Greater Western North Carolina

This publication from 1914 was one of the early efforts to drum up tourism in the area, described as “the greatest resort section in the world.’’

Spending by tourists is a big part of the local economy, and the Tourism Development Authority spends thousands of dollars annually to entice travelers to not only visit Jackson County but to stay awhile once they do.

TDA ads, publications and blog posts tout attributes including mountain vistas, trout streams, waterfalls, hiking trails, historic downtown Sylva and quaint Dillsboro to tempt visitors and encourage them to plan a mountain vacation.

And the same thing was true more than 100 years ago, back when the Courthouse was brand new.

In a publication titled “Greater Western North Carolina,” written for the “Summer Season, 1914,” the town of Sylva (“the new county seat”) is the first tourist draw listed in the section on Jackson County. Published by the Boards of Trade of Various Cities, or Greater Western North Carolina Association, the booklet suggests a more regional approach to tourism development during the early 20th century. It describes Western North Carolina as “the greatest resort section in the world” and includes the counties of Buncombe, Henderson, Haywood, Transylvania, Polk and Madison. One pronounced way the promotional publication differs from those of today is its emphasis on the Southern Railway as the conduit for bringing visitors to the mountains. Still, it employs some descriptions still in use today, such as “Land of the Sky,” “Sapphire Country” and “Land of Waterfalls,” as well as some that seem a bit of a stretch – “The Pleasure Park of America” and “World’s Greatest Playground.”

Some spellings are a little different from those in use today. Scotts Creek is “Scott’s Creek,” for example, and the writers couldn’t decide on a spelling for the Tuckaseigee River, so they employed several. I have left the original spellings intact in the quotes used here.

Sylva is described as “situated in a quiet little valley, overshadowed by mountains and traversed by Scott’s Creek, along whose fertile banks the thrifty descendants of the Scottish Highlanders settled more than a century ago.” Benefits listed for Sylva Collegiate Institute, a Baptist boarding school that operated from 1893 until 1937, include electric lights and running water, and in the section on Cullowhee, it is noted that the scenic valley is “in telephonic communication with Sylva.”

As to the scenery around Cullowhee and its Normal and Industrial School (now Western Carolina University), the booklet terms it “especially impressive” and describes it as follows: “Tall peaks rise one above another, between them flowing picturesque streams. Rocky Face, Panther’s Knob, Cullowhee Mountain and the Blue Ridge guard the borderland between North and South Carolina, while Old Whitesides affords the observer opportunity to look down on kindling dawns and glowing sunsets of matchless beauty. The Cullowhee Falls and the Tuckasegee Falls are noted for their beauty and grandeur.”

As mentioned above, trout fishing is a big draw for today’s tourists, especially along the section of the Tuckaseigee River that flows through Webster. In the old booklet, it is said that the river through that area “abounds with fish.”

We’ll close with the booklet’s descriptions of Balsam (one amazingly long sentence) and Dillsboro.

“Located at an altitude of 3,551 feet and constituting the highest railroad point east of the Rocky Mountains, named after the abundant balsam trees which only grow at high altitudes, and boasting a hotel that for comfort and good cheer has made this little point the mecca of thousands of discriminating visitors from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, as well as Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, Balsam offers opportunity for rest and recuperation, as well as for strenuous outdoor exertion, if desired, to those who love to get away from the rush and hum of busy city life to spend a period of refreshment in the woods.

“Dillsboro lies in the heart of the most picturesque region of the southeast at the junction of Scott’s Creek and Tuckaseegee River, fifty miles west of Asheville on the Southern Railway. On the south of town lie the Cullowhee Mountains, and on the southwest and west the Cowee Mountains; north and east the Balsam Mountains. From all of them spring many cold trout streams. In driving or walking for three to twelve miles in any direction can be seen waterfalls, nickel, copper, mica and kaolin mines in operation, but the mineral wealth of the country has hardly yet been touched.”

Lynn Hotaling was editor of The Sylva Herald for 18 years, retiring in January 2016. She is the author of two books on local history.