Polk County was created by the Provisional Legislature from Yamhill District on December 22, 1845. The county was named after President James Knox Polk and originally included the entire southwestern portion of present day Oregon to the California border. County boundaries were periodically changed to reflect the creation of Benton and Lincoln Counties. Polk County today contains 745 square miles and stretches from the Willamette River on the east to the Coast Range on the west. It is bordered by Yamhill, Lincoln, Benton, and Marion Counties.
The first county seat was a settlement on the north side of Rickreall Creek named Cynthian (also known as Cynthia Ann). In 1852 city officials changed the name to Dallas after Vice President George M. Dallas. By 1856, the lack of an adequate source of drinking water compelled the town to move more than a mile to the south. During the 1880s and 1890s, Dallas withstood efforts to move the county seat to nearby Independence.
Three courthouses have served Polk County. The first was built in Cynthian in 1851 but was dismantled when the town was moved. Soon thereafter the county built a second courthouse in Dallas, but it was destroyed by fire in 1898. Construction of the present courthouse began the same year and was completed in 1900. In 1966 the county completed a three-story annex. Further expansion occurred in 1989 when the Polk County Human Services Department was consolidated in the newly acquired Academy Building.
For over a century, Polk County was governed by a county court. By the early 1960s the county court in Polk County had ceased to exercise judicial power and was renamed the board of commissioners. The board of commissioners acts as the governing body for the county and is responsible for county administration, management, and policy.
Polk County's 2000 population of 62,380 represented an increase of 25.92% over 1990.
The major industries of the county are agriculture, forest products, manufacturing, and education. Western Oregon University is located in Monmouth.
Did You Know?
The company town of Valsetz, once nestled in the remote Coast Range Mountains of western Polk County, now exists only in photographs and memories. The name of the community derived from a contraction of the Valley and Siletz Railroad that served it. The railroad, designed to exploit the vast stands of timber in the area, reached the Valsetz area in 1920. A sawmill and company housing soon followed and the community thrived until stands of old timber were depleted in the 1970s.
In 1984 the Boise Cascade Corporation, owner of all of the structures and land, ceased operations and quite literally "removed" the town. The property was added to the Valsetz Tree Farm and the residents, some of whom lived in Valsetz for decades, sadly moved on.