July 23, 2014 - 03:47

In 1883, Polk County had been functioning as a government unit for 43 years. Chester A. Arthur was serving as the 21st President of the United States; William B. Bate was Governor of Tennessee. There were 38 stars in the U.S. flag and the nation had a population of 51.5 million people.

On Oct. 12 of that year, the first issue of the Polk County News was published in Benton (population 183) under co-Editors Virgil Clemmer, age 27, and James Howard Hood, age 30. Both were sons of pioneer Polk County families. The paper initially had a circulation of 600 copies and sold for 5ยข a copy. Advertisers included a Mercantile Store, a blacksmith and a shoemaker. Benton's first corn show was held in the front office of the Polk County News in 1884, with a year's subscription offered for the best dozen ears.

The Polk County News was the first newspaper on the west side of Polk County, which is divided into two sections by the mountainous area that is now home to the Cherokee National Forest. The county's first newspaper, The Ducktown Eagle, had been published for a brief period of time in the Copper Basin area (East Polk) in 1858. It was published at Hiwassee Mines and existed for about a year with W.P. Collins Editor and Publisher.

Through the years, the Polk County News has had a variety of owners and locations, including a brief time in Cleveland, Tennessee when it was combined with the Cleveland Banner and was known as The Banner-News. The paper returned to Polk County in 1898.

Copies of the newspaper from the 1920's to date show the changes that have taken place in weekly newspapers. The front pages of early copies of the Polk County News are filled with national stories and news briefs from around the nation. Local news on the inside pages consisted primarily of social columns, school and church news, and occasional government stories. Many of the early advertisements are for patent medicines like Fletcher's Castoria ("to relieve infants in arms of constipation, flatulency, wind colic and diarrhea) and Gold Medal Harlem Oil ("a worldwide remedy for kidney, liver and bladder disorders, rheumatism, lumbago and uric acid conditions.")

As daily newspapers and television took over the role of providing national news, the Polk County News put more emphasis on local news in addition to social notes and community activities. Today, national news items are rare unless there is a local angle.

Local history has also been a consistent topic. Back issues of the newspaper are often the only source of information, not only about the events of the day but also about decades earlier. This once-sporadic publication of local history articles or pictures has become a popular weekly staple in this county which has not yet seen a major influx of "newcomers." Special tabloids of historic interest have also been published and many have been turned into booklets. Community histories, old photos and genealogical items have also been reproduced.

Since The Ducktown Eagle, there have been twenty newspapers published in Polk County, many for short periods of time. The Polk County News today is actually a consolidation of several newspapers. The Copper City Advance (Copperhill) was consolidated with the McCaysville (Ga.) Citizen in 1973 to create the Citizen-Advance. In 1985, the Polk County News purchased the Citizen-Advance, marking the first time that citizens from throughout the mountainous county shared a common newspaper and began to get to know each other a little better.

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Polk County News | P.O. Box 129 | 3 Main Street | Benton TN 37307
phone: 423-338-2818 | fax: 423-338-4574 | email

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