Jackson County, North Carolina
The Old Jackson County Courthouse in Downtown Sylva
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
|Named for||Andrew Jackson|
|• Total||495 sq mi (1,280 km2)|
|• Land||491 sq mi (1,270 km2)|
|• Water||3.8 sq mi (10 km2) 0.8%%|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||82/sq mi (32/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC−5 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−4 (EDT)|
Jackson County is a county located in the far southwest of the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 40,271. Since 1913 its county seat has been Sylva, which replaced Webster.
Jackson County comprises the Cullowhee, NC Micropolitan Statistical Area. Cullowhee is the site of Western Carolina University (WCU). In the early 21st century, the university has more than 12,000 students, nearly twice the number of the permanent residents of Cullowhee. The university has a strong influence in the region and county.
More than 10 percent of the county residents identify as Native American, mostly Cherokee, as the federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is based at Qualla Boundary, land that consists of territory in both Jackson and neighboring Swain County. It is the only federally recognized tribe in North Carolina, and one among three Cherokee tribes nationally. The other two are based in what is now the state of Oklahoma, former Indian Territory.
This area was part of Cherokee Nation homelands at the time of European encounter. Cullowhee was one of several historic Cherokee towns that had developed along the Tuckasegee River, which has its headwaters here and runs into Swain County to the north. Like several other Cherokee towns in the region, Cullowhee was centered around a single earthwork platform mound, known as Cullowhee Mound, built by ancestral peoples. It is estimated to have been built about 1000 CE, by people during the period of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture. Archeological excavations have revealed evidence of indigenous peoples here since 3000 BCE.
While most Cherokee were forced out of the area through succeeding treaties for land cessions, followed by removal to Indian Territory in the late 1830s, hundreds of Cherokee stayed in Western North Carolina. Their descendants form most of the federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), the only tribe in the state to have this status. They are based on Qualla Boundary, which is located in Swain and Jackson counties. Their citizens make up most of the more than ten percent of people in Jackson County who identify as Native American on the US census.
The European-American population increased slowly in this more isolated, mountainous area of the state. Jackson County was not organized until 1851, when it was created from parts of Haywood and Macon counties. It was named for Andrew Jackson, President of the United States from 1829 to 1837, who promoted Indian Removal from the Southeast. The original county courts were held at the home of Dan Bryson in Beta, Scott Creek township. They were moved to Webster the following year.
In 1861 parts of Jackson and Henderson counties were combined to form Transylvania County. In 1871 parts of Jackson and Macon counties were combined to form Swain County. In 1913 Sylva was designated by the legislature as the county seat of Jackson County.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 495 square miles (1,280 km2), of which 491 square miles (1,270 km2) is land and 3.8 square miles (9.8 km2) (0.8%) is water. The Tuckasegee River flows through the county.
Government and public safety
As mandated by the laws of North Carolina, Jackson County has a commission-manager form of government. The five members of Board of Commissioners are elected at-large to four-year terms. This system of at-large voting, rather than representatives elected from single-member districts, favors candidates supported by the majority of the population. Together they appoint and oversee the actions of a County Manager, who administers operations.
Sheriff and Sylva PD
The Jackson County Sheriff provides court protection, jail administration, patrol and detective services for all of Jackson County except for incorporated Sylva, which has a municipal police department.
- Haywood County - northeast
- Transylvania County - east
- Oconee County, South Carolina - south
- Macon County - west
- Swain County - northwest
National protected areas
- Blue Ridge Parkway (part)
- Nantahala National Forest (part)
- Judaculla Rock (part)
- Cherokee Indian Reservation, Eastern Band of Cherokees (part)
|U.S. Decennial Census|
As of the census of 2010, there were 40,271 people. As of the 2000 Census, there were 13,191 households and 8,587 families residing in the county. The population density was 68 people per square mile (26/km2). There were 19,291 housing units at an average density of 39 per square mile (15/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 85.68% White, 1.67% Black or African American, 10.20% Native American (mostly Cherokee people), 0.51% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.55% from other races, and 1.38% from two or more races. 1.74% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 18.5% were of American, 13.7% English, 11.3% Irish, 10.5% German and 9.2% Scots-Irish ancestry according to Census 2000. 95.3% spoke English, 2.1% Spanish and 1.5% Cherokee as their first language.
There were 13,191 households, out of which 25.50% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.40% were married couples living together, 10.00% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.90% were non-families. 27.00% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.80% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.79.
In the county, the population was spread out, with 19.00% under the age of 18, 17.90% from 18 to 24, 24.40% from 25 to 44, 25.00% from 45 to 64, and 13.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 95.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.10 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $32,552, and the median income for a family was $40,876. Males had a median income of $27,738 versus $22,029 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,582. About 9.50% of families and 15.10% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.70% of those under age 18 and 15.20% of those age 65 or over.
The county is divided into fifteen townships:
Barker's Creek: Named for the creek which starts here and flows through the township before entering the Tuckasegee River. It includes the Dicks Creek, Barkers Creek, and Wilmont communities, and US 74/23 runs as a four-lane divided highway through the township. It is served by Smokey Mountain Elementary School and Smoky Mountain High School. Formerly, the Log Cabin Association Consolidated School served the township, but it closed in 1980 when Smokey Mountain Elementary opened.
Canada: Named for the tall ridges, narrow valleys, and sharp peaks of this part of the county, the main waterway is the East Fork of the Tuckasegee River, which flows into the River Township before joining the West Fork, becoming the Tuckasegee River. There are four major lakes: Bear, Wolf, Tanasee Creek, and Ceader Cliff, in the township. It is served by NC 281 and is one of the most remote locations in the county. It is served by Cullowhee Valley School and Smoky Mountain High School. Before the 1990s, the schools for the area were Canada Consolidated School and Cullowhee High School, both closed in the 1980s.
Caney Fork: Named for the creek that flows through the township, Caney Fork, which empties into the Tuckasegee River at East LaPorte. The main road is Caney Fork Road, and the area is served by Cullowhee Valley School and Smoky Mountain High School. Prior to 1964, the schools that served the area were Johns Creek Elementary and Cullowhee High School.
Cashiers: Named for a lost horse, the town of Cashiers includes the communities of Panthertown Valley, Whiteside Cove, Fairfield, and Sapphire. It is served by NC 107 and US 64. The Eastern Continental Divide follows a ridge north of the township, and defines the boundaries between the Cashiers, Canada, and Glenville townships. The Chattooga, Horsepasture, and Toxaway rivers all originate or flow through the township. It is served by Blue Ridge School, which consolidated Glenville School and Cashiers Elementary in 1975.
Cullowhee: This is derived from the Cherokee name for the valley, which referred to a legendary figure, Judacullah. NC 107, Old NC 107, and NC 107-Alternate all serve the township as major roads; NC 107 is the only 4-lane roadway. Western Carolina University, the village of Forest Hills, and the communities of Speedwell, Old Cullowhee Road, Buzzards Roost, and Dicks Gap are all within the township. This was one of the first areas in the county to be settled by European Americans in the nineteenth century, along with Caney Fork, River, Scott Creek, and Canada townships. It is the largest township by population according to the 2000 United States Census. The Tuckasegee River and Cullowhee Creek both flow through the township, with the latter emptying into the former around Old Cullowhee Road. It is served by Cullowhee Valley School, located in the township, and Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva. The former Cullowhee High School closed in 1988.
Dillsboro: Named after the Dills family who founded the town, the township also has the town of Dillsboro. Scotts Creek arises to the northwest, flowing from Scott Creek Township through Sylva Township into Dillsboro Township, where it flows into the Tuckasegee River. US 74/23, US 441, and NC 107 all converge in two major intersections within the township. The township is served by Smokey Mountain and Fairview elementary schools and by Smoky Mountain High School. It has not had its own school since Dillsboro Elementary closed in 1951. The students were transferred to Log Cabin School in Barkers Creek Township, or Sylva Elementary School in Sylva township.
Greens Creek: Named for the creek which flows through most of the township before emptying into Savannah Creek, this township is served by US 441, a four-lane highway along the western edge. Greens Creek Road goes through the middle of the township. The township is served by Fairview Elementary School and Smoky Mountain High School. It was formerly served by the Savannah Consolidated School, from 1940 to 1973.
Hamburg: Named for the fort and original name of Glenville, the township is served by NC 107. The area was once a large valley, but the valley was flooded in 1941 by a dam on the Tuckasegee River, which formed Lake Glenville. The West Fork of the Tuckasegee River originates within the township, and flows north into the River Township. Blue Ridge School is located in the township and serves the township. It developed in 1975 from the consolidation of the Glenville School and Cashiers Elementary School.
Mountain: Named for Cullowhee Mountain, this Township is served by NC 107 Alternate. The headwaters of Cullowhee Creek are located here, flowing north into Cullowhee Township before joining the Tuckasegee River. It is served by Cullowhee Valley School/Smoky Mountain High School in Cullowhee and Sylva, respectively. It was formerly served by Cullowhee High School and Camp Lab Elementary.
Qualla: Named for the Qualla Boundary, which occupies most of the township, Qualla Township is served by US 441, US 19, and US 74/23. Smokey Mountain Elementary School is located in the township, resulting from the 1980 consolidation of Qualla Elementary School and Log Cabin Association Consolidated School. It is served by the Jackson County Public School System and the Cherokee Reservation School System. Students can choose among Smokey Mountain Elementary/Smoky Mountain High School, Cherokee School, or Swain East Elementary, Swain Middle School, and Swain High School. A Cherokee language immersion school has also been founded in the township. The communities of Qualla, Birdtown, Soco, Whittier, Indian Hills, and Wilmont are all located at least partially, if not wholly, within the township.
River: Named for the Tuckasegee River, which converges from two streams into one within the township, it is served by NC 107 and NC 281. The community of Tuckasegee is located in the township. It is served by Cullowhee Valley School/Smoky Mountain High School. Prior to 1958, Tuckasegee School and Cullowhee High School.
Savannah: Named for Savannah Creek, which runs through the district, this township includes the Viewpoint, Pumpkintown, Savannah, and Fort Wilderness communities. The township is served by four-lane US 441. Fairview Elementary School and Smoky Mountain High School serve the township as well. From 1940 to 1973, it was home to Savannah Consolidated School. Its higher-grade students went to Webster High School and now Sylva-Webster High School.
Scotts Creek: Named for Scotts Creek, which starts here and flows through the township before passing into Sylva Township. It is served by US 74/23 and old US 19/23, which run through the five communities within the township, Balsam, Willets, Ochre Hill, Addie and Beta. The Murphy Branch Railroad also runs through the township. Scotts Creek School has served the township since 1951. It had a new building constructed in 2001. The old school building became the Jackson County School of Alternatives (the HUB).
Sylva: Named for William D. Sylva, as is the town and county seat of Sylva, located within the township. It is served by NC 107, US 74/23, and BUS 23. The Jackson County Courthouse and Library are both located in the township. Scotts Creek runs through the township before flowing into the Tuckasegee in Dillsboro Township. The township is served by Fairview and Scotts Creek elementary schools and Smoky Mountain High School; the latter serves all the county. Consolidation since the late 20th century closed many smaller schools in the county.
Webster: Also the site of the town of Webster, this township is at the original geographical center of the county. Due to territorial changes, that is now Cullowhee Township. For many years, it had the only town in Jackson County. It is served by NC 116 and NC 107. The county seat designation and courthouse were located here from 1851 to 1913. Since Sylva was designated as the county seat, Webster lost business. The schools that serve the township are Fairview Elementary School (1973) and Smoky Mountain High School (1960/1988).
Law and government
Jackson County is a member of the regional Southwestern Commission council of governments.
Jackson County contains a portion of the Qualla Boundary, a land trust of historic territory of the federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The tribe is sovereign in its territory and is the only federally recognized tribe in the state. The reservation operates Harrah's Cherokee Casino, which is open to the public, as are associated resort facilities there.
Together with Buncombe and Watauga counties, Jackson is considered one of three "swing" counties in Western North Carolina. Except for 1980, it voted with the winner in every Presidential election from 1960 to 2008 with the exception of 1980 when Carter won despite losing nationally. Demographic changes in the state since the early 21st century are affecting the votes.
In 2012 voters here favored Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who was defeated by President Barack Obama. In 2016 county voters split their vote, favoring Donald Trump for the presidency, but Democrat Roy Cooper for state governor. The county was one of only four in the state to do so. In 2020 voters here favored incumbent Donald Trump, but Democrat Joe Biden won the election nationally.
2016 presidential election
In the 2016 Republican Primary in Jackson County, Donald Trump received 1,624 votes (or 39.5% of the total votes) followed by Ted Cruz, who had 1,434 votes (or 34.9% of the total votes). In the 2016 Democratic Primary, Bernie Sanders received 3,021 votes (57.0% of the total); Hillary Clinton received 2,022 votes (38.1% of the total).
In the general election Donald Trump received 9,870 votes (or 52.7% of the total vote); Hillary Clinton received 7,713 votes (41.2% of the total vote) and Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson received 742 votes (4.0% of total votes in the county).
2020 presidential election
In 2020 the county and the state voted for incumbent Donald Trump, but Democrat Joe Biden carried the election overall, winning both the popular vote and electoral college.
Jackson County Airport is located here, one mile (1.6 km) east of Cullowhee. It is governed by the Jackson County Airport Authority.
Norfolk Southern Railway operates a portion known as the Murphy Branch through Jackson County, providing a rail connection with the rest of the country. In Sylva, Norfolk Southern connects with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Interchange between the two lines is handled near the site of the Jackson Paper Company. Great Smoky Mountains RR operates the rest of the Murphy Branch from Dillsboro to Andrews.
Because of competition with independent automobile traffic, passenger rail traffic declined; it was stopped in 1948 from Sylva to Murphy. Despite widespread restructuring in the industry across the country, freight commercial service continued another forty-odd years before ending in 1983. In 2015, Watco, which purchased the section which Norfolk Southern previously owned, was reportedly in talks with the towns and counties in an attempt to build a viable tourist railroad clientele. The major obstacle for such service is the Cowee Mountain Tunnel, which does not meet height and weight specifications for modern rail engines and passenger cars.
Roads and highways
Jackson County is served by three main roads: the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway runs east–west across the northern half of the county and connects the county seat of Sylva to Waynesville and Asheville in the east and Cherokee, Andrews and Murphy in the west. North Carolina State Highway 107 connects Sylva and Western Carolina University to Cashiers in the south. U.S. Highway 64 traverses east–west across the southern part of the county connecting Cashiers to Brevard in the east and Highlands in the west.
In popular culture
Several movies have been filmed in the county. These include the action-adventure The Fugitive (1993), starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones; the 1972 drama Deliverance, and the 1996 comedy My Fellow Americans starring Jack Lemmon and James Garner.
- The train wreck scene in The Fugitive was filmed in Dillsboro along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The wreckage set can still be viewed on outbound train excursions from Dillsboro. The later scene in a small hospital was filmed at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva.
- The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad was also used in the filming of My Fellow Americans, when they stumble on to a charter train full of North Carolina Tar Heels fans headed for the NCAA Final Four.
- The back side of downtown Sylva was used for a short driving scene in the filming of Deliverance.
- Ron Rash's 2008 novel, Serena, features Jackson County.
- David Joy's novels, Where All Light Tends to Go and The Weight of This World are set in Jackson County.
- Sylva's Main Street was used in the filming of Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2016).
- Blue Ridge Parkway
- Chattooga River
- Great Smoky Mountains
- Great Smoky Mountains Expressway
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Horsepasture River
- Jackson County Courthouse
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Jackson County, North Carolina
- Qualla Boundary
- Toxaway River
- Tuckasegee River
- Western Carolina University
- "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved October 21, 2013.
- "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
- Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. pp. 167.
- "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Archived from the original on January 12, 2015. Retrieved January 17, 2015.
- "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved July 22, 2019.
- "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 17, 2015.
- "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved January 17, 2015.
- Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 27, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 17, 2015.
- "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Retrieved January 17, 2015.
- "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- King, Kim; Whitehead, Brittany (26 Oct 2020). "After 2016 split vote, political expert says Jackson County one to watch in 2020". ABC 13 News. Retrieved 18 Dec 2020.
- Leip, David. "Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections". uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved 2021-02-20.
- "North Carolina Primary Election Results 2016". The New York Times. 2016-09-29. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-16.
- "North Carolina Election Results 2016". The New York Times. 2017-08-01. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-16.
- Jackson County official website
- North Carolina GenWeb Jackson County - free genealogy resources for the county
- The Sylva Herald
- Jackson County Rescue Squad
- Jackson County Travel & Tourism