Sylva Town Board votes to remove ‘Sylva Sam’

The fate of Sylva Sam, a memorial built in 1915 to honor soldiers killed in the Civil War will be taken up by Jackson County Commissioners at its next regular meeting on Aug. 4. The monument sits in front of the historic former Jackson County Courthouse.

Brittney Lofthouse – Contributing Writer

The Sylva Town Board of Commissioners voted in a split decision Monday night to pass a resolution asking Jackson County Commissioners to relocate the Confederate Monument, also known as Sylva Sam, to somewhere outside of the city limits. While the monument is located on county property on the steps leading up to the Jackson County Public Library, the original courthouse, town leaders are requesting county officials to remove it.

“We’re not talking about tearing down the statue,” said Commissioner David Nestler, who made the motion to approve the resolution. “We’re talking about relocating it. This is about putting this part of history in its proper context.”

Sylva’s Confederate Monument statue was constructed during the 50th anniversary of the Civil War and was built to honor the 164 soldiers from Jackson County who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, and all the citizens who helped with the war effort. 

Since the monument’s construction in 1915, the county’s Veteran’s Memorial has been built at the base of the steps to include the Civil War monument in the memorial for veterans of all wars. At the base of the steps sits the War Memorial Fountain.  

A brick walkway surrounds the fountain and in front of the walk is a low, half-circle granite wall which holds a dedication plaque. Behind the fountain is a curved granite retaining wall several feet high with a broad opening for the long stairway that leads up a hill to the historic Jackson County Courthouse. The fountain was partially constructed in 1920 to honor World War One veterans and never finished although the memorial plaque was placed at that time. After World War Two the American Legion Auxiliary raised funds to compete the project in honor of veterans to both World Wars. The fountain was officially dedicated in 1949. Additional memorial items have been built at the base of the steps making up the Jackson County Veterans Memorial. 

A group leading the charge to remove the monument, Reconcile Sylva, argue that the monument is a sign of hate and racism and needs to be removed for the safety of black residents in the community. Members of the community called in to the Sylva Town Board of Monday night express their opinions, both for and against removing the statue. 

“This whole thing hurts my heart so bad, and I am so sick of listening to people tell me to go back to whatever country I came from,” concurred Carrie McBane, who has lived in Jackson County for the past 15 years. “I have been a citizen of the United States since I was six years old.”

Sylva resident Tracy Mann said that she believes the statue could negatively impact if it appears that local government leaders had a chance to get the statue removed but opted not to. Mann said that tourism could be impacted because people of color might not want to spend their money in Sylva, if they do not take a stand against racism. 

Sylva resident Frank Huguelet spoke to the town board about how for him, the statue is a memorial to his ancestor, John Parker, who did not make it home from the war after dying from dysentery in a Union Army prison camp. 

“Hundreds of men went out to fight. Thousands of ancestors are left,” said Huguelet. “Dividing a community based on a national political movement is wrong. It’s a bad precedent to set. The majority of the people in this country want to keep it.”

After hearing from residents, the town of Sylva voted to pass the resolution asking county leaders to remove the monument. Sylva Commissioners David Nestler, Greg McPherson, and Ben Guiney voted to remove the statue. Commissioners Mary Gelbaugh and Barbara Hamilton voted against the resolution. 

The resolution will be sent to the Jackson County Board of commissioners for consideration during their next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, August 4.