Jackson County (1851)

Written By Jonathan Martin

Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina, Jackson County borders both Georgia and South Carolina. Jackson County has become a tourist attraction for many outdoor enthusiasts; white water rafters and fishermen flock to the waters of the Tuckasegee River and hikers and skiers to the mountains of Great Smoky Mountains and the Nantahala National Forest.

An interesting petroglyph (a prehistoric carving) known as the Judaculla Rock exists in Jackson County. The Judaculla Rock is a soapstone rock with numerous Native American symbols etched throughout. It is a deeply associated with the Tsu’kalu (meaning “he has them slanting”) legend of the Cherokee. According to the tale, Judaculla was a giant who had slanted eyes along with superhuman-like powers. The Cherokee declared Judaculla Master of all Game Animals, and many of their rituals focused on honoring the giant. The Judaculla Rock was believed by the Cherokee to be a remnant of Judaculla’s great leap from his high mountaintop. However, some historians believe the etchings to be a map of the Battle of Taliwa where the Cherokee defeated the Creek tribe in 1755. The rock remains a historic landmark to the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

The first county seat of Jackson County was the town of Webster, but after a ten-year long debate on whether to move the seat to Sylva in the early 1900s. In 1901, the “removalists,” county residents who wanted the switch to Sylva, petitioned the North Carolina legislature to move the county seat because Sylva was a railroad town and its industrial sector was on the rise. However, the county never voted on the General Assembly’s bill because of the decisive split on part of Webster residents. C. J. Harris, the wealthiest Sylva resident at the time, offered $30,000 to build a new courthouse in Sylva, and after a county vote, the seat of government transitioned to Sylva in 1913.

Western Carolina University, founded in 1888 as a primary school (the Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School), has developed into university within the University of North Carolina college system. In its early years the school served as a model for teaching schools in both Boone and Greenville, which would later become Appalachian State University and East Carolina University. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the college became a university and later included in the University of North Carolina System. In addition to its numerous pioneering efforts in the realm of North Carolina education, Western Carolina’s North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching became the state’s first publicly funded academic institution devoted in professionalizing public school teachers.

Even though Jackson County experienced great population growth in the 1990s, its natural traits and features remain an important part of the county. The Nantahala National Forest encompasses most of the county’s land area, and some of the region’s most important economic products have remained Christmas trees and other types of lumber. More than 15 waterfalls can be found throughout Jackson, and the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad continues to operate as a scenic travel tour of the county.

Named after the seventh president of the United States Andrew Jackson, the county was annexed from Haywood and Macon counties in the early 1850s. Sylva has been the seat of government since 1913, and other towns in Jackson County include Cashiers, Glenville, Balsam, Dillsboro, and Cullowhee. In addition, different sections of Cherokee, Highlands, and Sapphire extend into Jackson County. A part of the Qualla Boundary exists in the county, and the Ellicott Rock remains an important border marker for the region.

The first woman to serve in the North Carolina Senate was born in Jackson County. Gertrude D. McKee (1885-1948) was elected to the Senate in 1931, several years after Lillian E. Clement was elected to the House of Representatives. John R. Brinkley (1855-1942), an illustrious figure of North Carolina history, was born in Jackson County. Although he did not hold a doctor’s degree, Brinkley was known for his widely criticized goat-gland treatment, in which he transplanted goat sex glands into impotent men. Brinkley advocated this wild medical idea on the radio, which became a popular way to broadcast his ideas.  and in 1933, he opened the XERA radio station which eventually became the most listened to radio station in the world. Known as the “Kansas Ponce de Leon” and the “Goat Gland King”, John Brinkley died bankrupt in Tennessee in 1942.