Columbus County, North Carolina

Year Established

County Seat

Significance of County Name

Population (2020)



Christopher Columbus


Legislative Act Creating County

First Settled / By

County Evolution by Decade

Official County Website

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1720s / English/Welsh

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Historical Post Offices

American Revolution

American Civil War

Significant Education Events

Alphabetical / Date Started

Battles & Skirmishes


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Airports in Columbus County

Maps of Columbus County

Books About Columbus County

Genealogy Sources

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A History of Columbus County

Columbus County Court House - Whiteville, North Carolina

Columbus County was created from Bladen and Brunswick Counties in 1808. In 1810, Whiteville was laid out on James B. White's land and the public buildings were ordered to be constructed there. Whiteville has been the county seat ever since.
This North Carolina county, which was named for Christopher Columbus, lies a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean, in the fertile lowlands of the coastal plain. The 959 square-mile expanse of Columbus County occupies one of the most southeastern sections of the state. Its position along the South Carolina state line is flanked by Brunswick County to the southeast and Robeson County to the northwest. Bladen and Pender counties bound Columbus on the north.

The territory of Columbus County, though rarely mentioned in historical writing, has experienced many of the major episodes of American history. The Indian presence, the colonial period, the Revolutionary War, the establishment of railroads, the Civil War, and Reconstruction – all have touched the county and have involved local citizens. Throughout the years, developments which occurred in Columbus County have reflected familiar themes of state and national history.

The land and its heritage have been shaped by several geographical features. Lake Waccamaw, the largest natural lake between New York and Florida, was the site of the Indian habitation long before the arrival of white men. The Waccamaw River, which flows from the lake, has linked the southeastern section of the county with South Carolina and its coastal port of Georgetown. The western limits of the county are defined by the swift, dark waters of the Lumber River. The Cape Fear River comprises a section of the northeastern border, in Ransom Township. Access to the Cape Fear River and the port city of Wilmington has been a major factor in the settlement and commercial development of the county. Before construction of roads, the Cape Fear, Lumber, and Waccamaw Rivers were the main arteries which penetrated the dense woodlands of the area.

Railroad history is still alive in our depot museums in Chadbourn, Fair Bluff, and Lake Waccamaw. Vineland Depot in Whiteville has been restored and is open and hosts many public events. The North Carolina Museum of Forestry celebrates the importance of the forestry industry in Columbus County both past and present. Other historic sites to visit include the Reuben Brown House, the Columbus County Court House, Mille-Christine Gravesite, Bogue Chapel, the Trading Post, and Mt. Tabor School.

In 1729, New Hanover Precinct was formed and this area fell under its jurisdiction. In 1734, Bladen Precinct was created out of part of New Hanover, and in 1764 Brunswick County was formed out of parts of New Hanover County and Bladen County. Then, in 1808, Columbus County was created out of part of Bladen County and part of Brunswick County.

The very first written record about Columbus County is about William Bartram, a well-educated colonial planter, who was the brother of John Bartram, the first scientist to form a botanic garden for American plants in America. John Bartram traveled wide and far collecting plants for his garden, and he documented his travels to the Columbus County area in 1734 while visiting his brother. In this documentary, John Bartram described Lake Waccamaw in great detail, including some Indian mounds near the lake.

We know that Indians once roamed the area. When the first settlers came up the Cape Fear River, they were here. The settlers called them the Cape Fear Indians, the Waccamaw Indians, and the Saponas. The Waccamaws were a peaceful tribe and when the whites began to show up they voluntarily withdrew and joined the Catawbas further west, and some, at least, joined the Seminoles in Florida. It is said that the celebrated chief of the Seminoles, Osceola, was born on the Waccamaw River, and tradition says that his father was John Powell, a white man living in present-day Columbus County.

Colonel Alfred Moore Waddell, in his history of the Revolutionary War in New Hanover County, states that Brigadier General Francis Marion, the Horrys, and Brigadier General Isaac Huger, all of South Carolina, met in Brompton, country seat of Royal Governor Gabriel Johnston in Brunswick, to reorganize Marion's men, and that a large portion of these men came from Bladen and Brunswick Counties. Therefore, it can be reasonably concluded that these men were from present-day Columbus County. Additionally, several battles/skirmishes with the British were fought at Brown Marsh - in neighboring Bladen County, about five miles from present-day Clarkton, NC.

Whiteville and Fair Bluff probably divide honors as the oldest towns in Columbus County. Originally known as White's Crossing, the town was laid out in 1810 on James B. White's land, and after he served as the first state senator from the county the name was changed to Whiteville and it was named the county seat. The town was chartered in 1873, and J.A. Maultsby was its first mayor.

The city of Chadbourn was started in 1882 and incorporated in 1886. The first charter stipulated that there should be no legalized sale of whiskey in the town, and Chadbourn has the distinction of never having had liquor stores in it.

Many other towns and cities sprang up along the way. Tabor City is world famous for producing yams along the South Carolina border. On the other side of the county, Riegelwood is famous for its paper mill. Folks from Crusoe Island claim to be descendents of Sir Walter Raleigh's "lost colony of Roanoke," and they definitely have a unique accent to perhaps prove it.

Discover one of the most beautiful parts of southeastern North Carolina. Columbus County, founded over two hundred years ago in 1808, is rich in history and blessed with uncommon natural beauty. Wild scenic rivers teem with wildlife as they wind through old cypress, pines, and the beautiful flora and fauna of the coastal plain. Along with the history and natural wonder of Columbus, you’ll enjoy meeting the people of a community renowned for its warmth and hospitality.
For nearly three-quarters of a century, strawberries have been celebrated in Chadbourn, nicknamed the “Sunny South Colony” in the early 1900s. Home to the North Carolina Strawberry Festival, the longest-running agricultural festival in the state, is held the first weekend in May. Make sure and visit the historic Chadbourn Depot Museum and antiques shops in the downtown area.

Opened in 1910 by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, the Chadbourn Depot is a must for railroad lovers. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the picturesque depot displays a variety of historical artifacts, including model railroads, period furnishings, Audubon prints, railroad memorabilia, and even fashions from the 1900s.

Fair Bluff, nestled against the banks of the nationally recognized “Wild & Scenic” Lumber River, is home to the southeastern North Carolina Watermelon Festival, held annually in July. Walk the beautiful elevated riverwalk, visit the Fair Bluff Depot Museum or enjoy a trip down the Lumber River in a kayak or canoe.

The Old Trading Post in Fair Bluff, probably the oldest building in Columbus County, stands on the banks of the Lumber River . Built in the late eighteenth century, people from Robeson, Bladen, and Columbus counties brought farm produce and naval goods to be sold or exchanged for other products.

Originally built in 1897 as a combined Atlantic Coast Line passenger and freight depot, the Fair Bluff Depot Museum offers a step back into the past. Today it houses railroad memorabilia and equipment from the early 1900s until its closing in the 1960s.

Begin your day in Fair Bluff strolling the streets and shopping in the antique mall and quaint stores of the downtown district. Take a walk on the Riverside Boardwalk where visitors from all over enjoy the beautiful Lumber River and Cypress Swamp. Discover the indigenous trees of the river as you relax in the serenity of the river.

The town of Fair Bluff was incorporated in 1873, having endured the exportation of its textile industry to other countries and its rail traffic to the interstates, is attempting to revitalize itself through local effort and Federal assistance. Currently, with the help of an energetic town council and mayor, Fair Bluff has installed street lighting and new sidewalks with the view toward making Fair Bluff a theme town of the 30s and 40s. Merchants in the downtown area are encouraged to redo their store fronts and display areas in keeping with this theme with a view toward attracting the touring public and encouraging other unique businesses to find a home in Fair Bluff.

From its sandy shorelines to its tree-lined natural areas, Lake Waccamaw offers peaceful surroundings, an intriguing natural history and fun in the sun. You can view one of the greatest geological mysteries of the eastern United States—the phenomenon of Carolina bays; it boasts rare plants such as the carnivorous Venus Flytrap and several animal species found nowhere else on earth, such as the Waccamaw Killifish. Aside from its geological history, the lake is a great place to vacation. Visit Lake Waccamaw State Park and Visitor Center. Nearby, you can catch a glimpse of a botanical wonder—the Green Swamp. Tour the historic 1904 Lake Waccamaw Depot Museum and enjoy the Winter Festival held annually in December.
Tabor City is the southernmost town in Columbus County. Once known as the “Yam Capital of the World,” Tabor City pays tribute to the area’s sweet potato crop with the annual North Carolina Yam Festival every fourth Saturday in October. Visit historic landmarks such as Mt. Tabor School, the Horace Carter Museum, or enjoy an afternoon of fishing.

In Tabor City, stop and a visit to the Mt. Tabor School which was built in 1870 using a floor plan and building technique which had been in use since 1820. It was not only the first school in Tabor City but also in 1905 served as the original meeting place for St. Paul United Methodist Church.

Visit the Horace Carter Newspaper Museum and explore the pages of the Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper, the Tabor City Tribune. Mr. Carter himself may even be around to share his stories with you.

What a better way to end your day than with dinner at the Todd House, serving good food since Mary Todd opened her boarding house in 1928. Known throughout for its delightful old-fashioned homestyle cooking, the Todd House is one of Tabor City 's oldest businesses. This Author has eaten at the Todd House many times. Saldy, it is now closed.

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