Old Jackson County Courthouse, Sylva, NC
This is the Jackson County Courthouse and Public Library complex that stands prominently atop a hill at the end of Main Street in my hometown of Sylva, North Carolina. Constructed in 1913-14, the courthouse was built as a copy of the Madison County Courthouse in nearby Marshall, North Carolina, and was designed by the firm of Smith and Carrier and built with funds from local industrialist and philanthropist C.J. Harris. The third courthouse to serve Jackson County, it was the first of the courthouses to be located in Sylva, with the previous 1851 and 1888 courthouses being located in nearby Webster, which died after the courthouse was moved. The building had some renovations circa 1950, and had a large jail addition added to the rear in 1963. In 1969, the building received substantial renovations and was painted white, with a large clock added to the front of the cupola and pine trees along the steps were removed. In 1994, owing to the deteriorating condition of the building and the growing size of county government, the court facilities and county government relocated to a new Justice Center atop a hill next to US Highway 74, and the old courthouse had the cupola removed to stabilize the building, in order to ensure it would not collapse. The County Sheriff’s Office, the last remaining government tenant in the building, moved out circa 2002, and the building housed the local arts council and community theatre until 2007, when it was selected as the site of the new Jackson County Public Library, replacing the old Main Street facility that dated to 1970, and the jail was demolished later that year in preparation for construction. The new Library was constructed from 2009 to 2011, and opened to great fanfare, and received an award for its design as being the best new mid-sized Library facility in the state, drawing many of its elements and motifs from the old building and harmonizing with the old building, rather than trying to differentiate itself and stand out. Today, the building houses the local Genealogical Society, Art Council, History Museum, Community Theatre, and Public Library, and has been renovated and restored.
On the grounds of the courthouse are a confederate soldier’s memorial, dedicated on September 18, 1915, with several Confederate veterans present. The town has always been a very homogenous, majority-white locale, with a very small, historically largely Cherokee and African-American presence. The concrete steps were built around the statue in 1915-16, and it has been present almost as long as the courthouse, and I view it as an important part of the grounds. There is large public opposition in the area to the removal of the monument, as, though it is more liberal than most small Southern or Appalachian towns, there still is a resistance to change, which is a deep-seated cultural phenomenon across the region. Additionally, on the grounds, there is a writing cabin, moved to the location from the Burningtown area of nearby Macon County in the 1950s or 1960s, that formerly belonged to John Parris, a local writer whom once lived in a now-demolished mid-20th Century house that sat next to the courthouse. It was the home of his grandfather when it was located in Burningtown, and has been stabilized, but currently is not occupied, with the local government uncertain of how to use the structure.