A Brief History of Polkton
Seven Miles West of Wadesboro via US Hwy 74, Polkton began as the farm of Colonel Leonidas Lafayette Polk, the noted agrarian crusader.
When the Carolinas Central Railroad pushed through his farm, the idea for building a town was born. He first thought of calling it Luneville, but Polkton, honoring his family name, won out, though the area was first called Pineville.
Polk laid out streets in 1870 and advertised in his weekly newspaper printed in an office at his home, he called for new citizens with character. The social and literary club led by the Davidson alumnus was a source of enjoyment to him, his wife, Sallie, and their six children.
His home, which still stands, housed his print shop, store and living space. A North Carolina historical marker highlights his career.
Polkton was incorporated in 1875. It prospered with farming and storekeeping. In the early part of the 20th century a brickyard and Goodman Tan yard operated in the town. Later the Harris and Clark Lumber companies were a business asset.
Stores did a good business; the Ross Company, a large general store, hired a milliner from “up North”. In time R. G. Austin started a small light plant, Delco System and Dr. L. C. Smith began a telephone system.
Polk was a man of many talents and something of inventor. He concocted candies and diphtheria medication which had wide sale. Not the only man in Polkton to attempt inventing, Leard Moore invented chain brakes, and a Mr. Pope invented the first automatic car coupler. Both were beaten to the patent office and did not reap the rewards of their inventions.
A colorful Polkton woman, Aunt Roxie Ledbetter, accompanied others on their first ride on the Old Carolina Central. The story goes the train wrecked and several people were injured on the way to Lilesville. Aunt Roxie, a woman of courage and many petticoats, ripped one of them and tore it into bandages. The injured all lived to tell of the experience.
The Bank of Polkton served the town and the community until the depression. It was sponsored by a Rockingham bank with Leak Covington and A. L. Caudle as leading businessman.
Charles H. Martins (Populist ticket winner for Congress) grandson, W. Cliff Martin, served as Mayor or a Town Commissioner for a total of (50) fifty years. He also owned and operated a substantial business in Polkton, called the Polkton Shirt Company.
For many years the shirt factory which began in 1938 and grew Polkton Manufacturing Company operated here. Hugh Martin Efird, president, is the grandson of John Emory Efird, whose sons founded Efird Stores.
Other businesses are Southern Fabricators, metal works; Tidewater Company, sellers and repairer of logging equipment; (3) three convenience stores, providing food and fuel; Restaurant, home-style cooking; a Dollar General, providing general merchandise; a propane storage site, a carwash, a diesel repair shop, a daycare center, (3) North Carolina Dept. of Public Safety Correction Facilities (minimum, medium and maximum custodies), a Police Department, a Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, American Builders, a metal building fabrication company, a local First Bank, Anson Counties Animal Shelter, Brown Creek Animal Hospital, and the Field of Dreams (Baseball and Softball Fields).
South Piedmont Community College is located on the west side of town. The college has not only been an asset to Polkton but to the county as well. The schools have consolidated and elementary students attend the combined Peachland/Polkton School on US Hwy 74 and middle school and high schoolers attend Anson Middle and Anson High School located inside of Wadesboro’s City Limits.
Polkton’s spiritual needs are attended to by the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of God and independent non-denominational churches.
Two state Federated clubs are present in town, the Polkton Literary Club (inactive) and the Polkton Women’s Service Club. Two local community groups are actively involved in beautifying the town.
Polkton’s famous sons are Ambassador Wilson Clarke Flake, Harlee Branch, Atlanta newspaperman and head of civil aeronautics during the Roosevelt administration, James Bennett Branch, Presbyterian educator, and Ret. Major General Arthur T. Dean to mention a few.
Other families who have been active leaders in the development of the town are Smith, Harris, Crump, Moore, Martin, McDaniel, Austin, Bricker, Caudle, Cameron, Humbert, Boyce and Hawley. Citizens of Polkton have through the years gone on to be successful professionals, businesspersons and government servants.
About our Town Founder
L. L. Polk (Leonidas La Fayette), 1837-1892
Leonidas LaFayette Polk (24 Apr. 1837-11 June 1892), agrarian leader, was born in Anson County, the only child of Andrew Polk and his second wife, Serena Autry. The father was a middle-class farmer who practiced diversified agriculture—cotton, corn, oats, cattle, hogs? And at the time of his death owned thirty-two slaves. The mother died two years after her husband, when Leonidas was fifteen. In sharing the estate with three half-brothers he received 353 acres and seven slaves. He attended neighborhood schools, read widely, and benefited from the guidance of several sympathetic, responsible adults. Certain that he wanted to be a "gentleman farmer," the young man enrolled at Davidson College in 1855 and completed with distinction one year as a special student. He then returned to Anson, married, received 300 more acres of land on approaching his majority, and developed a keen interest in politics.
As an ardent Union Whig he was elected to the state House of Commons in 1860. After President Abraham Lincoln's call for troops against the South the following spring, Polk declared himself "for resistance to the bitter end." He led a joint house-senate committee in the creation of a state militia; commissioned a colonel, he performed the delicate task of applying compulsory service legislation in his home county. In May 1862 he transferred to the Twenty-sixth North Carolina Regiment (as a private, then sergeant-major) commanded by Colonel Zebulon B. Vance. After Vance's election as governor, however, Polk joined the Forty-third Regiment (as a second lieutenant), in which he served until returned to the legislature in 1864. After the war he also won election to the constitutional convention that restored North Carolina to the Union. For the next eight years he devoted his energies chiefly to restoring his war-ravaged property and caring for his growing family. At length he opened a country store, started the weekly Ansonia, and, as the new Carolina Central Railroad approached his farm, sold lots, attracted settlers, and incorporated the town of Polkton.
The appearance of his paper's first number in 1874 signaled Polk's return to public affairs. He advocated Zeb Vance for governor two years hence for conservatism over radicalism, and he championed diversification—"raise your own bread and meat—while condemning the one-crop—"all cotton—system. It was his conviction that the Grange, of which he was a leader, could exemplify necessary education and cooperation. Together, and with Governor Vance's backing, they initiated action resulting in a state Department of Agriculture in 1877 with Polk as commissioner. Utilizing a tax on commercial fertilizers, the agency quickly became a prototype for five other southern states. Following Vance's election to the U.S. Senate, however, the department's conservative governing board so crippled the agency that Polk resigned in 1880. Shortly afterwards he joined the daily Raleigh News.
As a roving reporter he campaigned for development of the state's resources and revealed himself as a strongly partisan Democrat. In 1881 he efficiently managed the state fair; in 1883 he exerted strong influence towards the reorganization of the state Board of Agriculture. But three business ventures he launched in the early eighties failed. Polk then returned to journalism and agricultural leadership as he began the weekly Progressive Farmer on 10 Feb. 1886. He strove to make the paper of practical value to farm families, encouraged farmers to organize clubs to advance their interests, and insisted that the annual federal land-grant fund under the Morrill Act be transferred from The University of North Carolina to a separate institution that would teach "practical" subjects. Each goal was attained. When the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts were established at Raleigh in 1887, Polk's prime role became apparent. Leaders of his denomination then called upon him to push through a long-dormant project to create a Baptist school for girls—ultimately Meredith College in Raleigh.
The farmers' club movement initiated by Polk made North Carolina receptive to the Farmers' Alliance in 1887. Since the Grange had declined and farmer grievances were mounting, this predominantly southern organization had great appeal. Facilitated by Polk, the Alliance rapidly gained thousands of members and impressive strength over the next four years. First came the North Carolina Farmers' Association, formed in connection with the struggle for the agricultural college. Several months later, in Atlanta, the Inter-State Farmers' Association, a group of southern farm leaders, elected Polk president by acclamation and repeated their action at Raleigh in 1888 and at Montgomery in 1889. Both organizations were absorbed by the great Farmers' Alliance. Following a year as first vice-president and another as chairman of the executive committee, Polk in 1889 became president of the two-million-member Alliance and was reelected in 1890 and 1891. Farm distress was acute during these years. He and other officers, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., planned, organized, corresponded, published, lobbied, and exhorted. But their opposition—the industrial and financial interests of the Northeast and Midwest—seemed unyielding.
Polk participated vigorously in the political campaigns of the early nineties. Endowed with personal warmth, great energy, and oratorical skill, he traveled by train to almost every state in behalf of the farmers' cause. He elaborated the Alliance's panacea for agriculture's ills, the "sub-treasury plan"; he fervently called for an end to North-South sectionalism. The focal point in the West was Kansas, where the new People's party (Populists) threatened to combine with the minority Democrats to overthrow the Republicans. Polk made two speaking trips to Kansas in 1890 and another the next year. As in the West, the political power of the Farmers' Alliance in the South became formidable. The Negro issue, however, dictated that the Alliance endeavor to control the Democratic majority rather than form a third party, which might result in a Republican victory. When the Kansas Republicans lost in the elections of 1890, and hundreds of Alliance-backed candidates won in both the West and the South, the farmers' revolt gained national attention. "We are here to stay," said Polk. "This great reform movement will not cease until it has impressed itself indelibly in the nation's history."
As leader of the Alliance, largest of the many organizations campaigning for the farmer and the laborer, Polk himself drew much notice. At the annual meetings of the Alliance at Ocala, Fla., in 1890 and at Indianapolis in 1891, third-party speculation was rampant and his name was often mentioned in that connection. By the latter year he was convinced that neither major party would legislate for farm relief. Indeed, Congress had defeated a vital "free silver" bill and refused even to discuss the sub-treasury plan. Polk therefore saw his plain duty: to do all in his power to promote the success of the now national People's party. Already he had been bitterly attacked by both the Kansas Republicans and the North Carolina "Bourbon Democrats." But "Alliance Democrats" in his home state scored heavily in 1890, enacted the following year the most progressive legislation since antebellum times, and in 1892 held the balance of political power.
Thousands of Tar Heel farmers enlisted with Polk in the People's party in 1892. Yet more thousands who admired him—more conservative, fearful of a third party, aware of their strength—stayed with the Democratic Party. Marion Butler, young president of the State Alliance, proposed fusion of Democrats and Populists in state politics. Polk naturally opposed the plan: "I cannot give such a policy my endorsement. . . . I am an out and out People's Party man." Both rejoiced, nonetheless, when the Democratic state convention nominated for governor an outstanding alliance man, Elias Carr, over the incumbent Bourbon, Thomas M. Holt.
Nationally the first landmark of 1892 was St. Louis, where 1,200 delegates from many reform organizations assembled on 22 February to agree on a platform and arrange for a subsequent People's party convention. Polk served as permanent chairman and conferred at length with other Populist leaders. The body then made the site Omaha and the date 4 July; 1,776 delegates were authorized to nominate the third-party ticket. By spring, sentiment began to crystallize on the nomination of Polk for president. His leadership of the Alliance, acceptability to diverse reform groups, and crusade against sectionalism combined to sway many minds. He was willing and zealous. So strongly did his Progressive Farmer on 24 May favor the Populists, however, that the State Alliance executive committee objected; as official organ the paper was required to be nonpartisan. Whereupon Polk, possibly misunderstanding, submitted his paper's resignation. This trying decision, the realization that the Bourbon Democrats would support the Alliance Democrats against the Populists in North Carolina, overwork and overstrain, and the aggravation of a physical ailment of four years finally overcame him. He died in the Garfield Memorial Hospital, Washington, and was buried the next day in Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh.
L. L. Polk was a great-great-grandson of William Polk of Carlisle, Pa., common ancestor of the North Carolina Polk’s, and a second cousin to Leonidas Polk, churchman, educator, and Confederate officer. He married Sarah Pamela Gaddy of Anson County on 23 Sept. 1857. They had six daughters and a son who died in infancy. The daughters who bore children were Juanita Polk Denmark and Carrie Polk Browder.