The Western North Carolina mountain towns of Cashiers, Cherokee, Dillsboro and Sylva boast a wealth of natural attractions, and beyond the surface visitors will find so much more than just stunning views. These mountain towns are rich in history and heritage from the Cherokee Indians and the Appalachia heritage that runs deep through the region.
From viewing mysterious petroglyphs and taking part in 11,000-year-old traditions of the Cherokee culture to stepping back in time to see the early days of Sylva throughout the Sylva Heritage Walk, visitors to Jackson County can take advantage of plenty of opportunities to become a part of the region’s rich and moving journey. Home to several museums and cultural centers, Jackson County offers visitors many ways to celebrate, commemorate and honor the local heritage. Ahead of crafting the perfect vacation plan, check out these great offerings to experience and appreciate the past:
- Native American Heritage Month
With November designated as Native American Heritage Month, there’s no better time to celebrate the first people to call Jackson County home than by learning about their deep-rooted past and their journey. Many of the local museums offer special exhibits and events to commemorate and honor the legacy of the area’s great Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Documenting 11,000 years of diverse and rich tradition, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian is the perfect stop to experience the journey of the Cherokee people. Step back in time and discover up close the Cherokee peoples’ spirit of inventiveness, resilience and strength. The story is told through a full sensory experience that includes computer generated animation and special effects, life-sized figures, artwork, and priceless artifacts.
The Mountain Farm Museum is a unique collection of farm buildings assembled from locations throughout the park. Visitors can explore a log farmhouse, barn, apple house, springhouse, and a working blacksmith shop to get a sense of how families may have lived 100 years ago. Most of the structures were built in the late 19th century and were moved here in the 1950s. The Davis House offers a rare chance to view a log house built from chestnut wood before the chestnut blight decimated the American Chestnut in our forests during the 1930s and early 1940s. The museum is adjacent to the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
Associated with the Tsukalu or Judaculla legend of the Cherokee, Judaculla Rock is a soapstone rock covered with Native American symbols known as petroglyphs (prehistoric carvings). The Cherokee believed the spirit world shared spirits and landmarks with the Cherokee people to help guide them and watch over them in times of need – Judaculla Rock served as a landmark for the hunting god. The mystery of Judaculla Rock makes it a prominent historic landmark to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Located at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, this center celebrates the natural culture left to be discovered in the Western North Carolina mountains. Visitors can learn about the deep mountain traditions of the southern Appalachians through the center’s exhibits, educational programs and special events.
Listed on the National Treasury of Historic Places, the Zachary-Tolbert House has stood for more than 150 years, reminding visitors of a simpler way of life lived by the pioneer settlers of Cashiers Valley. The home also houses a collection of unique “plain-style” furniture considered to be the largest known grouping of its kind.
As you walk along Sylva’s Main Street, you are greeted by the stately Jackson County Courthouse at the end of the street. Constructed in 1914, this historic building is home to the public library and features rotating exhibits that offer visitors a look at the county’s history and mountain culture. Listed as the first stop on the Sylva Heritage Walk, guided tours of the courthouse are available through the Jackson County Museum, Arts Council and Genealogical Society, which is open daily in the rotunda of the historic building. Make the trek to the top of the courthouse stairs and look back to enjoy the picturesque town of Sylva and mountain vistas in the distance. The new 26,000-square-foot library opened in 2011, and its courthouse wing is now home to the Jackson County Genealogical Society’s office and reference library as well as the Jackson County Historical Association’s museum.
- Reflect on the heritage and rich culture of the Appalachia and Cherokee Culture
Throughout Jackson County, visitors will find art galleries and shops celebrating both the culture and heritage of Appalachia and the Cherokee people that have called this area home. At Dogwood Crafters in Dillsboro, peruse the craftsmanship and wares of more than 100 local artisans ranging from jewelry to home decor to paintings and more. Visitors can even take classes to learn basket-making and other traditional Appalachian crafts.
To explore Sylva’s past, take a walk along the storefronts on Main Street and follow along with a path of historic images from the town’s early days. In doing so, you’ll take a step back in time as you learn about the rich heritage that helped shape Sylva into the destination experienced and loved by many today.
Whether you’re visiting the area for a mountain getaway or a new outlook on the past, Jackson County is sure to answer the call. Teeming with rich culture and history that deserves to be celebrated, Jackson County is the perfect destination for those seeking an educational adventure through time. The area boasts a range of accommodations, excellent local restaurants and plenty of activities perfect for every age, travel style and budget. To help you plan your visit, download a visitor’s guide today.