Sylva North Carolina
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Sylva North Carolina

The historic mountain town of Sylva is a classic example of the quality the mountains have to offer. The city of Sylva (I prefer the term " mountain town") is cradled within the Nantahala National Forest under the mighty slopes of the Balsam Mountains and the neighboring Great Smoky Mountains. Sylva, along with all of Jackson County, stands as a testament to the achievement of a remote mountain region.

Sylva, the county seat of Jackson County, North Carolina, is a turn of the 20th century town that accelerated in development with the coming of the railroad. Sylva is a charming Victorian-style mountain town properly complemented by a long West Main Street lined with shops, galleries, fine dining, eateries, inns, and B & B's, along with additional professional and business services. Mill Street, located along the railroad tracks to the north of West Main Street, appears as a quaint step back in time with its interesting retail establishments. The setting is more common and intriguing in character than the more classically designed upper level of West Main Street. The popular Bridge Park and Scotts Creek are located across the track from Mill Street. Bridge Park is very active during annual events and festivals. Friday night concerts are free to the public from May through August.

Streets and neighborhoods to the south of West Main Street in historic downtown Sylva climb a gentle slope up the mountainside. Historic homes along this slope offer excellent views of the downtown district and the tall mountains along the northern horizon, a charming setting when viewed from the comfort of a rocking chair on a front porch. Sylva also has that distinct flare of a "college town" with Western Carolina University just down the road a short piece.

The name "Sylva" is believed to have come from an inspired choice by Mae Hampton, daughter of E.R. Hampton. Mr. Hampton married into the Cannon family, which owned a sawmill that employed an itinerant Dane named William D. Sylva. W.D. Sylva worked at the family sawmill, cutting the logs for the Hampton House, and left a notable impression.

Sylva was not always the county seat, that honor originally belonging to the older town of Webster, established long before the coming of the railroad. Upon the arrival of the railroad, Sylva established a booming local economy, and it became evident that the county seat would need to be in the economic heart of the county. On May 8, 1913, Sylva was officially elected to be the county seat. In early 1914, the county courthouse was opened and stills stands today in all its historic glory.

The historic courthouse is perched high upon a hilltop overlooking West Main Street and the rail-line that decided the county's fate. From the top of the courthouse steps, visitors can witness the stunning beauty of the town of Sylva below and the surrounding mountainous region of northern Jackson County. The courthouse stands as a beacon against the towering mountainous backdrop. The large white courthouse, constructed of stone blocks and tall Ionic Greek columns, along with its long staircase stretching up from the street below to the crest of the hill, reflects a brilliant white-light set against a sea of forest green crowned with a bronze statue of Lady Justice. It's such a commanding image that the courthouse can be seen against the horizon for quite a distance from downtown Sylva, especially along the outer main Hwy 74. The courthouse is reputed as the most photographed in the country.

This stately historic courthouse had been in use from 1914 to 1994 when the new Justice Center was completed. From 2009-2011 the historic courthouse underwent extensive remodeling along with the construction of an adjoining public library. The beautifully designed interior and stately architectural exterior of the new library enhances the image of the old historic courthouse. The Jackson County Public Library opened in 2011 to rave reviews and won the "Outstanding Facility Award" for new libraries larger than 26,000-square feet.

Today the historic courthouse is a proper and fitting home to the Jackson County Genealogical Society and the Jackson County Historical Association, both preserving the history and legacy of the county's rich heritage.

Sylva is also home to the Jackson County Arts Council and Catch the Spirit of Appalachia. The vision of the Jackson County Arts Council is to promote individual artists, foster appreciation of the arts, provide art education and inspire creativity in Jackson County. Catch the Spirit of Appalachia is a group of Western North Carolina individuals dedicated to awakening people of all ages to their self-worth, to the wisdom of their ancestors, and the beauty of their natural environment and culture.


Combining the local spirit of the university with the spirit of town folks residing in this picturesque mountain community, Sylva has become very popular for its annual festivals, events, and parades. Main Street comes alive during these events as does Bridge Park with its ideal location and atmosphere. For these events the park facilities include a covered performance pavilion, a market space, and public gardens. The park's namesake, the bridge over Scotts Creek, connects Bridge Park to Poteet Park. Poteet Park offers play areas, picnic tables, a playground, and public swimming pool. Community gardens and a community kitchen are also a part of the city's public park system. One of the most popular events held at Bridge Park from late May through August is the "Concert on the Creek" musical venue. This and other event gatherings make Bridge Park a true asset to Jackson County.

One of Sylva's finest features is its overall atmosphere. A leisurely stroll along Sylva's West Main Street is an excellent way to feel the spirit of the town and experience an up-close feel for the community itself. Wandering in and out of shops, galleries, and eateries makes the experience all the more enriching.

Historic buildings line both sides of the streets under the shadow of the grand courthouse perched high above West Main Street.

Though Sylva's stunning representation as an ideal picturesque mountain town ranks high on the chart, it's the town's community spirit that ranks it even higher on the chart as "the pride of Jackson County."

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