Tyrrell County

About

Referred to as the buffer county between the Triangle and the Outer Banks, Tyrrell County is 150 miles from Raleigh and 40 miles from Nags Head. One of the state’s oldest counties, Tyrrell was formed in 1729 from Chowan, Bertie, Currituck, and Pasquotank. The county gets its name from Sir John Tyrrell, one of the lord proprietors of Carolina Colony.

Tyrrell is best known for its natural resources and is abundant in rivers, swamps, and wetlands. A little more than a third of the total area is comprised of water, with the Albemarle Sound and Alligator and Scuppernong rivers bordering the county.

The county’s only incorporated town is the county seat of Columbia, which is located along the Scuppernong River. Early efforts to industrialize the county were met with resistance from residents who wanted to maintain the county’s rich ecosystem. Instead, development shifted to state parks and wildlife refuges. With over 16,000 acres of water and 1,200 acres of land, Pettigrew State Park spans across Terrell and Washington counties. The easternmost part of Lake Phelps, the state’s second-largest natural lake, is located in Tyrrell.

The Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge conserves “pocosin,” a unique type of wetland habitat. The word pocosin comes from a Native American word meaning “swamp on a hill.” More than 100,000 ducks, geese, and swans flock there in the winter and the refuge has one of the densest black bear populations reported.

A nod to its small population, it is said that there are more black bears in the county than people. According to OSBM, Tyrrell is the least populated county in the state with 3,358 residents. Agriculture and fishing built much of the county’s economy and still maintain it today. Since it first opened in 1998, the Tyrrell Prison Work Farm has been a major employer in the county. In 2019, the prison temporarily closed due to short staffing and shifted workers and inmates to neighboring facilities. Many of the workers also moved out of the county, leading to a further decline in population and dealing a blow to the local economy. In 2020, the state reopened the prison and began gradually building the facility back up.

Politically, Democrats won the county until George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004 by 124 votes. In 2008, Barack Obama narrowly lost the county by less than 1.5% which amounted to 27 votes. Since then, the county has grown in Republican support. Donald Trump won the county by 15 points in 2016 and 16 points in 2020. In the 2022 election for the US Senate, Ted Budd won by 23 points.

Geography

Elected Officials

County Data