Cruise-In fundraiser

More than 200 people turned out for the second Jackson County Genealogical Society Cruise-In fundraiser last October. The event pays tribute to the old Rebel Restaurant, which operated in what is now the Sav-Mor parking lot from 1960 until 1972. JCGS will host its third cruise-in Sunday, Sept. 30, from 2 until 4 p.m. at Sylva’s Mark Watson Park.

The Jackson County Genealogical Society, winner of Western Carolina University’s 2012 Mountain Heritage Award, will host its annual Cruise-In fundraiser on Sunday, Sept. 30, from 2 until 4 p.m. at Sylva’s Mark Watson Park.

The event, which will include classic cars and trucks (1988 and older) current-day muscle cars and “rat rods” (custom creations designed to express the builder’s take on a retro junk vehicle) as well as music and food, pays tribute to the old Rebel Restaurant, a busy destination during the dozen or so years it operated. Located in front of what’s now Sav-Mor, the Rebel (1960-1972) offered breakfast, lunch and dinner but is best remembered as the place local teens went to see and be seen.

The Cruise-In’s car registration fees, T-shirt donations and 50-50 raffle will raise money to help cover JCGS operating costs. This marks the third year JCGS has hosted a car show fundraiser; the first two were held at the site of the old Rebel.

“With the great turnout we had at last year’s Cruise-In – from both car-owners and spectators – and a bigger crowd expected this year, we decided to move to Mark Watson Park where we’ll have more room,” said JCGS President Kenny Nicholson.

A half-century ago, teens out on Friday night ended up at The Rebel. It was the place to be, and it still holds a special place in the hearts of a generation of local high-schoolers.

“It was our gathering place,” said event Co-Chairman Mike Clayton, a 1965 Sylva-Webster graduate. “First we went to The Rebel, then up the hill to the bowling alley (at the time located near Eastgate Pharmacy), then back to The Rebel, and through downtown. Then we’d do it all again, maybe 10 or 15 times a night.”

Thad and Viola Deitz, parents of JCGS Treasurer Teresa Manring, started The Rebel in 1960. After operating it for six or seven years, they sold the business to Gene and Sally Brown, who ran it for two years before Bill and Kay Potts took over.

“So many people have fond memories of The Rebel that we decided to stage an annual event that would include the cars and food associated with the restaurant,” Manring said. “The Cruise-In is for the whole community – and especially for everyone who ever circled the Rebel.”

Those who remember nights spent circling the Rebel – the restaurant was located close to the highway with a big lot in back – can recapture some of their lost youth on Sept. 30. In addition to enjoying the vintage vehicles, attendees can hear 1960s music provided by Bud Clayton and enjoy Rebel-themed food served up by local caterer John Faulk.

Participating vehicle owners will pay a $20 registration fee that includes them in raffles to win prizes donated by area auto parts stores and other merchants. Commemorative T-shirts will be available for a minimum $20 donation to the JCGS. A 50-50 raffle is planned, with the drawing set for 3:30 p.m. Tickets will be sold during the Cruise-In and will cost $1 each or $5 for six. Commemorative posters will be free with a minimum $5 donation.

The cars will be on display from 2 until 4 p.m., when they will depart Mark Watson Park on a law-enforcement escorted cruise through Sylva and Dillsboro, led by Sheriff Chip Hall in a vintage police car. After turning right toward Sylva from Mark Watson, the classic and muscle cars and trucks will drive up Sylva’s Main Street and then turn left on Business 23 to the site of the former Rebel in the Sav-Mor parking lot at Jackson Plaza. After “circling the Rebel” in spirit, the group will travel back down Business 23, taking Mill Street through Sylva and continuing to Dillsboro, turning from Haywood Road down Webster Street to Front Street and back to Business 23 for the return to Mark Watson Park. Those who’d like to watch the parade from Sylva’s Main Street should be there by 4 p.m., as participating vehicles will travel through the downtown business district very soon after 4 p.m.

For more information on this year’s Cruise-In, call one of these JCGS organizers: Kenny Nicholson, 226-3798; Karen Nicholson, 226-5825; or Norma Clayton, 506-9241.

Gene Brown, who with his wife Sally owned the Rebel from June 1965 until June 1967, said the building was owned by Beef Lloyd, who built it for the Deitzs’ restaurant.

“Thad and Viola were ready to retire and do some other things, and Mr. Lloyd talked me into buying the business,” Brown said. “I sold the Rebel two years later because I thought I was going to have to go back into the military.”

The fact that local teens cruised the parking lot repeatedly was never a problem, he said.

“They’d circle around and around, but before the night was over, they’d buy something,” Brown said.

During the two years they ran the Rebel, they had about 24 employees, Brown said.

“We didn’t have any trouble finding people to work for us because we treated our help real well,” he said. “But a lot of our boys got drafted.”

After the Rebel closed in 1972, the building was used as the county Democratic headquarters during that year’s November elections. Around that same time, Lloyd sold the property to Marion Jones and the late Marcellus “Buck” Buchanan, who sold it about a year later to Ted Phillips, who developed Sylva Plaza shopping center.

The annual event is shaping up to be a lot of fun, Nicholson said, but it’s something of a necessity for the JCGS as well.

“We are proud of our office in the Library, and while our volunteers provide staffing, there are still costs associated with the office and with publishing our award-winning newsletter, ‘Journeys Through Jackson,’” he said. “This fundraiser will help defray our annual expenses and allow us to keep providing assistance to people seeking information about their ancestors.”

Every penny of the money raised at the Sept. 30 event will benefit the JCGS, which has worked since its 1991 founding to bring together individuals interested in genealogy; to discover, research and exchange materials related to Jackson County genealogy; and to publish genealogical information on a regular basis. The Society’s office is located in the Courthouse wing of the Jackson County Library and is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturdays by appointment.

The JCGS meets at 6:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month, with attendance ranging from 20 to more than 100. In addition to programs focusing on genealogical topics, the monthly gatherings have featured live mountain music as well as presentations on other topics related to area history and culture.

The Society maintains a research library of more than 1,800 volumes, the largest of its kind west of Asheville. It includes printed digital images of Thomas Store ledgers from the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s and is open to the public during office hours.

JCGS has published numerous volumes over the past two decades, including the two-volume “Jackson County Heritage.” “Journeys Through Jackson,” the Society’s newsletter, contains submissions of official records, family research and old photographs, providing a vehicle for JCGS members to share and preserve genealogical and historical information.

The JCGS has been honored by the N.C. Genealogical Society with two awards – the Award for Excellence in Publishing and the Award for Excellence in Periodical Publishing.

Anyone interested in genealogy or local history is welcome to join the Jackson County Genealogical Society or to do on-site research in the group’s library. For more information, find the JCGS on Facebook; call 631-2646 during office hours; email; or find the Society online at