Sylva, North Carolina
West Main Street in Sylva
West Main Street in Sylva
Location in North Carolina
Location in North Carolina
Coordinates: 35°22′27″N 83°13′4″W / 35.37417°N 83.21778°W / 35.37417; -83.21778
CountryUnited States
StateNorth Carolina
Named forWilliam D. Sylva
 • MayorJohnny Phillips[1]
 • Total3.17 sq mi (8.21 km2)
 • Land3.17 sq mi (8.21 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)  0%
Elevation2,080 ft (630 m)
 • Total2,578
 • Density812.74/sq mi (313.84/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code828
FIPS code37-66500[4]
GNIS feature ID2406705[3]

Sylva is an incorporated town located in central Jackson County, in the Plott Balsam Mountains of Western North Carolina, United States. As of the 2010 census, the town had a total population of 2,588.[5] It is the county seat,[6] taking over the role from nearby Webster in 1913.


According to popular accounts, Sylva is named after William D. Sylva, a Danish handyman who spent a month in the home of General E. R. Hampton, who owned much of the land later developed as downtown Sylva. When the town applied for a post office, Hampton asked his young daughter Mae what the town's name should be. She liked the handyman so much she said, "Sylva."[7] This account is disputed: according to a 21st-century investigation, the handyman William D. Sylva was not Danish, and it is likely that his surname was not Sylva. His last name was "Selvey;" the letter that he wrote to the town was likely in Portuguese, not Danish; and he was probably from the Little Canada Community. His daughter's maiden last name was Selvey according to genealogical archives. Her daughter (who recently came to the town) said that her grandfather's surname was "Selvey" instead.[8]


The former Jackson County Courthouse (now a library)

The town became the county seat in 1913 after the county voted to move the seat from Webster to Sylva, which gained a railroad station. Subsequently, Webster declined, as the railroad had not established a stop in that town. Many businesses followed the court and railroad to Sylva. The Jackson County Courthouse was constructed in 1914 and is located on a hill at the end of Main Street in downtown Sylva. The building no longer serves as the official courthouse; the Justice Center was constructed in 1994 a few blocks away. Since 2011, the Jackson County Courthouse has been the site of the Jackson County Public Library.

The town has the main county high school, Smoky Mountain High School; the county library, county hospital, Justice Center, and two K-8 elementary schools: Scotts Creek east of town, and Fairview located behind the high school. The local newspaper is The Sylva Herald, which was founded in 1926.

Sylva claims that it once had Dills Falls, a 249-foot waterfall, making it the only town in the US that had a waterfall in town limits, until it was destroyed to build the Sylva bypass. However, the waterfall was only approximately 40 feet tall, and was never destroyed. Many towns in the US, and even North Carolina, have waterfalls in their town limits. The town had the first municipally owned swimming pool west of Asheville. The stone and concrete pool was built in 1938 by the WPA during the Great Depression; it was demolished in 1969 to be replaced by the current pool. Thomas Edison and Franklin D. Roosevelt both traveled through Sylva: Edison in 1911 and FDR in 1936 during his presidency.

The Downtown Sylva Historic District, Dr. D. D. Hooper House, and Jackson County Courthouse are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[9][10]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 3.2 square miles (8.3 km2), all land.

Sylva is close to the Cherokee Indian Reservation (the Eastern band) and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, both of which are popular, well-known vacation spots.


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[11]
Downtown Sylva Historic District
Dr. D. D. Hooper House (1906)

2020 census

Sylva racial composition[12]
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 1,902 73.78%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 87 3.37%
Native American 75 2.91%
Asian 72 2.79%
Other/Mixed 106 4.11%
Hispanic or Latino 336 13.03%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 2,578 people, 1,151 households, and 552 families residing in the town.

2000 census

As of the census[4] of 2000, there were 2,435 people, 1,137 households, and 608 families residing in the town. The population density was 759.7 inhabitants per square mile (293.3/km2). There were 1,283 housing units at an average density of 400.3 per square mile (154.6/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 89.16% White, 4.68% African American, 1.60% Native American, 1.31% Asian, 0.82% from other races, and 2.42% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.51% of the population.

There were 1,137 households, out of which 21.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.1% were married couples living together, 12.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.5% were non-families. 39.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.04 and the average family size was 2.74.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 18.4% under the age of 18, 12.0% from 18 to 24, 26.7% from 25 to 44, 22.6% from 45 to 64, and 20.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.2 males. For every 100 females aged 18 and over, there were 84.1 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $26,432, and the median income for a family was $36,711. Males had a median income of $25,526 versus $22,401 for females. The per capita income for the town was $17,348. About 13.9% of families and 19.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 26.9% of those under age 18 and 18.6% of those age 65 or over.

Colleges and universities

Sylva is home to the Jackson Campus of Southwestern Community College and is the closest town of size to nearby Western Carolina University (6 miles (9.7 km) away), one of the seventeen schools of the University of North Carolina system.


Greening Up The Mountains Festival takes place on the fourth Saturday in April, a family-friendly downtown street festival that draws more than 10,000 people for arts, old time Appalachian crafts, local music, ethnic and locally inspired cuisine, tastings from multiple local craft breweries, and many child-friendly activities.

The Hook, Line & Drinker Festival takes place in May, which celebrates the designation of the area as a popular spot for fishing, and features fly fishing guides, fishing industry vendors, craft beer vendors, children's activities and bands at Bridge Park.

Concerts on The Creek is an event that takes place every Friday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day at Sylva Bridge Park.

In popular culture

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Several movies have been filmed in Sylva, including the 1972 movie Deliverance (along Mill Street), the 1997 movie Paradise Falls (also known as Carolina Low), and the 1993 blockbuster The Fugitive (at Harris Regional Hospital, a scene where the town is seen from Sylvan Heights right after the train wreck, and along Scotts Creek where it crosses West Main Street). The train wreck scene in The Fugitive was filmed 2 miles (3.2 km) west of Sylva in the town of Dillsboro. The scene of Harrison Ford walking on railroad tracks in an old tunnel was also close by in Cowee Tunnel. The town was also the site of filming for the 2017 film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ Town of Sylva Website. Retrieved May 30, 2024.
  2. ^ "ArcGIS REST Services Directory". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 20, 2022.
  3. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Sylva, North Carolina
  4. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  5. ^ "Race, Hispanic or Latino, Age, and Housing Occupancy: 2010 Census Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary File (QT-PL), Sylva town, North Carolina". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 23, 2011.
  6. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  7. ^ Bob Terrell, "Photographs Bring to Life the History of Scenic, Storied Sylva," Asheville Citizen-Times, September 11, 2008.
  8. ^ Hotaling, Lynn (January 20, 2011). "Ruralite Cafe". The Sylva Herald.
  9. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  10. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Listings". Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 9/01/14 through 9/05/14. National Park Service. September 12, 2014.
  11. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  12. ^ "Explore Census Data". Retrieved December 19, 2021.
  13. ^ North Carolina Legislative Manual 1971, Biographical Sketch of Zebulon Doyle Alley, p. 621
  14. ^ Dan Killian Moore - National Governors Association. Retrieved January 7, 2021.
  15. ^ Ed Sutton Stats. Pro-Football-Reference. Retrieved January 7, 2021.