Carved from portions of two adjoining counties in 1851, Jackson County encompasses some 494 square miles. The Tuckaseigee River, which was the dividing line between Haywood and Macon County until Jackson was created by a special act of the N.C. General Assembly, flows almost the length of the county. Named for President Andrew Jackson, its first county seat was at Webster, though that changed some 60 years later when Sylva became the governmental seat. "Removalists" - those who favored moving the county seat from Webster to Sylva - first made their plea to the General Assembly in 1901, though they had been pushing the idea since around 1888. Lawmakers granted that request, but the bill was never acted upon through a local county vote. The main reasons given by those who favored the change was that Sylva had both a railroad and an economy that was starting to boom. Sylva's bright future would improve if it was also the county seat, they said. C.J. Harris, the richest man in town, was also one of the most outspoken removalists and told Jackson County citizens he would build them a new courthouse if they would approve the move, though he stipulated that he'd do so for a sum not to exceed $30,000.

William Dallas Wike of Cullowhee, who was Jackson County's representative in the 1913 session of the General Assembly, brought removal back to the floor in February. The removal debate created an intense rivalry between Sylva and Webster and between those on both sides of the move; the issue remained hot until the day of the vote. By 10 p.m. on May 8, 1913, the election was over and had been conceded to the "removalists." By a vote of 1,413 for removal and 738 against, Sylva became the county seat.

The county has four incorporated towns - Webster, Sylva, Dillsboro and Forest Hills - and several well-defined communities with post offices, including Cashiers, Glenville, Tuckaseigee, Cullowhee, Balsam, and Whittier.

Jackson County is also known for its educational institutions. It is home to Western Carolina University, which began in 1889 as Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School, grew into a major regional university and is a now member campus of the University of North Carolina. In addition, the county includes Southwestern Community College, a top-ranked two-year school that offers a college transfer as well as a variety of technical degrees and certifications.

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