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Jackson County
The Old Jackson County Courthouse in Downtown Sylva
The Old Jackson County Courthouse in Downtown Sylva
Official seal of Jackson County
Map of North Carolina highlighting Jackson County
Location within the U.S. state of North Carolina
Map of the United States highlighting North Carolina
North Carolina's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  North Carolina
Founded 1851
Named for Andrew Jackson
Seat Sylva
Largest town Cullowhee
 • Total 495 sq mi (1,280 km2)
 • Land 491 sq mi (1,270 km2)
 • Water 3.8 sq mi (10 km2)  0.8%%
 • Estimate 
 • Density 82/sq mi (32/km2)
Time zone UTC−5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−4 (EDT)
Congressional district 11th

Jackson County is a county located in the far southwest of the U.S. state of North Carolina. As of the 2010 census, the population was 40,271. Since 1913 its county seat has been Sylva, which replaced Webster.

Jackson County comprises the Cullowhee, NC Micropolitan Statistical Area. Cullowhee is the site of Western Carolina University (WCU). In the early 21st century, the university has more than 12,000 students, nearly twice the number of the permanent residents of Cullowhee. The university has a strong influence in the region and county.

More than 10 percent of the county residents identify as Native American, mostly Cherokee. The federally recognized Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is based at Qualla Boundary, land that consists of territory in both Jackson and neighboring Swain County. This is the only federally recognized tribe in North Carolina, and one among three federally recognized Cherokee tribes nationally. The other two are based in what is now the state of Oklahoma, former Indian Territory.


This area was part of Cherokee Nation territory at the time of European encounter. The trust land known as Qualla Boundary extends into part of Jackson County and is the base for the federally recognized tribe of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. They contribute to the high proportion of Native Americans among the county population — more than ten percent.

The county was organized in 1851 from parts of Haywood and Macon counties. It was named for Andrew Jackson, President of the United States from 1829 to 1837. The original county courts were held at the Dan Bryson home in the community of Beta in Scott Creek township, and moved to Webster the following year.

In 1861 parts of Jackson and Henderson counties were combined to form Transylvania County. In 1871 parts of Jackson and Macon counties were combined to form Swain County. In 1913 Sylva became the county seat.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 495 square miles (1,280 km2), of which 491 square miles (1,270 km2) is land and 3.8 square miles (9.8 km2) (0.8%) is water.

Adjacent counties

National protected areas


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 5,515
1870 6,683 21.2%
1880 7,343 9.9%
1890 9,512 29.5%
1900 11,853 24.6%
1910 12,998 9.7%
1920 13,396 3.1%
1930 17,519 30.8%
1940 19,366 10.5%
1950 19,261 −0.5%
1960 17,780 −7.7%
1970 21,593 21.4%
1980 25,811 19.5%
1990 26,846 4.0%
2000 33,121 23.4%
2010 40,271 21.6%
2020 43,109 7.0%
U.S. Decennial Census
1790-1960 1900-1990
1990-2000 2010-2013

2020 census

Jackson County racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 32,800 76.09%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 736 1.71%
Native American 3,849 8.93%
Asian 497 1.15%
Pacific Islander 10 0.02%
Other/Mixed 1,925 4.47%
Hispanic or Latino 3,292 7.64%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 43,109 people, 16,773 households, and 9,964 families residing in the county.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 40,271 people. As of the 2000 Census, there were 13,191 households and 8,587 families residing in the county. The population density was 68 people per square mile (26/km2). There were 19,291 housing units at an average density of 39 per square mile (15/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 85.68% White, 1.67% Black or African American, 10.20% Native American (mostly Cherokee), 0.51% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.55% from other races, and 1.38% from two or more races. 1.74% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 18.5% identify as being of American, 13.7% as English, 11.3% as Irish, 10.5% sd German and 9.2% as of Scots-Irish ancestry according to Census 2000. 95.3% spoke English, 2.1% Spanish and 1.5% Cherokee as their first language.

There were 13,191 households, out of which 25.50% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.40% were married couples living together, 10.00% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.90% were non-families. 27.00% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.80% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.79.

In the county, the population was spread out, with 19.00% under the age of 18, 17.90% from 18 to 24, 24.40% from 25 to 44, 25.00% from 45 to 64, and 13.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 95.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.10 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $32,552, and the median income for a family was $40,876. Males had a median income of $27,738 versus $22,029 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,582. About 9.50% of families and 15.10% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.70% of those under age 18 and 15.20% of those age 65 or over.



Jackson County Airport is located here, one mile (1.6 km) east of Cullowhee. It is governed by the Jackson County Airport Authority.


Norfolk Southern Railway operates a portion known as the Murphy Branch through Jackson County, providing a rail connection with the rest of the country. In Sylva, Norfolk Southern connects with the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Interchange between the two lines is handled near the site of the Jackson Paper Company. Great Smoky Mountains RR operates the rest of the Murphy Branch from Dillsboro to Andrews.

Because of competition with independent automobile traffic, passenger rail traffic declined; it was stopped in 1948 from Sylva to Murphy. Despite widespread restructuring in the industry across the country, freight commercial service continued another forty-odd years before ending in 1983. In 2015, Watco, which purchased the section which Norfolk Southern previously owned, was reportedly in talks with the towns and counties in an attempt to build a viable tourist railroad clientele. The major obstacle for such service is the Cowee Mountain Tunnel, which does not meet height and weight specifications for modern rail engines and passenger cars.

Roads and highways

Jackson County is served by three main roads: the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway runs east–west across the northern half of the county and connects the county seat of Sylva to Waynesville and Asheville in the east and Cherokee, Andrews and Murphy in the west. North Carolina State Highway 107 connects Sylva and Western Carolina University to Cashiers in the south. U.S. Highway 64 traverses east–west across the southern part of the county connecting Cashiers to Brevard in the east and Highlands in the west.

  • US 19
  • US 23 (BUS)
  • US 64
  • US 74
  • US 441 (BUS)
  • NC 107
  • NC 116
  • NC 215
  • NC 281


Map of Jackson County North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels
Map of Jackson County, North Carolina With Municipal and Township Labels



Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities


The county is divided into fifteen townships:

Barker's Creek: Named for the creek which originates and flows through the township before entering the Tuckasegee River. It includes the Dicks Creek, Barkers Creek, and Wilmont communities, and US 74/23 runs as a four-lane divided highway through the township. It is served by Smokey Mountain Elementary School and Smoky Mountain High School. Formerly, the Log Cabin Association Consolidated School served the township, but it closed when Smokey Mountain Elementary opened in 1980.

Canada: Named for the tall ridges, narrow valleys, and sharp peaks of this part of the county, the main waterway is the East Fork of the Tuckasegee River which flows into the River Township before joining the West Fork, becoming the Tuckasegee River. There are four major lakes, Bear, Wolf, Tanasee Creek, and Ceader Cliff, in the township. It is served by NC 281 and is one of the most remote locations in the county. It is served by Cullowhee Valley School and Smoky Mountain High School. Before the 1990s, the schools for the area were Canada Consolidated School and Cullowhee High School, both closed in the 1980s.

Caney Fork: Named for the creek that flows through the township, Caney Fork, which empties into the Tuckasegee River at East LaPorte. The main road is Caney Fork Road, and the area is served by Cullowhee Valley School and Smoky Mountain High School. Prior to 1964 the schools that served the area were Johns Creek Elementary and Cullowhee High School.

Cashiers: Named for a lost horse, the town of Cashiers is located here, as well as the communities of Panthertown Valley, Whiteside Cove, Fairfield, and Sapphire. It is served by NC 107 and US 64. The Eastern Continental Divide follows a ridge north of the township, and defines the boundaries between the Cashiers, Canada, and Glenville townships. The Chattooga, Horsepasture, and Toxaway rivers all originate or flow through the township. It is served by Blue Ridge School, which consolidated Glenville School and Cashiers Elementary in 1975.

Cullowhee: The Cherokee name for the valley was corrupted from its original name into Cullowhee, the original meaning either "Valley of the Lilies" or "Valley of the Buzzards." The valley of the lilies nickname is more commonly referred to. NC 107, Old NC 107, and NC 107-Alternate all serve the township as major roads, though NC 107 is the only 4-lane roadway. Western Carolina University, the village of Forest Hills, and the communities of Speedwell, Old Cullowhee Road, Buzzards Roost, and Dicks Gap are all within the township. It was one of the first areas in the county to be settled by the whites, along with Caney Fork, River, Scott Creek, and Canada townships. It is the largest township population-wise according to the 2000 United States Census. The Tuckasegee River and Cullowhee Creek both flow through the township, with the latter emptying into the former around Old Cullowhee Road. It is served by Cullowhee Valley School, located in the township, and Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva. Formerly, there was Cullowhee High School, but it closed in 1988.

Dillsboro: Named after the Dills Family who founded the town, the township is home to the town of Dillsboro. To the northwest of Dillsboro, Scotts Creek, which flows from Scott Creek Township through Sylva Township into Dillsboro Township, empties into the Tuckasegee River. US 74/23, US 441, and NC 107 all converge in two major intersections within the township. The township is served by Smokey Mountain and Fairview elementary schools and by Smoky Mountain High School. It hasn't had its own school since Dillsboro Elementary closed in 1951. The students were then transferred to Log Cabin School in Barkers Creek Township or Sylva Elementary School in Sylva township.

Greens Creek: Named for the creek which flows through most of the township before emptying into Savannah Creek, Greens Creek Township is served by US 441, in the form of a four-lane highway along the western edge. Greens Creek Road goes through the middle of the township. It is served by Fairview Elementary School and Smoky Mountain High School. It was formerly served by the Savannah Consolidated School, which opened in 1940 and closed in 1973.

Hamburg: Named for the fort and original name of Glenville, the township is served by NC 107. The area was once a large valley, but the valley was flooded in 1941 to form Lake Glenville. The West Fork of the Tuckasegee River originates within the township, and flows north into the River Township. Blue Ridge School is located in the township and serves the township. It originated from the consolidation of the Glenville School and Cashiers Elementary School in 1975.

Mountain: Named for Cullowhee Mountain which it resides on, the Mountain Township is served by NC 107 Alternate. The headwaters of Cullowhee Creek are located here, flowing north into Cullowhee Township before joining the Tuckasegee River. It is served by Cullowhee Valley School/Smoky Mountain High School, and was formerly served by Cullowhee High School and Camp Lab Elementary.

Qualla: Named for the Qualla Boundary which takes up a lion's share portion of the township, Qualla Township is served by US 441, US 19, and US 74/23. Smokey Mountain Elementary School is located in the township, resulting from the 1980 consolidation of Qualla Elementary School and Log Cabin Association Consolidated School. It is served by the Jackson County Public School System and the Cherokee Reservation School System. Students can choose to either go to Smokey Mountain Elementary/Smoky Mountain High School, Cherokee School, or Swain East Elementary, Swain Middle School and Swain High School. The communities of Qualla, Birdtown, Soco, Whittier, Indian Hills, and Wilmont are all located at least partially, if not wholly, within the township.

River: Named for the Tuckasegee River, which converges from two streams into one within the township, it is served by NC 107 and NC 281. The community of Tuckasegee is located in the township. It is served by Cullowhee Valley School/Smoky Mountain High School, and, prior to 1958, Tuckasegee School and Cullowhee High School.

Savannah: Named for Savannah Creek, which runs through the district, Savannah Township is home to the Viewpoint, Pumpkintown, Savannah, and Fort Wilderness communities. The township is served by four-lane US 441. Fairview Elementary School and Smoky Mountain High School serve the township as well. It was home to Savannah Consolidated School, which fed into Webster High School and later Sylva-Webster High School, from 1940 until 1973.

Scotts Creek: Named for Scotts Creek, which begins and flows through the township before running into Sylva Township. It is served by US 74/23 and old US 19/23, which run through the five communities within the township, Balsam, Willets, Ochre Hill, Addie and Beta. The Murphy Branch Railroad also runs through the township. Scotts Creek School has served the township since 1951, and had a new building constructed in 2001. The old school building became the Jackson County School of Alternatives (the HUB).

Sylva: Named for William D. Sylva, as is the town of Sylva, located within the township, which is served by NC 107, US 74/23, and BUS 23. The Jackson County Courthouse and Library are both located in the township. Scotts Creek runs through the township before emptying into Dillsboro Township. The township is served by Fairview and Scotts Creek elementary schools and Smoky Mountain High School. Formerly, students in the township would have gone to Sylva Elementary/Sylva High School, and later Sylva-Webster High School, but consolidation has closed many smaller schools in the county.

Webster: The location of the town of Webster, Webster Township sits at the original geographical center of the county, which has moved to Cullowhee Township due to land taken away for the formation of Swain and Transylvania counties. It was for many years home to the only town in Jackson County. It is served by NC 116 and NC 107. The county seat designation and courthouse were located here from 1851 to 1913, but the county seat subsequently moved to Sylva. The township once was home to Webster Elementary School (1936–1973) and Webster High School (1936–1960), but now the schools that serve the township are Fairview Elementary School (1973) and Smoky Mountain High School (1960/1988).

In popular culture

Several movies have been filmed in the county including the 1993 blockbuster action-adventure The Fugitive starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, the 1972 drama Deliverance, and the 1996 comedy My Fellow Americans starring Jack Lemmon and James Garner.

  • The train wreck scene in The Fugitive was filmed in Dillsboro along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. The wreckage set can still be viewed on outbound train excursions from Dillsboro. The later scene in a small hospital was filmed at Harris Regional Hospital in Sylva.
  • The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad was also used in the filming of My Fellow Americans when they stumble on to a charter train full of North Carolina Tar Heels fans headed for the NCAA Final Four.
  • The back side of downtown Sylva was used for a short driving scene in the filming of Deliverance.
  • Ron Rash's 2008 novel, "Serena," features Jackson County.
  • Sylva's Main-street was used in the filming of Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2016)


Jackson County Public Schools serves all areas of the county except for the Qualla Boundary (Eastern Cherokee Reservation), which is instead zoned to Cherokee Central Schools.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Condado de Jackson (Carolina del Norte) para niños

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