Last week’s column gave an overview of the April 21, 1936, edition of The Ruralite, the newspaper that is the forerunner of The Sylva Herald.
The issue I found had two lists: one was of back taxes, a type of list still found in this newspaper on an annual basis. The second was one I never saw in The Herald during the 32 years I worked there: a list of each township’s election officials. The local board of elections chose a registrar and two judges for each township to serve for the upcoming primary election, which was to be held in June that year.
Here is that list, which reads like a “Who’s Who” of early Jackson County families, exactly as it appeared on the front page of the April 21, 1936, Ruralite:
“Barkers Creek township, registrar Felix Jones, judges Dee Denton and John Bumgarner.
“Cashiers township, registrar K.E. Bumgarner, judges E.G. Lombard and G.M. Cole.
“Canada township, registrar R.J. Shelton, judges Milas Galloway and Clive (likely Cleve) Wood.
“Caney Fork township, registrar Glenn Hooper, judges Harry Nicholson and John Green.
“Cullowhee township, registrar Tom Alley, judges Shirley Wilson and Elbert Watson.
“Dillsboro township, registrar W.A. Sutton, judges Tom Rogers and R.F. Jarrett.
“Greens Creek township, registrar James Brogden, judges T.L. Buchanan and O.V. Cagle.
“Hamburg township, registrar Zeb Moss, judges Cleve Fisher and O.L. Lanning.
“Mountain township, registrar Elbert Moss, judges A.C. Edwards and Marion Moody.
“Qualla township, registrar Mrs. Jessie Cordell, judges A.T. Patton and K. Howell.
“River township, Leon Moody, judges Ferry Middleton and John Parker.
“East LaPorte township, registrar Jim Potts, judges Oscar Wike and James Robins.
“Savannah township, registrar Verlin Buchanan, judges W.D. Bishop and Calvin Wilson.
“Scotts Creek township No. 1, registrar Allen Fisher, judges C.B. Blanton and Fred Parris.
“Scotts Creek township No. 2, registrar C.P. Dillard, judges Rufe Keener and M.J. Henry.
“Scotts Creek township No. 3, registrar George Bryson, judges Aaron Bryson and Elsie Ensley.
“Sylva township, north ward, registrar, J.B. Monteith, judges M.V. Simms and Raleigh Warren.
“Sylva township, south ward, registrar H.O. Curtis, judges Jane Coward and J.R. Long.
“Webster township, registrar D.D. Davis, judges D.C. Higdon and W.C. Cagle.”
Today when we think of voting districts, we think of precincts, and the ones still in use are based on the old townships, which were created in a change to the state’s constitution that was made after the Civil War.
Jackson County’s original eight townships, according to “The History of Jackson County,” were Deep Creek, Qualla, Savannah, Webster, Scotts Creek, Cullowhee, Caney Fork and Cashiers Valley. Most of Deep Creek Township was annexed in the formation of Swain County in 1871. County commissioners created Canada Township in 1871; River and Barkers Creek in 1872; and Hamburg in 1873. The General Assembly added Dillsboro and Sylva townships in 1889, the year those towns were incorporated; Mountain Township was added in 1893; and Greens Creek in 1897.
In 1875, the state constitution had been amended, giving the General Assembly control of local governments across the state. An 1876 act by that body abolished the governmental authority of the townships’ trustees but retained the townships for general administrative purposes.
Township names became important again in 1895 when the Legislature mandated new voting districts, with a polling place to be established for each 350 voters. Jackson County established voting precincts, based on its townships, in March 1896, listing Qualla, Barkers Creek, Dillsboro, Sylva, Scotts Creek, Webster, Greens Creek, Savannah, Cullowhee, River, Caney Fork, Canada, Mountain, Hamburg and Cashiers. These precincts had the same names and boundaries as the existing townships, with the exception of Greens Creek, which was formed from Webster and Savannah townships.
Additional voting precincts were not added until 1912, when Scotts Creek was divided into three precincts due to the growth in that area. These were Scotts Creek I (Addie); Scotts Creek II (Willets); and Scotts Creek III (Balsam). Voting district lines followed what were then school district lines as well, with the polling places located at the three public schools that existed at that time. The Scotts Creek precincts were combined in 1976 but re-established in 1978 because a single voting place was deemed inconvenient to many voters.
River was divided in 1922 to become River I (Tuckasegee) and River II (East LaPorte), but was recombined in 1974 due to its small number of registered voters. In 1922, Sylva was divided into Sylva-North and Sylva-South wards. Canada was divided around 1940 into Canada I and Canada II; these were consolidated in 1972. Savannah was merged with Greens Creek in 1972 due to the run-down condition of its polling place; Savannah was restored in 1978.
Three changes in voting have taken place in the last decade: Mountain and Hamburg precincts were consolidated into what is now Glenville; Scotts Creek I, II and III are once again combined into a single Scotts Creek precinct; and Dillsboro and Sylva North have been merged into one precinct known as Sylva-North/Dillsboro.
While the township lines have gotten a little blurry with regard to election precincts, there’s still one place in this newspaper where readers can routinely find the old township names – the weekly listing of property transfers.
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.