Sylva is Jackson County’s retail and professional center where day-to-day services meet unique history. The town’s development rose with the construction of the Western North Carolina Railroad in the 1880s. Its name came about at the suggestion of Mae Hampton, daughter of E.R. Hampton, who is credited as being the founder of Sylva.
E.R. Hampton had married into the Cannon family, which owned a sawmill where William D. Sylva had helped saw the logs that built the Hampton’s home.
The railroad’s route through Sylva made it a prime location for the county seat—originally located in Webster—but the issue of relocation resulted in years of bitter dispute between the two town’s representatives. The state legislature settled the dispute, giving Sylva permission to construct a courthouse so long as the town paid the moving costs to relocate.
Today the courthouse remains the crown jewel of historic Sylva’s downtown and reputedly is the most photographed courthouse of its kind. Though no longer where court is held, the courthouse has been renovated for local organizations’ office space and adjoined to a new, yet architecturally appropriate library that reinvigorates the location’s role as a gathering place. Look here not only for free wi-fi and a reading room with a breathtaking view but exhibits featuring local crafters’ work, books by local authors, live music with Lady and the Old Timers Band from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the first Friday of each month, and free movies on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.
Downtown brings locals, tourists and college students to the tree-lined streetscape with art galleries, furniture and antique stores, clothing stores, restaurants, coffee shop, hangouts, a small brewery, music store, outfitter's shop, bike shop and more.
A long-time favorite is City Lights Bookstore where there are numerous author appearances, game nights, live music, poetry readings and lectures going on throughout the week. This is the place to go if one is looking for local literature—the store’s collection of which is only outranked by its fine selection of used books. Say hello to the black and white shop cats, then head downstairs to City Lights Café.
The Nichols House, which is a purveyor of antiques in a now beautifully restored Victorian, is a treasure seeker’s adventure, as is Jones Country Store, which is less cornmeal and flyswatters and more fishing creels and old tools. The ladies will appreciate B&B’s Gifts and the one-of-a-kind works at It’s By Nature, while the men will be better suited with the Carhartt at Jacksons General Stores or testing out some gear at Blackrock Outdoor Company or Motion Makers Bike Shop. At Main Street Bakery, perk up with a cup of coffee and a sweet treat—look for the goat cheese stuffed, chocolate covered dates with crumbled bacon.
For a bite to eat, Lulu’s is a Main Street mainstay, while up the street Speedy’s Pizza, another institution, offers a much more laid back vibe and TVs to catch the game. O’Malley’s is another nightspot for a drink with friends. Jack the Dipper has been the town’s ice cream shop of record for more than twenty years—though it’s location in the movie theater plaza is what some still describe as “new,” even after half a decade.
Trout Trail draws trophy anglers
The Western North Carolina Fly Fishing Trail in Jackson County features some of the best trout waters in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The trail covers fifteen excellent spots for catching brook, brown and rainbow trout including Panthertown Creek in Panthertown Valley, known as the “Yosemite of the East” because of its bowl shape and rocky bluffs; the Tuckasegee River, which based on location offers a chance to score the Tuckasegee Slam (catch all three species in one spot) or hook a smallmouth bass; and Raven Fork, which is Cherokee Trophy Water, and fish of 20-30 inches are common.
“The Raven Fork trophy water enhances the trail's overall experience because it provides a type of fishing not found anywhere else,” said Julie Spiro of the Jackson Country Tourism Authority, which created the WNC Fly Fishing Trail. “It's thrilling to catch fish on that stream.”Guide services are available for fishing trips along the trail. In downtown Sylva look to Hooker’s Fly Shop & Guide Service, or contact AB’s Fly Fishing Guide Service—owner Alex Bell helped create the fishing trail. A weekly fishing report can be found at FlyFishingTrail.com or facebook.com/WncFlyFishingTrail.
Fishing permits are required and special regulations apply to certain waters. Complimentary maps and lodging details are available by contacting the Jackson County Tourism Authority at 800.962.1911 or by visiting MountainLovers.com.
Dillsboro: Crafters abound in this creativity-friendly town
Dillsboro, a charming village home to a community of artists, unique retailers and restaurants, has been a tourist town since the late 19th century when the railroad first brought visitors to the "land of the sky" to escape the summer heat.
This is a great place to spend some family-friendly time. Don’t miss Dogwood Crafters, Oaks Gallery, Bradley’s General Store, and be sure to get your hands dirty at Claymate’s with a DIY art project suitable for kids or adults.
Stop in the Jarrett House, founded by William Allen Dills—note the town bears his name. This one-time boarding house has welcomed guests to Jackson County since the 1880s. Now a family restaurant, the Jarrett House offers home cooked, Southern food and a few lessons in history.At the Jackson County Green Energy Park, methane gas is captured from the old town landfill and used as fuel in studios for glassblowers, blacksmiths and a greenhouse. A gallery onsite showcases the work of the artists that use the "green" space.
Just outside town, the century-old Monteith Farmstead is a town park with walking trails featuring interpretive nature signs along a creek.
Up the road, Cullowhee awaits
Cullowhee—a Cherokee word that translates to Valley of the Lilies—is a university town. Founded in 1889, Western Carolina University was first a semi-public secondary school. Often called “the Cullowhee experiment,” founder and professor Robert Lee Madison’s idea became the model for the other regional colleges in the state.
In 1972, the university became a member of the University of North Carolina system, which includes UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University. Today, WCU has more than 9,000 enrolled students.
Nestled in the mountains, WCU recognizes the rich traditions of the Appalachian and Cherokee cultures. The Mountain Heritage Center is located on the ground floor of the university’s administration building and hosts several exhibits and programs throughout the year. A perennial favorite is an exhibit chronicling the migration of the Scots-Irish, while a just closed exhibit focused on the people and stories behind the quilts in the Mountain Heritage Center's collection, and a just opened exhibit features Horace Kephart, who was influential in convincing individuals on both the local and national levels of the need for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.WCU also is a major center for arts. The Fine & Performing Arts Center’s season includes the Galaxy of Stars series with shows such as “101 Years of Broadway,” as well as student productions from the School of Stage & Screen. The Fine Arts Museum, draws from the museum’s permanent collection, curated and visiting exhibits. Through February, the museum features North Carolina Glass 2012, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the studio glass movement in the United States.
On the field, WCU opened the football season with a 42-14 win over Mars Hill, snapping a nine-game losing skid for WCU that dated back nearly a full year. The win came with new head coach Mark Spier, a Clemson University graduate who spent the past nine seasons at Appalachian State University where he was a part of three-consecutive NCAA Football Championship Subdivision National Championships. WCU plays rival ASU at home on Oct. 27.
While in Cullowhee, make sure to stop in some of the local shops that give the campus and surrounding area its unique character. The Mad Batter is a funky favorite among faculty and students that specializes in vegetarian cuisine and is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. The food is locally sourced, and baked goods made in house. To boot, there’s free wi-fi and beer. By the river, there’s the tried and true Cullowhee Café, and the creative Sazon, which serves up spicy shrimp tacos and fresh salads with cilantro vinaigrette in addition to burritos, enchiladas, and fajitas.
Rest in a rolling river valley
Wind along the Tuckasegee River and take up quiet repose at the River Lodge Bed & Breakfast, where hosts Cathy and Anthony Sgambato welcome guests into their luxuriously rustic home. Hand-hewn logs give this retreat a warm
character from the exposed beam and mortar construction to the massive plank staircase that leads up to the guestrooms and down to the spacious living room with a stacked stone fireplace at its focus. To stay here is to relax. Enjoy a glass of wine and watch dusk fall on the river valley and, come morning, fill up on a gourmet breakfast such as eggs benedict with smoked salmon, asparagus and shrimp or thick French toast.
Visitors wishing to make the River Lodge Bed & Breakfast part of their retreat best hurry. After nearly 20 years as innkeepers, the Sgambatos are thinking of retirement, which means that this one-of-a-kind home will be on the market—with potential to remain an inn or return to its original purpose as a family home.In the meantime, the River Lodge Bed & Breakfast is an ideal escape, located just 10 minutes from the Western Carolina University campus. Regardless the season, it’s a beautiful and cozy place to be.
For more information, visit riverlodge-bb.com.