Polk County History

Map of the state of Oregon with Polk county in the north western area blacked out. The Provisional Legislature created Polk County from Yamhill District on Dec. 22, 1845. The county was named after President James Knox Polk and originally included the entire southwest 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 after 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 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 2011 population of 75,965 represented an increase of more than 20% over the 2000 population of 62,380. 

The major industries of the county are agriculture, forest products, manufacturing, and education. Western Oregon University is located in Monmouth. 

Inside Polk Courthouse

2nd floor courtroom with audience seating and judge's bench.
Courtroom on 2nd floor.
Wooden stairs in lobby of courthouse.
Courthouse stairway in lobby.

ceiling on 1st floor of courthouse has tile design.
Detail of ceiling in 1st floor area of courthouse.
Polk county courthouse
The Polk County Courthouse was built in 1900 and expanded in 1966. It serves as the third courthouse for the county. (Oregon State Archives Scenic Image 20070821-0544​)

Polk County Courthouse

850 Main Street
Dallas, OR 97338
Clerk: 503-623-9217
Courts: 503-623-3154
Visit Polk County website >​


Valsetz teachers dormitory and school
The old Valsetz teachers dormitory and school. (Photo courtesy valsetz.homestead.com)
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 the structures and land, ceased operations and 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. (Source: Oregon Geographic Names)