History of Polk County, TN

History and Biographies

The Goodspeed Publishing Co. 1887
Transcribed by Pam Rathbone



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 organization:

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 1882.

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.

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.

Polk Biographies are listed in the Biography Section
Boyd, Browder, Copeland, Dunn, Fetzer, Fleming, Gamble, Garner, Howard, Johnson, Kimbrough, Ladd, Luttrell, Nicholson, Prince, Rymer