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Polk County: A history

By 1540 Hernando DeSoto had arrived in the mountain country, probably here in Polk County, where he found the Cherokee Tribe already in an advanced state of civilization.

The Indians lived in substantially-built log houses.  Though accomplished hunters,  they subsisted chiefly by their knowledge of agriculture.  They raised corn, pumpkins, and beans.

The area was a fine place in which to live, as the first white settlers quickly learned.  Several decades before the Revolution a sprinkling of families had set down their roots in the mountain coves in the midst of the Cherokee hunting lands.  By 1768 traders were already traveling up the old Blackstock Road from Charleston to bargain for furs and hides.

The proximity of the two civilizations resulted in many clashes and much bloodshed.  The conflicts became so numerous that the Royal Governor, William Tryon, himself journeyed west from the colonial capital to parley with the Cherokees and negotiate a boundary line.

The new line agreed upon extended from a point near Greenville in South Carolina to the highest peak on White Oak Mountain.  When the treaty had been signed, governor Tryon was flattered to learn that the settlers had named this the highest place on White Oak – Tryon Peak.

As its population slowly increased the area became a favorite stopping place for drovers transporting livestock from Kentucky and Tennessee to seaboard harbors.  With political independence, towns gradually emerged.

Polk, named to honor the Revolutionary War hero, Colonel William Polk, did not achieve county status until 1855.  Columbus, the county seat, was named for Dr. Columbus Mills of Mill Spring. One of his ancestors, Colonel Ambrose Mills, was a Loyalist who was hanged by Patriots after his capture at the Battle of Kings Mountain.  The Town of Columbus is distinguished by an imposing courthouse, built of handmade brick 1855.  The ancient slave block still remains on the courthouse lawn.

Tryon is the largest city in the area and is most unusual in the versatility of its residents.  Half the population has migrated from other parts of the country to enjoy the mild climate and beauty of the surrounding countryside.

The transplanted residents are chiefly writers, artists, educators, professional people and industrial executives who are fascinated with the tranquility of the community life and who contribute so greatly to the social advantages of the city.

The Hunting Country abounds in large estates and stables to make an equestrian paradise.  There are hundreds of miles of marked riding trails.  The fox hunts, horse shows, and steeplechase are well know throughout the country.

Saluda, on the county’s western border, has long enjoyed fame as a vacation area and place of retirement. Many of the Low Country  people seek its pleasant summer climate as well as the sheer beauty of its mountain setting.  Saluda is noted for its fine apple orchards which constitute the main source of farm income.

Other communities such as Mill Spring, Sunny View, and Green Creek have retained the charm of the Old South. The local roads are all good and provide easy access.  I-26 extends from Charleston to Asheville, and I-74 extends from Columbus to Charlotte providing convenient egress from the outside world.

Lake Adger and Lanier provide aquatic sports and fishing. Some of the clear, cold mountain streams offer good trout fishing in season.  Golf, riding, and hiking attract devotees who need not await appropriate seasons for outdoor activities.


A Short History of Tryon

Taken from (with changes made to the information regarding the steeplechase)

This was rough country…

Tryon, snug in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, used to be Indian country – peaceful and otherwise.

Before the American Revolution, there were scattered settlers here.  The Old Block House used to be a peaceful trading post with the Cherokee Indians.

In the mountain vastness beyond the borders of the Carolina’s, when whites began to encroach on the Indians’ hunting ground, clashes followed. So North Carolina’s Colonial Governor William Tryon (held office 1764-71) extended the state boundaries to the foothills to give protection to the Indians.

Legend is that Big Warrior of the Cherokee chiefs then named the mountain on one side of the line for himself, and the mountain on the other side of the line for Gov. Tryon.  At any rate, Warrior and Tryon mountains are landmarks to all Tryonites, and splendid mountains they are.

Tryon mountains haven’t budged…

For two centuries, homesteaders here have delighted in identifying their mountains. Here is a reliable guide as to which is which, as given on the U.S. Department of the Interior geological survey map (NC – SC Saluda quadrangle):

The Tryon range, which culminates in Tryon Peak at the north, lies in a NE by SW direction, and the northern portion, easily visible from the town, extends for about 10 miles.

Starting at the south, the mountain bearing the radio towers with their blinking night lights, is Hogback, 3226 feet; then Rocky Spur, 2500 feet. Melrose, 2638 feet, is next and can be identified at night by its green light. Beyond Melrose comes the Saluda Gap, which brings highway, river, and railroad down from Asheville. Next mountain to the north is Warrior, 2466 feet.  this attractive little mountain rises to a smaller peak at its southern tip, which is sometimes called Little Warrior. Beyond Warrior is a lower peak, in shape a perfect cone.  This is Round Mountain, 1831 feet. Through the gap to its north passes I-26.

On the further side of the gap is a large mountain known as Miller. From many points it appears to be a part of its neighbor, our highest mountain, Tryon Peak, 3231 feet. The radio installation on its summit may easily be seen. The northern portion of this ridge is known as White Oak, 3102 feet.

In revolutionary days…

With the American Revolution, real troubles began between the Indians and the white settlers. British Redcoats and Tory sympathizers used the Cherokees to raid and massacre the pioneer homesteaders.

After three massacres, Capt. Thomas Howard gathered his men at the Block House and organized a campaign against the Cherokees.  Skyuka, a Cherokee, led Howard’s men over a secret trail to Round mountain. Here Howard defeated the Cherokees.

There was a stone monument marking the scene of the battle.  The secret trail in modern times has become Howard Gap Road.  The name of Skyuka (whose gallantry is still debated pro and con) is perpetuated by Skyuka Creek, scenic Skyuka Road, and the old Y.M.C.A. Camp Skyuka on Mt. Tryon.

Tryon’s beginnings…

The city of Tryon, granted a charter from the State Legislature in 1885, was then incorporated into Polk County.

However, in 1920, a second charter was given, one reason being the changing of the name from City of Tryon to Town of Tryon, since the municipal population was, is and will continue indefinitely – to be less than 10,000.

The town, named for Tryon mountain, is geographically small. Its boundary is established by a circle with a radius of three quarters of a mile, giving it an area of 1.7 square miles. The elevation is 1067 feet.

Tryon, almost on the South Carolina border, developed on this particular spot because construction of the railroad to Asheville stopped here for two years. In fact, the Southern Railway station is close to being the geographic as well as the actual center of Tryon. (Incidentally, the railroad grade from Tryon up to Saluda is known to railroad buffs as the steepest east of the Rockies.)

Tryon was early cultural center…

In 1889, Tryon was the same little town it had been nine years before, when famed poet Sidney Lanier came here for the last two months of his life.  The streets were still just slashes through the red clay.

However, the Lanier Library was opened to the public in 1890 – admittedly at the time little more than a shelf of books. This institution, the oldest civic organization in continuous operation in Tryon, and the last private library in North Carolina, gives remarkable insight into Tryon’s history.

Submitted by: Ronald Lee Still, director of the Cleveland Library: “Lanier Library is not the last private library in North Carolina. It is the last known “subscription” library in North Carolina and one of 16 in the United States.  There are many private libraries in North Carolina. I am the director of the Cleveland Library and it has over 50,000 books and videos for circulation.”

On its 75th anniversary, the library published “Lanier Library Diamond Jubliee” – must reading for anyone interested in Tryon’s early days. A few lines from the book concerning the libraries community programs will show how visitors from the turn of the century found an intellectual center in a small town:

“John Burroughs, inheritor of Thoreau’s title as the great American naturalist, was a well-known figure in Tryon – ‘a little old man with a long white beard.’  Hans V. Kalrenborn, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, addressed the club on problems of national interest during two winters he spent here.  Robert B. Peattie of the Chicago Tribune, gave a most interesting talk on the making of a newspaper. The son of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edward Emerson, an artist and head of the Boston Art School, lectured… Luis Agassiz, Swiss author and scholar, contributed two fascinating lectures on astronomy.” And so on.

Actor William Gillette built a home here; Historians Charles and Mary Beard, and Donald Culross Peattie and Roderick Peattie are among Tryon’s wisely known former residents. Margaret Culkin Banning wrote a recent novel with the locale Tryon.

Folks keep coming here…

From the turn of the century, drivers and traders traveling from Kentucky and Ohio, came through here by the Howard Gap Road, on their way to the markets of South Carolina.

Beginning about 1925, Northerners came increasingly, for health reasons, to find a quiet spot in an interesting community. The trend has never stopped.

Today’s population is unusual because it brings together citizens for varying reasons. Few communities can count such a high percentage of descendants from its first settler families; many of today’s residents bear the family names of pioneers of four generations back. Retired men and women continue to come from all parts of the country, and young people come too.

Tryon’s Weather…

We quote from the U.S. Weather Bureau climatology survey: “The Tryon area is …protected by a series of… barriers which tend to hold back the flow of cold air… The weaker of the winter outbreaks are turned aside and prevented from reaching Tryon, and even the strongest are modified in passing over the mountains. While the temperature drops below freezing on about half the nights in December, January, and February, it is rare even in the coldest weather that it fails to rise above freezing during the day.  There has been only one case of zero weather…in the past 50 years.

“Summer afternoons are warm, but rapid cooling takes place after sunset, so that even at the warmest time of the year early morning temperatures average below 66.”

“Precipitation is abundant in the Tryon area, and well distributed throughout the year… Some snow falls at Tryon almost every winter, but the average amount is less than half that which falls in many areas of (the state).  The sun shines more than half the daylight hours… Average relative humidity is around 70%.”

“Morris” the Tryon Horse…

The 19th-century surveyors who laid out Tryon stuck a compass in the map and drew the town boundaries as a circle a mile and a half in diameter. At the center of that circle stands the Tryon Horse.

Today’s landmark is the fifth-generation Tryon Horse. A jumbo version of one of the most popular toys they made, the Tryon Toymakers and Woodcarvers built the first Horse in 1928 for the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club.

In season, the Tryon Horse serves as a downtown billboard for the club, with dates for the Tryon Horse Show or the Block House Steeplechase Races displayed on his saddle pad.

The original  Tryon Horse was destroyed in the 30s when the building in which he was stored burned. The next Tryon Horse was ravaged in 1946 during a wild getaway ride when he was kidnapped – not for ransom, just for devilment – by a few fellows who were enjoying a jar or two of white lighting. The third succumbed to age and weather in the 60s; and the fourth Horse was totally restored in 1983, when he acquired a fiberglass body made by a boat builder.  He stands twenty-two hands high.

Occasionally the Tryon Daily Bulletin prints a letter from a reader who has had a conversation with the Tryon Horse. In those letters, the Horse is always referred to as “Morris”, the name given him by a group of friends, the “Wilderness Road Gang”, who put holiday garlands and a rakish top hat on the Horse every Christmas.


Located in the central Blue Ridge mountains and foothills, the area is known for its mild climate due to the “Thermal Belt.” Warm air settles and moderates the temperatures, cooler in summer and warmer in winter. This phenomenon allows for outdoor activities and events to be enjoyed throughout the seasons.

Always know as “The Friendliest Town In The South”, Tryon has been a Mecca for people from all walks of life. You’ll find all types of artists, musicians, writers, retired military, people involved in equestrian pursuits and also people who are just looking to live in a small town. For a small town, this place has a metropolitan feel to it.

For the ones whom love the finer things in life, be sure to check out the Tryon Fine Arts Center. They host local production plays, chamber music, traditional dance groups and local musicians. The Tryon Movie Theater has been in place since the mid 1930’s and it still uses the same dual projectors using carbon rods for lighting. The movie theater shows films that have been out about 3-6 weeks (since it is very expensive for 1st run movies), they run Wednesday to Saturday evenings at 8:00 and on Sunday at 3:00. They also have a film society which shows foreign films and independent film maker movies on Monday & Tuesday evenings at 7:00.

Small towns, historic sites, fine art and craft, scenic vistas, and friendly people make Polk County a place you will want to visit over and over. F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Lady Astor, Sidney Lanier, Calvin Coolidge, William Gillette, and David Niven were regular guests.

Tryon has a reputation as a premier retirement area. It has been listed as one of the top ten retirement communities by Money Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications.

Equestrian roots have over 50-years of heritage in Tryon including steeplechase, dressage, hunter-jumper, and carriage-driving events. The Tryon Riding and Hunt Club, FENCE (Foothills Equestrian Nature Center), and other equestrian organizations host events from March through early December. The Block House Steeplechase Races, held in April, have been an annual event for over 60 years.

Founded in 1925, The Tryon Riding & Hunt Club sponsors the Block House Steeplechase Races and several other horse shows throughout the year. In 1985 FENCE was created as a non-profit and education center. FENCE is actually Foothills Equestrian Nature Center, and they offer everything from hiking trails to riding trails, plus much more.


Our Horse Country Heritage

Written by Judy Heinrich

It was no accident. Starting nearly 100 years ago, wealthy industrialists and sportsmen from the Midwest discovered Tryon and realized that its climate, rural character and scenic beauty made it a perfect seasonal center for the equestrian pursuits they enjoyed.

First among this group was Carter Brown, who visited in 1917 and a year later bought a former tuberculosis sanitarium that he remade into the Pine Crest Inn, complete with riding stables. He hosted many friends there who soon decided they needed a Tryon home of their own.

Brown helped many of them find their properties. He even designed their homes, now sought after as historic “Carter Brown houses” known for their rustic design and incorporation of old log cabins.

In 1925 Brown founded the Tryon Riding & Hunt Club as one of the area’s first service organizations; it still serves the community 90 years later.  Originally part of TR & HC, Tryon Hounds was spun off into a separate organization a year later and is still active today.

In 1926 Brown and TR & HC produced the first-ever Tryon Horse Show. Held at Tryon’s Harmon Field, the Wednesday afternoon show became such a big annual event that businesses and schools actually closed so that everyone in town could attend. Now grown to a four-show charity series, the Tryon Horse Show celebrated its 87th anniversary in 2015.

The biggest equestrian event by Brown and TR & HC is the Block House Steeplechase, which turned 69 years old in 2015 and remains the largest single-day draw of visitors to the area. Named for its original venue, a former defensive outpost that straddled two states and three counties. The Block House moved to the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) – another creation of TR & HC – in 1988.

Also helping put Tryon on the map as horse country were the U. S. Equestrian Team’s Olympic Trials, held twice at the Cotton Patch Farm in the 1950’s. Among the legendary equestrians who trained there under Coach Bert de Nemethy were William Steinkrauss, Frank Chapot and George Morris, who took Team Silver at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Horse Lovers Keep Coming

The influx of horse lovers continues, drawn by our year-round riding, scenic beauty, good footing and an active equestrian schedule that features about 175 horse events a year, including shows, clinics, educational programs and more.

There are two foxhunts here now, Tryon Hounds and Green Creek Hounds. Building on the country they originally cleared, the area has three dedicated equestrian trail systems (; and North Pacolet Association). Totaling 250+ miles, these systems continue to grow and gain permanent easement protection thanks to the generosity of landowners. And our Western Carolina Hunter Pace Series ( is the largest, and longest-running in the country with 15-20 events annually, each benefiting a local non-profit. On average, 100 riders attend each ace, including regulars from SC, Ga, Va, and Tenn.

Our Horse Economy

Our equine population – the highest per capita out of 100 NC – produces a steady demand for varied horse-related goods and services. No wonder equine businesses comprise a major economic engine for the area.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Ten mobile equine veternarian serve the Tryon/Landrum area, six as independents and four on staff at Tryon Equine Hospital, which is also a highly respected surgical referral facility with four board-certified surgeons.
  • Twenty-plus farriers serve the area, covering the spectrum from basic to show and therapeutic hoof care. The unique monthly “Farrier Jams’ attended by Polk vets and farriers who jointly examine and resolve equine cases have earned natural recognition.
  • Fescue hay is readily available from local farmers, and specialty hays grown elsewhere, like Timothy and Alfalfa, are distributed through local dealers.
  • Four long-standing independent feed stores carry major feed brands as well as supplements and other customary supplies.
  • The Farm House, between Tryon and Landrum, is one of the country’s top independent dealers of English riding apparel and equipment, and is Ariat’s largest independent dealer. The consignment store Re-Ride has carried gently used equestrian clothing and tack for 10 years.
  • There are 50 full-time trainers and instructors in the Polk/Landrum area, and a weekend without a top clinician in town would be rare.
  • There are 24 boarding barns in the immediate Polk/Landrum area; most are full-board and a handful provide pasture board options.

These examples are only they tip of our equine economic iceberg. Other local services include equine massage, equine chiropractic, equine dentistry, equine insurance agents, tack and blanket repair, show management, horse transport, trailer sales and service, construction, real estate, farm sitting, judging, course design, and more.

Support for horses and horse people in evident in two long-running business campaigns in the area: “Our Horses Mean Business” and 1″Boots & Breeches Always Welcome.”

Tryon International Equestrian Center

Drawn by our horse history and bound to make our equine future even brighter is Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC), the world-class show grounds that opened here in Summer 2014. It is owned by Tryon Equestrian Partners, who are also members of Wellington Equestrian Partners, owners and operators of the Winter Equestrian Festival, the most successful show circuit in the world.

As of 2015, TIEC has seven state-of-the-art barns totaling 800+ permanent stalls; seven rings including the lighted, stadium-style George H. Morris International Arena; a covered arena that’s one of the largest in the world; and a retail and restaurant center. Onsite accommodations include 40 one-bedroom rental cabins; 13 three- and five- bedroom rental cabins; and a 120-space full-service recreational vehicle park with lodge that includes showers, washer/dryers, wide screen TV’s and WiFi.

TIEC is the centerpiece of the 1400-acre Tryon Resort, which will include residences, an Arnold Palmer Signature golf course, other recreational facilities,and two hotels.

The economic impact of Tryon Resort and TIEC, in terms of job-creation and tourism dollars, is expected to provide a huge boon to Polk County and its surrounding areas.

Since this article was written the steeplechase race has moved. Please go to for further information.

On Jackson Road is the original slave chapel at Coxe Plantation, known as St. Francis, the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church was moved to Tryon in 1955.  It still has original furnishings and glass.

On Markham Road is the Tryon Cemetery which dates back to the early 1700’s.

On Harmon Field Road is Harmon Field – home to the first Tryon Horse & Hound show in 1926.  Many equestrian events are still held here. Through the back of the property, the Pacolet River meanders beside stables, picnic areas, a play ground, soccer and softball fields, a putting green and a walking track.

On Harmon Field Road is Seven Hearths – built in 1740, it is said to be the first clapboard house in the county.  Moved piece by piece to its present location in 1934 and completely restored.

Also on Harmon Field Road are the Log Cabin Slave Quarters – circa 1740, they were moved and reconstructed next to Seven Hearths.

On 16 North Trade Street is the historic Bank of Tryon Building – (now the Tryon Daily Bulletin office) – circa 1908 and listed on the National Register of  Historic Places in January of 2008, the two story brick and stone Romanesque-revivals style commercial building constructed to house the first bank established in Polk County displays a beautiful brick and stone facade. From 1935 to present the building has been the home of the world’s smallest daily newspaper.

Located on the corner of three important roads in Polk County – Highway 108 (Lynn Road), Howard Gap Road and Harmon Field Road is the historic Mill Farm Inn – Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in January of 2009, this former guest inn is now a private residence.  The Mill Farm Inn was designed by Chicago architect Russell Walcott and construction was completed in 1939.  It is a two-story, Colonial Revival-style, stone building topped by an asphalt-shingle side-gable roof with exposed rafter ends.

On East Howard Street near the intersection of Vaughn Street is Ziglar Field – historic site of the games for the local semi-pro African-American baseball team, the Tryon All-Stars from 1948 until the 1960’s. Ziglar Field currently sports a soccer field and a baseball field for public use.

On West Howard Street across from the Tryon Fire Department is Rogers Park – this is the site of the Summer Tracks concert series. Rogers Park has an amphitheater in a wooded open-air space – the venue hosts concerts, plays, weddings, school programs, graduations etc. with seating up to 200 people.  A small stream bubbles across the park and in front of an oval stage with beautiful rock-work and a retractable awning.  Permanent seating in rows up the facing hillside provides good visibility of the stage area. The park also has green space, picnic tables and pergolas.

On Trade Street in downtown, the Tryon Theater was originally built in 1939 as a movie and vaudeville theater, it still uses it’s original carbon arc projectors.  It shows movies 4 nights a week and has a matinee on Sunday.

On Hunting Country Road is FENCE (Foothills Equestrian Nature Center) – a 220 acre nature preserve with marked riding and hiking trails, a cross-country equine course, multiple stables and rings for equestrian events, plus bird and nature walking trails.  It hosts outdoor concerts, educational camps, Go Fly a Kite Day and so much more.  The main lodge can be rented for a small fee for public or private events.