44; James Hawkins, 1844-48; H. Fry,
1848-52; John F. Hannah, 1852-56; S. B. Boyd, 1856-58; Jarvis Williams,
1858-60; J. L. Milburn, 1860-65; Samel Parks. 1864-68; James T. Bradford,
1868-70; G. B. Smith, 1870-80 James Presswood, 1880-82; Isaac Nicholson
Registers-Samuel Kennedy, 1840-41; Robert W McClary, 1841-42; Samuel J.
Rowan, 1842-48; Robert N. Fleming, 1848-65; William A. Bible, 1865-68; J.
H. Scarborough, 1868-70; A. D. Donaldson, 1870-74; W. W. Dodd, 1874-82; G.
W. Caruth, 1882- 85; J. D. Caruth, 1885.
The circuit court of Benton County was organized at Columbus by Judge
Keith, June 8, 1840, at which time H. H. Stephens, Levi Trewhitt, S.
Frazier, S. T. Bicknell and J. T. Coffee were admitted to practice law.
The first grand jury was composed of the following men: H. Bradford. R. W.
McClary, Jeremiah Lillard, J. S. O'Neal, N. Lawson,James McCarney, A. W.
Hagler, S. Blankenship, W. Caruth, A. Taylor, A. R. Stephenson, M. Harper,
A. Copelin. The first indictment was found against H. Conner for an
assault and battery upon John Weaver. He was found guilty and fined $5 and
costs. A very large number of similar cases occupied the greater part or
the attention or the court for the first few years. The first indictment
for a felony was found against M. and a. Brooks at the February term,
1842. They were charged with having broken into the store of Samuel M.
Reid and stolen some goods. Both were found guilty, and the jury fixed the
penalty at one year's imprisonment in the penitentiary, but recommended
them to the mercy of the court, who commuted the sentence to two months'
imprisonment in the county jail. The chancery court was not organized
until February, 1852. April 28, 1873, a law court was organized at
Ducktown for the Seventh, Eighth and Tenth Civil Districts by Judge Hoyl.
It was continued until 1878, when it was abolished.
Polk Biographies are listed in the Biography Section
The first lawyers to locate in Benton were Thomas and Columbus Taylor, who
remained until 1850, when they removed to Texas. At about the same time
James R, Buchanan, a Universalist preacher, began the practice of law
there. He also removed about 1850 to Arkansas, where he was afterward
convicted of forging land warrants and was sent to the penitentiary, John
B. and Levi Hoyl were engaged in the practice of law at Benton for five
years succeeding 1850. The former, in 1870, was elected judge of the
circuit court, and continued upon the bench for eight years. J. G. Stuart
began practice in 1853, and continued to reside in Benton until 1883; then
he removed to Cleveland. A
year or two later P. B, Mayfield, now one of the leading members of the
Cleveland bar , was admitted to practice. He remained at Benton unti11868.
The present members of the profession in Polk County are W, F and W. H.
Wimberly and John C. Williamson, all of whom reside in the country.
Boyd, Browder, Copeland, Dunn, Fetzer, Fleming, Gamble, Garner, Howard, Johnson, Kimbrough, Ladd, Luttrell, Nicholson, Prince, Rymer