“We’re one of the most densely packed historic communities in the mountains, so we thought it would be a great idea to have a historic walking tour,” said Mayor Nick Breedlove.
Having just secured a $1,200 grant from the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority to get started, the town is hoping to launch the tour by September. They’ve already worked up a brochure, which lists information on each of the six buildings and features a map showing how to find them. The plan is to distribute those brochures from town hall and area visitor centers and to put the information in plain view by installing a fiberglass National Park Service-style sign on the lawn of Webster Methodist Church.
“What we wanted to do was to provide not only residents but people visiting town a way they could see pieces of history in a short stroll,” Breedlove said.
Four of the town’s six registered historic buildings — a good chunk of the 20 total in the county — are within a quarter mile of each other, including Old Rock School, Webster Methodist Church, the Walter E. Moore House and the Elisha Calor Hedden House. A little farther out are the Lucius Coleman Hall House and the Webster Baptist Church. The tour also includes the Webster Cemetery.
In the future, Breedlove said, he might like to add some other areas that aren’t on the national registry but hold special value to the community, like the site of the old county courthouse and old county jail.
Breedlove hopes the historic tour will provide a learning experience for school groups and incidental education for people walking by the Methodist Church, where the sign will be located. He also hopes it will be another feather in the county’s tourism cap.
“You hear about people rafting and kayaking and riding the train, but historical tourism is every bit as interesting for some people as coming somewhere to go rafting or kayaking or what have you,” Breedlove said.
Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, agrees.
“I think it is a great idea,” she told the TDA board as they reviewed Webster’s grant application. “The Webster Historic Tour will be a nice compliment and companion to the Sylva and Dillsboro Heritage Walks and the Cashiers Heritage Trail”.
Breedlove also hopes the tour will support the town’s other current initiative — to get residents up and moving.
“We want to get more people in our community active,” Breedlove said.
That desire partially drove the walking tour but also spawned the “Heart and Sole Stroll,” a separate route with a separate brochure that maps out a few different routes — 1.6 miles on the sidewalk along N.C. 116, 1.8 miles along the recently cleared right-of-way on Buchanan Loop Road and 0.25 miles around Webster Ball Field.
It’s a separate initiative from the historic tour, Breedlove said, but “a lot of these efforts touch on one another.” Both are priorities in a strategic plan that Asheville planner Don Kostelec recently prepared for the town through a grant from the Southwestern Commission.
“We wanted a plan that was truly individual to Webster, and we were very pleased with the plan we received,” Breedlove said.
To Breedlove, who grew up in Webster, the historic buildings are something more than lifeless brick and mortar. He has warm memories of the Old Rock School, because that’s where he went to preschool. And to Breedlove, the Hedden House will always be Miss Lucy’s house, so called after the late Lucy Hedden. Every summer, the town gets together and has a barbecue there.
“It’s a historic home, which I love, but it holds special meaning to me because I love that the community comes together for a summer picnic at this historic property,” he said.
Meet Webster’s history-makers
• Lucius Coleman Hall House. The house dates back to the 1850s and was the first such structure in Webster. The two-and-a-half-story T-plan addition added in the late 1800s set the example for frame houses later built in Webster, but no house has as grand a staircase and entrance hall. Located on N.C. 116 near Rock Quarry Road.
• Webster Baptist Church. Built in 1900, the main façade is three-bay with tall, rounded windows flanking the bell tower. The furniture inside was designed, built and donated by master cabinetmaker Joseph Warrenton Cowen and his son Lawrence. Located on the west side of the Tuckasegee River facing the N.C. 116 bridge.
• Old Rock School. Finished in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration, the building, featuring a river rock façade, was active until 1960 as Webster High School and Webster Elementary School. Today, Southwestern Child Development Center uses the building, and its gymnasium and auditorium sometimes host community events. Located on the north side of N.C. 116 next to Webster Methodist Church.
• Webster Methodist Church. Before the church was built in 1887, church-goers traveled to each other’s homes for services led by traveling preachers, who rode hundreds of miles each month to serve rural congregations. The church’s design is similar to that of other period churches but possesses an outstanding wealth of detail. The building has not been altered since constructed. Located on the north side of N.C. 116 next to Old Rock School.
• Walter E. Moore House. Moore, a North Carolina lawyer and politician who served as speaker of the state House of Representatives in 1901, built the house in 1886. The home set the style for several area buildings constructed after that time. Located east of the U.S. Post Office along N.C. 116.
• Elisha Calor Hedden House. This 1910 Queen Anne-style two-story house is the largest historic house remaining in Webster, and it’s one of the county’s best examples of a large, frame, T-plan house. Hedden came to the mountains to work in Western North Carolina’s budding early-20th-century lumber industry. Located east of N.C. 116 at Buchanan Loop Road.
• Webster Cemetery. Established in 1851, the cemetery holds many of Jackson County’s founders and early prominent residents, as well as several Civil War veterans. Located on Buchanan Loop Road a half-mile north of N.C. 116.