Cullowhee, North Carolina
|• Total||3.81 sq mi (9.86 km2)|
|• Land||3.81 sq mi (9.86 km2)|
|• Water||0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)|
|Elevation||2,116 ft (645 m)|
|• Density||2,017.33/sq mi (778.91/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-4 (EDT)|
|GNIS feature ID||1019881|
Cullowhee // is a census-designated place (CDP) in Jackson County, North Carolina, United States. It is located on the Tuckasegee River, and the permanent population was 7,682 at the 2020 census up from 6,228 at the 2010 census.
The community is the home of Western Carolina University, part of the University of North Carolina System. Developing from a high school and normal school, it has 12,000 students and has become a strong influence in community life. The Jackson County Airport is located just outside the CDP limits.
The present community developed at the site of a historic Cherokee town, which was centered around the earthwork Cullowhee Mound. The name was long thought to mean "Valley of the Lilies." In fact, it is derived from the Cherokee phrase joolth-cullah-wee, which translates as "Judacullah's Place." Judacullah, a giant warrior and hunter who the Cherokee believe lived in the area, is an important figure in their religion and culture.
Cullowhee is located in central Jackson County at  in the valley of the Tuckasegee River. North Carolina Highway 107 runs through the community, leading north 6 miles (10 km) to Sylva, the Jackson county seat, and southeast 7 miles (11 km) to Tuckasegee.,
|Climate data for Cullowhee, North Carolina (1991–2020 normals, extremes 1909–present)|
|Record high °F (°C)||79
|Average high °F (°C)||48.5
|Daily mean °F (°C)||37.1
|Average low °F (°C)||25.6
|Record low °F (°C)||−19
|Average precipitation inches (mm)||4.85
|Average snowfall inches (cm)||1.3
|Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)||11.1||11.0||12.1||10.9||12.0||13.9||14.0||12.6||9.7||7.7||9.2||11.3||135.5|
|Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)||0.8||0.5||0.3||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||1.0||2.6|
Developed along a mountain river valley and by a creek, Cullowhee was known as a historic Cherokee village centered around an earthwork platform mound estimated to have been built by 1000 CE by people of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture. Archeological evidence from excavations at Cullowhee Mound suggests that this area had been occupied since 3000 BCE by cultures of indigenous peoples. The historic Cherokee developed a style of public architecture characterized by building large town houses, or council houses, on top of the mounds. This was the center place for the community to gather, and the town elders to meet in council. It expressed the consensus nature of their society.
The Cherokee were forced to cede their land in this area in the early nineteenth century. When European-American settlers moved in, they occupied the site of the former Cherokee village. Cullowhee became one of the first European-American settlements in Jackson County. Residents reportedly founded the first school in the area, a one-room school in 1830. They developed the floodplain area for agriculture. The settlers cleared more land during the 1800s than the Cherokee had cultivated.
In 1883, Roland A. Painter founded Painter Post Office, located in his store on the Old Cullowhee Road. Other businesses clustered there. The post office was renamed as "Cullowhee" in 1908, taking over from another post office in the vicinity of nearby Forest Hills.
In 1889, Cullowhee High School was founded by Robert Lee Madison. It eventually developed as a normal school for teacher training. Later its offerings were expanded into a four-year college curriculum, and ultimately graduate departments supporting today's Western Carolina University.
The institution ceased to be named a high school in 1923. A new brick building was opened serving grades 1–11. In 1940, a massive flood caused severe damage to the business district, destroying almost all the buildings on the north side of the river. The buildings on the south side survived, though waterlogged. The flood crested at 21 feet (6.4 m) above Cullowhee Dam, the highest on record.
Since then, dams have been built for flood control on the East and West forks of the Tuckasegee River. When the area rebuilt, buildings were developed on the higher ground around Old Cullowhee Road, and the area closer to the river floodplain was abandoned. The mid-century buildings have since become outdated, particularly compared to newer developments.
Businesses in the Old Cullowhee Road area declined in the late 20th century after it was bypassed by the relocation of highway N.C. 107 in the late 1970s to early 1980s. But, since the 1960s, the development of Western Carolina University has stimulated growth around its large campus. In the 21st century, the university has 12,000 students, and offers a variety of related sports and cultural programs. Cullowhee has also been a destination for retirees and people with second homes, resulting in new residential construction.
The university has proposed a new Town Center to incorporate some of its land. (See "Plans" below). Businessmen are also collaborating on revitalization of Old Cullowhee Road, and many new homes are being built or planned for the area.
As noted, the town has had a public school since 1923, which has been in four buildings. It has always been associated with teacher training at the college (and now university). It was established as Cullowhee Training School, serving until 1939. It was replaced by the McKee Training School, which served until 1964. Both of these buildings were located on what is now the university campus. From 1964 to 1994, the public school was known as Cordelia Camp Laboratory School, still associated with educational programs at the university. The Cullowhee Valley School is the latest structure holding the school, which now serves grades K-8. Students go to Sylva for high school.
The oldest surviving European-American structure in the area is St. David's in the Valley church, which was built in 1880. The Joyner Building and Judaculla Rock are each listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A Walton Family Foundation report ranked the Cullowhee micropolitan area (Jackson County) as number 13 in the United States. Reasons included the area's status as a tourist destination and " superior job growth, wage increases and young businesses."
|U.S. Decennial Census|
|Black or African American (non-Hispanic)||391||5.09%|
|Hispanic or Latino||787||10.24%|
As of the 2020 United States census, there were 7,682 people, 1,269 households, and 165 families residing in the CDP.
As of the census of 2010, there were 6,228 people. As of the 2000 census, there were 716 households, and 272 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 983.1 people per square mile (379.6/km2). There were 823 housing units at an average density of 226.1/sq mi (87.3/km2). The racial makeup of the CDP was 88.91% White, 7.24% African American, 0.95% Native American, 1.34% Asian, 0.08% Pacific Islander, 0.53% from other races, and 0.95% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.31% of the population.
There were 716 households, of which 17.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 28.1% were married couples living together, 7.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 61.9% were non-families. Households made up of individuals represented 35.9%, and 5.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.01 and the average family size was 2.72.
In the CDP, the population was spread out, with 5.9% under the age of 18, 72.8% from 18 to 24, 11.0% from 25 to 44, 7.0% from 45 to 64, and 3.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 21 years. Both the overall age distribution and the median age are driven by the presence of Western Carolina University. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.4 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $19,688, and the median income for a family was $36,538. Males had a median income of $26,161 versus $16,607 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $10,017. About 25.2% of families and 41.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 37.3% of those under age 18 and 9.6% of those age 65 or over.
Western Carolina University is a constituent campus of the University of North Carolina system. WCU is the fifth-oldest institution in the UNC system.[circular reference] It was founded in 1889 with a few hundred students in a small, one-story wood building. In the 21st century, it has more than 12,000 students, offering approximately 220 majors and concentrations for undergraduates, and more than 45 graduate-level programs of study. The campus covers approximately 600 acres (240 ha) and takes up much of the Cullowhee Valley.
It has created a Cherokee Studies program, including language immersion study, in collaboration with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the only federally recognized tribe in the state. It is based in Cherokee, North Carolina, at Qualla Boundary. WCU faculty have also worked with EBCI representatives on surveys of historic town and earthwork mound sites, to create a database of known resources; archeological and anthropological studies conducted with outreach to the Cherokee people to gain their perspective from tribal oral histories, and other programs. More than 50 platform mound sites have been identified in the eleven westernmost counties of North Carolina.
The public K thru 8 school, Cullowhee Valley School, opened in 1994. It replaced a 30-year-old structure on the University's Campus. Since 1988, when the town's high school closed, students of high school age attend Smoky Mountain High School in nearby Sylva.
Forest Hills, an incorporated village just south of Cullowhee, is considering a WCU plan to incorporate as the town/city of Cullowhee, annexing areas along Old Cullowhee Road and NC 107. The university plan proposes development around Old Cullowhee Road to create a traditional downtown, with mixed-use buildings, a city hall, homes, walkable neighborhoods, supermarket, and trails/parks along the river and throughout the area. The elementary school could be relocated here, as well as the Post Office and other town/city functions. A "town center" to be constructed on some 35 acres (14 ha) owned by WCU is an area targeted for annexation and development.
The plan is controversial, as it may attract business away from Old Cullowhee Road and would be intended to attract chain stores and businesses, rather than local small businesses. The "town center" is proposed to accommodate as much as 270,000 square feet (25,000 m2) of commercial, housing and multi-tenant office space, with parking for 871 vehicles. A 320-space parking garage is proposed on 22 acres of land owned by the university. The land is now the site of the Cordelia Camp Outreach Center (former Cordelia Camp Laboratory School, built in 1964), intramural fields, and several parking lots. The annexation will also include the area that is the business district on Old Cullowhee Road (S.R. 1002) near the former campus entrance.
An alternative vision for redevelopment is offered by the Cullowhee Revitalization Endeavor (CuRvE), made up of local businessmen and activists who also want to rejuvenate the once-thriving commerce center. CuRvE wants to make Cullowhee "a unique and highly attractive area—a mix of residences and businesses along rivers and streams". According to CuRvE, its vision has more community support than that the Western Carolina University "town center", because it would allow small businesses. In addition, it would make use of the setting of Old Cullowhee Road along a mountain river. Many agree this site is more beautiful than the Cordelia Camp/"town center" site.
Cullowhee as seen from the Jackson County Airport on Berry Ridge above Little Savannah Road
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