Polk County

The Ducktown Basin, in Polk County, in the 1950s
PHOTO: Ducktown Basin Museum

The Ducktown Basin today



Copper is an valuable metal; the water that comes into your house is usually carried in copper pipes.

Copper was discovered in Polk County in 1843 and within a few years it was being mined there. Unfortunately the method of extracting raw copper in those days created sulfuric acid as a by-product. A lot of this sulfuric acid ended up the ground in Polk County.

By 1900 thousands of acres of Polk County was completely void of vegetation. Today the trees and animals have begun to come back, but the environmental damage remains and is still being cleaned up, especially in the streams that pour into the Ocoee River.

The best place to learn about all this is at the Ducktown Basin Museum.

Rafters on the Hiwassee

Today, when people think of Polk County, they often think about rafting and kayaking. Both the Ocoee and Hiwassee rivers are ideal for whitewater recreation, especially since the Tennessee Valley Authority controls the water levels of both by use of dams. Therefore, both rivers are frequented by summer users. In fact, the Ocoee River was the site of the 1996 Olympic Canoe and Kayak Slalom Competition.

The Conasauga River

Meanwhile, there is another, lesser known river in Polk County. The Conasauga is the only river in Tennessee that does not eventually flow into the Mississippi River. It starts in North Georgia, flows into Polk County, and then flows south back into Georgia, eventually pouring into the Coosa River and (eventually) to the Gulf of Mexico.

Matthew Rhea’s 1832 map of Tennessee reflected the idea of a Conasauga River canal

The fact that the Conasauga River could have been used to connect the Tennessee River system to the Gulf of Mexico was very intriguing to Tennessee’s leaders in the 1820s — a time when canals were being built in other parts of the country. In fact, there was talk of a canal that would have connected the Ocoee to the Conasauga. Click here to read more about this.

A view from the Tennessee Valley Railroad

Polk County also boasts the state’s most entertaining train ride. The Tennessee Valley Railroad, which is based in Chattanooga, has a passenger route that heads up the tracks that are along the Hiwassee River and takes you to Farner, which is near the North Carolina boarder.

Along the way it goes through the “Hiwassee Loop” — a place where the tracks encircle a mountain nearly twice before crossing over themselves along a 60-foot railroad trestle!

Nancy Ward’s grave



Polk County was also the home and the final resting place of Nancy Ward, who was often known as the Beloved Woman of the Cherokee.