The Town of Webster has created a historic tour focusing on the seven National Register properties located within its limits. The tour is an outgrowth of an effort by town officials to improve walkability and health, as well as community cohesion by preserving, enriching and featuring their historic town and refining its zoning ordinances. Funding for the project came from a long-range planning grant obtained by town officials in 2014 from the Southwestern Commission through the Appalachian Regional Commission. Access the History Tour Brochure here: A History Tour of Webster, NC
Information regarding the historical significance of Webster Methodist Church can be found at the Jackson County Planning Department website at: http://www.jacksonnc.org/planning.html then scrolling down to the report labeled 2012-11-05 Webster Methodist Church Designation Report (652 KB).
"While Webster may not be as old as the hills that surround it, the date of its establishment, 1853, the same time that Jackson County was created from Macon and Haywood counties, is deceiving. Why? Because for years untold the location of the village that would become Jackson's first county seat, was the location of a large Cherokee town known to the Cherokee as Unadanti'yi, "where they conjured." According to tradition and the story in "Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees" by James Mooney, "a war party of Shawano, coming from the direction of Pigeon River, halted here to 'make medicine' against the Cherokee, but while thus engaged were surprised by the latter, who came up from behind and killed several, including the conjurer." James Mooney collected his myths of the Cherokee between 1887 and 1890 for the Bureau of American Ethnology. He gives credit to Civil War veteran Captain James W. Terrell of Webster for leading and introducing him to the Cherokee. Even today it is not unusual to find Cherokee artifacts in newly turned or plowed ground, and two Cherokee fish weirs are found on the Tuckaseigee in Webster, with one being the best preserved of the remaining weirs.
The dividing line between Macon County and Haywood County, until Jackson County was created, was the Tuckaseigee River. It was on this river that the county and the state established Webster, naming the county after the Democratic president and North Carolinian Andrew Jackson, and the government center for the New England Whig Daniel Webster of Massachusetts.
The earliest known description of Webster appears with a steel engraving, "On the Road to Webster" in the March 1874, issue of "Scribner's Monthly," "The Great South," written by Edward King.
The Webster Historical Society published The Webster Cookbook in 1974. The Cookbook is filled with stories of the history and earlier days of the town. Louise Barker Davis, for years the respected English and journalism teacher at the Webster School, wrote "Just Above the Tuckaseigee" - a history of the town until that date.
Mrs. Davis writes in Just Above the Tuckaseigee:
"Webster. A community in which the daily walk 'down the street' brings good mornings from housewives sweeping their porches, hellos from small children playing in their yards, hopeful greetings from tail-wagging family dogs, brief chats with neighbors one meets on the road, and an exchange of friendly waves with those speeding to school or work.
On to the post office where six mornings a week gather the faithful to pick up their mail and exchange the news of the day, whether it be gardens, the state of the nation, weather, vital statistics, condition of the ailing, politics, sports, recipes, performance of a lawn mower, or just plain joshing. Often at the central point in town, or its immediate vicinity, newcomers are introduced to members of Webster's established community. In the close confines of the small post office one hears a number of regional accents, sometimes even a slightly foreign one. These, with the speech of the native Websterite, blend into a harmonious whole of neighborly talk.
Just where is this Webster? The village of pleasant souls? To begin, Webster, like Grover's Corners of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, projects itself from its precise location to the state, to the nation, to the world, to the universe, to the Mind of God."
But to satisfy the statistical-minded, a few facts. Webster was for sixty years a county seat. In 1851, from portions of Haywood, Macon, and Swain Counties of Western North Carolina, a new county, Jackson was formed. In April 1853, for one hundred dollars, an eighteen acre tract of land, bought from Nathan Allen, became the site of Webster, Jackson's county seat. Five years later an act to incorporate the town of Webster was passed by North Carolina's General Assembly. The act read:
'Beginning at the mouth of Love's Mill Creek, thence up said creek to Love's Mill, thence north one half mile to a stake, thence west to the Tuckaseegee River, thence up its meanders to the beginning point... Sessions Laws 1858-1859'
From the original square mile corporate limits, the boundaries over the years have been somewhat changed and defined in detail.
Lying in an area of natural beauty, Webster proper is built on a ridge flaked by rolling farmland which ascends into tree-covered hills. With nearby King’s Mountain and the Tuckaseigee River, its immediate area is limited.
However, one has only to lift his eyes to see the beauty of the distant, blue, encircling mountains. Beginning in the foothills, they rise in a series of ranges to meet the horizon in soft irregular contours and bring to the viewer a sense of serenity, strength, reassurance and permanence.
There must not be omitted from this description of physical Webster a brief statement about her soil. This will be no chemical analysis, although there are many valuable minerals around. It is that red clay, bane of the mothers of small children to whose feet and clothing it clings. What tasty vegetables it grows! What lovely flowers! What lush hay!
The history of Webster is contained in a series of eras. That period, known as early Webster, dates from the time of its incorporation in 1859 almost to the end of the century. The Civil War, although no direct action occurred any nearer than Asheville, took its toll in men. Naturally, the region’s sympathies were with the South, but facts about the life of the people of that time are scant. Those available have come down in the form of family pictures, records, and oral history.
With the building of the Southern Railway from Asheville west, prosperity comes to the region. Webster, with its agriculture, mining and small businesses, became an active little town - the nucleus of Jackson County. Schools and churches had long been established. Teachers, lawyers, ministers, and physicians followed their professions. A local newspaper was published and Court was held regularly.
Then the most radical change in its history brought a long era of decline and stalemate to Webster. In 1913, the county seat was moved to Sylva, a prosperous town which had developed directly on the railway. A disastrous fire earlier had wiped out the greater part of the business district of Webster and its population dwindled.
Professional people and others favored the moving of the county seat of government to Sylva. Webster became once again the countryside town with only its churches, school, and post office left. Former business sites were turned into fields and people lived quietly on their farms. The courthouse, falling into ruins, was torn down to make way for a residence.
World War I left little visible damage in Webster. Some men entered the service. A few young people went away to colleges and others sought work in distant places.
The Depression of the thirties brought a number of people, thankful to escape the joblessness of the cities, back to the land on which they could at least raise food. Later, federal programs provided some relief. A new rock school building was erected near the old wooden one and the Webster School flourished.
World War II took Webster men to construction jobs and to various branches of service. A few made the supreme sacrifice.
Life during the forties and fifties went on. The cycle of birth, growing up, marriage and the raising of families continued. Older residents were laid to rest in either the Stillwell or Webster Cemetery.
Some farms were divided among members of families and young married couples established homes on their shares. Children again played up and down the streets of the won. Websterites shopped in nearby towns and exchanged visits with their kin in Sylva, Dillsboro, Cullowhee or other parts of the county.
However, inevitably, the young people went away to school, to work or to live in distance places with those they had married.
From 1913 to 1954, the town had no functioning municipal government. Then, through an act of the legislature in 1953, its charter was reactivated. The corporate town limits were reestablished. Now there is a duly elected may and a five-member board of aldermen and a town clerk. Webster is once again a viable community. The population, although small, is increasing. The school is gone, but young people with their families are living in the area. They, retirees, and others have built attractive homes in fields, wooded places, and on hillsides.
It was earlier said that the history of Webster is contained in a number of eras. The real story of any place is its people. Webster has produced no aristocrats, but she has produced solid, substantial citizens. They are descendants of sturdy pioneer stock who emigrated from England, Scotland, Iceland, Wales and Germany. From these people have come successful teachers, ministers, craftsmen, businessmen, farmers, lawyers, judges, physicians, engineers, and able leaders in government. Yes, a former governor of North Carolina lived part of his youth in Webster. In recent times have arrived additional citizens, two from as far away as Norway to reside harmoniously with the Websterites."
"While Webster in 1974 was no longer was the hilltop village that Mr. King wrote about in 1874, today it is no longer the village that Louise Davis wrote about in 1974. The town's population today is about 500 and these 500 people are, except for maybe a dozen, people who have moved his to make a bedroom community for Sylva, Western Carolina University, and even Asheville. Its influence is still felt and it is still the historic center of the county. Its two cemeteries are the resting places for the county's early leaders, it lists six National Register of Historic Places, the largest number in the county, it is the home of Miss Lucy's Picnic founded 68 years ago, and its "Summer Evening in Webster" entertainments are the county's longest running program.
And it is still, as Mrs. Davis wrote:
"Where is Webster? For those insisting on a geographical location, it is on North Carolina Highway 116. For those who care, Webster is in their minds and hearts. Webster is a place to cherish and preserve. Webster is a place to come home to."
Just ask anyone who has ever lived here.