The history of Sylva is rich with many cultures and stories. Witches, Cherokee monsters and larger-than-life legends have all come together in the small town named after a wanderer and culminated in a two-hour walking tour through Sylva. “Where Shadows Walk, Historic Ghost Tours” takes place in the immediate area surrounding the Jackson County Public Library. Tours will walk through a portion of residences, down to the First Citizens Bank, across the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway and out to Bridge Park before returning to the library.
Where Shadows Walk was founded in 2013 and provides a number of tours in different places throughout the year. The Sylva tours now focus on the history and legends of the surrounding area and provide a thrilling learning experience.
Gregg Clark, owner of Where Shadows Walk, Historic Ghost Tours said, “We believe in preservation through presentation. The history and ghost stories of the southern Appalachian Mountains is so rich and wild, we decided that classic walking tours, wherein, guests could wander the dark streets, river banks, railroad tracks and trails of our storied towns was a perfect way to save both our dark and often bloody history and our ghost stories. Our desire is that people leave with an appreciation and awe of our history, legends and ghosts. We want to educate and entertain.”
The tour is a wonderful way to learn more about the area, whether you are a local or new resident.
According to Sara Cabe, tour guide for Where Shadows Walk, “A lot of people, even those who grew up in Sylva, don’t know the history of the place they live. Sylva is the only town named after a hobo: William D. Sylva.”
Among information provided in the tour is a historic overview of the naming of Sylva and Jackson County. William Sylva was said to have shown up before Sylva was named. He was a very likeable character, but no one knew where he came from. Finally, the town was named Sylva after him, but soon after he disappeared and no one heard from him again.
Jackson County, in which Sylva is located, was named after President Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States of America. When Jackson dueled Charles Dickinson, he took a shot in the chest, then fired back and killed Dickinson.
Another famous person in history who bore the name of Western Carolina University’s McKee building, Gertrude McKee was the first woman to serve in the North Carolina Senate, and was born in Jackson County.
But, among the many historical stories also come stories and legends of the Cherokee, ghosts, the Civil War, bloody family feuds, witches and untraceable phone calls.
Clark is said to get phone calls from a discontinued number on Western Carolina’s campus.
Cabe said, “Every year since 2013, Gregg has gotten a phone call every day from Oct. 1 through Oct. 31 from a number that’s been traced back to Western Carolina University’s campus, but no one uses.”
It is said that a woman suffocated to death on campus, dying of an asthma attack. It is believed, due to the wheezing from the other end of the line during these calls, that the caller is the woman who died.
“She may just want her story told,” said Cabe.
Other famous people from history acquainted with Sylva are Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Edison was said to have boarded with Sylva’s Dr. Delos Hooper for six months. In that time, Ford drove his first version of the Model T to Sylva to visit. Together, they drove to Webster and back. It is said that the First Citizens Bank on W. Main Street used to be the boarding house that Edison and Dr. Hooper stayed in.
Jackson County is also home to the most haunted tunnel in America: the Cowee Tunnel. The tunnel is hard to access, but can be found along the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Many accidents and horrors have occurred there, including: the drowning of 19 members in a chain gang, trains derailing, and a blind spot in the middle that has caused accidents and cave-ins. Some even believe that the tunnel has been cursed by one of the few survivors, Anderson Drake. The tunnel is said to be under the burial site of the 19 convicts who drowned in the Tuckasegee, and the water that drips down from the ceiling is said to be their tears.
As learned on the tour, even the old Jackson County Courthouse and Judaculla Rock are subject to ghosts and hauntings of famous people in history.
Sylva is a historically rich area full of every manner of bloody, horrific and intriguing tales the likes of which are best heard at night where the horror can best seep in. In the two-hour tour, you will hear many historical
stories of stops on the tour, as well as legends of the area that will give you goosebumps and a mind full of knowledge.
Where Shadows Walk, Historic Ghost Tours also provides tours for Franklin, Waynesville, the Woodlawn Cemetery and local haunted homes.
For more information, visit their website, www.whereshadowswalk.com, or check out their Facebook page at “Where Shadows Walk Historic Ghost Tours.”