Sylva on the route

Motoring through the Mountains - 1930s: Sylva

Jackson County
Altitude: 2,000 feet

Closeup of RooseveltA rooftop view of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s procession down Main Street of Sylva, N.C., captured the excitement of the moment. President Roosevelt traveled by automobile from Knoxville, Tennessee, to Asheville, N.C., on a tour of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and visited Sylva on September 9, 1936. He is in the first automobile, with his arm extended and holding his hat (see insert below). The Jackson County Journal newspaper estimated that a crowd numbering from 7,000 to 10,000 witnessed the motorcade. Along with other towns in the region, Sylva adapted to the automobile age and automobile dealerships opened in the town in the late 1910s. A number of the buildings in its commercial center had been constructed in the 1920s and early 1930s by the time this photograph was taken. Businesses visible in the picture include Moore’s Cleaners, Sylva Supply, Sylva Pharmacy, Velt’s Café, Stovall’s Café, and the Leader Department Store.

By 1930 automobiles on the streets of Sylva were no longer the novelty they had been when Thomas Edison and his traveling companions passed through the town in 1906 in two cars. In this picture an unidentified couple poses next to a 1930 or 1931 Chevrolet Roadster. The photograph was taken near the location of Jackson County’s hospital, at that time above the county’s Courthouse, with the dome of the Courthouse visible in the right center corner of the photograph. In 1930 the hospital had been named for C.J. Harris, Jackson County’s leading entrepreneur for four decades and a benefactor of the hospital. The automobile has the lettering “Sylva, N.C.” featured prominently on the grill.

The June 29, 1926, issue of The Ruralite (Sylva, N.C.) ran an article noting that the photographer George Masa visited the town on his way to rendezvous in Bryson City with Horace Kephart and to make photographs of the Great Smoky Mountains. Masa, who was based in Asheville, N.C., had become well known for his scenic mountain photographs. A new and revised edition of Kephart’s book Our Southern Highlanders had been issued in 1922 and he had become a proponent of a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Click on the Ruralite image to read the entire front page.

The front page of The Ruralite newspaper for April 7, 1931, featured two articles that, combined, expressed both optimism and loss. The page contained articles about Sylva’s potential as a gateway to the new Great Smoky Mountains National Park and also announced the death of Horace Kephart, a preeminent proponent of the park, in an automobile accident.

In this panoramic view of the Sylva Tannery the intertwined importance of western North Carolina’s timber resources and industrial development is evident in the amount of wood seen in the yard. In this instance, the tannery utilized chestnuts trees, plentiful before a devastating chestnut blight in the 1930s, to obtain tannin in order to tan hides. The new Sylva Paperboard Company, which began operations in 1928, meant to take advantage of the wood chips created in the production of leather. In 1933 the Nantahala Power & Light Company constructed thirty miles of electrical transmission line from Nantahala to serve the company. The facility would also be known as the Mead Corporation and now is the recycle-based Jackson Paper Manufacturing.

Click the photo to see it larger.

Click on the Ruralite image to read the page.

The county’s other newspaper, the Jackson County Journal (Sylva, N.C.), ran an article in its December 8, 1927, edition that editorialized:

“All Sylva and Jackson county, and the rest of Western North Carolina for that matter, is agog with the talk of the location of the Meade [sic] Paper Company’s huge plant in Sylva . . . . It is understood that the plan is to take the chestnut chips that are at present burned, after the tannic acid has been boiled out of them, and transfer them to the new mill, where they will be manufactured into boxing and carton paper, to be placed on the market by the Meade [sic] Paper Company. . . . It is believed that Sylva will be, within a very short time, the largest town in western North Carolina west of Asheville, and in addition to being at present the trading center of a large and prosperous territory, will become a manufacturing center of no mean importance. This coupled with the large volume of tourist business that will pour into Sylva with the opening of the Great Smoky Mountains National park, will unquestionably make it a town with three principal sources of income – the great tourist business, the large agricultural interest of the surrounding territory, and manufacturing interest of large importance.”

As automotive travel became more commonplace in western North Carolina, people campaigned for improved roads in the region. This photograph dated October 18, 1936, features the road between Sylva and Franklin and was titled “Ascent to Jackson Gap,” a possible reference to Watauga Gap on the Jackson County and Macon County line through which the main Sylva – Franklin highway passed. In the August 10, 1926, issue of the Ruralite newspaper (Sylva, N.C.), an article announced the completion of the Asheville to Atlanta road via Sylva and Franklin. The wording on the side of the building along the roadside recommends that travelers “Eat Franklin Restaurant."

Click the photo to see it larger.

Sylva in the 1890s  |  Sylva in the 1910s

To the West: Dillsboro


To the East: Beta

Return to the Map for the 1930s

Sources & Readings

  • Bell, John L. Hard Times: Beginnings of the Great Depression in North Carolina, 1929 – 1933. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1982.
  • Breedlove, Nick and Lynn Hotaling. Jackson County: Then and Now. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2009.
  • Hotaling, Lynn. Sylva. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.
  • “Makes Pictures in Great Smokies.” The Ruralite (Sylva, N.C.) June 29, 1926.
  • Powell, William S. The North Carolina Gazetteer. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968.
  • “Roosevelt Was Royally Welcomed by Jackson’s Admiring Thousands.” Jackson County Journal (Sylva, N.C.), September 10, 1936.
  • “Sylva Happy Over Industrial Development: Meade Paper Company Places Huge Plant Here.” Jackson County Journal (Sylva, N.C.), December 8, 1927.
  • “Sylva Is Designated as Entrance to Park” and “Noted Writer Killed in an Auto Accident.” The Ruralite (Sylva, N.C.), April 7, 1931.
  • “To Celebrate Completion of Road: Asheville – Franklin – Atlanta. September 15.” The Ruralite (Sylva, N.C.), August 10, 1926.
  • Williams, Max R., ed. The History of Jackson County. Sesquicentennial ed. Sylva, NC: Jackson County Historical Association, 2001.
  • “Work Started on Big Paper Mill.” The Ruralite (Sylva, N.C.), January 10, 1928.