A History of Columbus, North Carolina


Polk County Court House - Columbus, North Carolina

Columbus is the county seat for Polk County where the government offices and historic court house are located. The court house is one of the oldest still in use in North Carolina and has been fully restored.


Columbus (population 999 in 2010) is located in the foothills of the scenic Appalachian Mountains. Officially designated as county seat of Polk County in 1855, Columbus has since undergone few boundary changes in the years following.

Dr. Columbus Mills, for whom the town was named, has been called the "Father of Polk County." It was largely through his efforts as a state Senator that Polk County was established by sectioning off parts of Rutherford and Henderson Counties.

With the permission of the state, the original five commissioners began the work of organizing a town. Since the town's main streets carry their names (Nulls, Walker, Simms, and Ward), the commissioners are easily remembered. Also, Peak Street (named for the engineer the town), and Hampton Street (one of land donor's for the town site). If you should be driving up Peak St., look up toward White Oak Mountain and you will see the peak of the mountain straight ahead.

Some of these people were the direct descendants of the earliest setters who had located at the base of the White Oak Mountain range and who had fought in the American Revolutionary War.

The leaders of the town of Columbus owned large plantations that were located just outside of the town limits. These were the days of the hoop skirt and the "Scarlet O'Hara-Rhett Butler period," days of gallant southern gentlemen and the heyday of the South when, "cotton was king."

During this same period, North Carolina was the nation's leading producer of gold (until the'49 California Gold Rush). In Columbus, gold was mined along Horse Creek and White Oak Creek. It is said that Hampton found a gold nugget of such size and value that he was able to buy, among other things, many acres of land.

These earlier days of history had many colorful characters, including "Old Bill" Williams, well-known mountain man, trapper, and scout who helped survey the Santa Fe Trail and guided the ill-fated Fremont Expedition of 1848. He was born here in 1787.

Located in the center of town is the Polk County Court House, constructed in 1857, and still in use today.

Columbus was originally laid out with a church at each corner of the main streets. Two of these are in their original location today. Columbus Baptist Church (established - 1857) first structure is still in use, although it has been added to over the years. Columbus Presbyterian Church, established in 1895, is also in the original location but due to a fire the original building has been replaced. More recently established are the Columbus United Methodist Church, in 1961, and the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, in 1976.

Around 1888, Mr. Frank Sterns, who was to have a great impact on Columbus, came to Polk County. He built and established the first school in 1891 for elementary students. The following year he established the first kindergarten and public library in Polk County. This building is still in use on Mills Street. Mr. Stearns also envisioned White Oak Mountain as a sanitarium for those desiring the mild climate afforded by the thermal belt Area. His original plat for development of the White Oak Mountain area is on display in the office of White Oak Mountain Development. He was later (1922) to build and donate to Polk County the Stearns Institute as a facility for higher education. His stipulation was that the building and site would always be used for educational purposes. This building now houses the offices for the Polk County Board of Education.

One of the most beautiful views of the Columbus area can be seen from White Oak Mountain. On your way to the top of the mountain, you will cross the Shukawakan Falls which is a main source of water for Columbus. This water goes to a reservoir on Foster Mountain, affectionately known as Chocolate Drop.

Located beside White Oak Mountain is Tryon Mountain or Tryon Peak, which became the landmark of the Cherokee Boundary negotiated by Governor William Tryon and the Cherokee Chiefs in 1767. Elevation of the peak is 3,132 feet. This area had until then been the hunting grounds of the Cherokee and Catawba Indian tribes.

Since before the turn of the century, people have been drawn to this beautiful "Gateway to the Mountains" with its temperate climate, recreational, cultural, and equestrian traditions. There is something here for everyone of all ages and interests.

Columbus is accessible from I-26, Hwy. 108, and Hwy. 74. Both I-85 and I-40 are within thirty minutes of Columbus, affording the luxury of the best of both worlds - quiet, serene surroundings, and yet easy access to the attractions and facilities of nearby cities.


Columbus was granted a U.S. Post Office on April 16, 1856, and its first Postmaster was Ransom Ponder. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.


© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved