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Sylva writer’s historic cabin purchased by county

fr parriscabinIn a tiny cabin on a sliver of property adjacent to the Jackson County Historic Courthouse, Sylva author John Parris spent years putting pen to paper, writing the newspaper columns and books celebrating life in the mountains that would ensure his long-lasting legacy in the hearts of Jackson County’s people.

Now, the county is poised to close on its purchase of the cabin and the 0.14 acres on which it and Parris’ old house sit.

“I think a lot of people in the community do have a sense of pride, and since John was kind of a well-known writer and that’s where he did most of his work, I think a lot of people want to preserve it,” said County Manager Chuck Wooten. 

“I’d like for them to keep it just like it is but make it into sort of a museum about Johnny Parris,” said Bill Crawford, a member and past president of the Jackson County Genealogical Society.

Crawford grew up knowing Parris, who died in 1999 at the age of 84, as well as his parents and his whole family history. The cabin was actually where Parris’ grandfather lived when he resided in the Burningtown area of Macon County, and Parris had the building moved to its current location when his grandfather moved over to Jackson County, Crawford said. Parris lived in a house on the property but went to the cabin to write. 

“He wrote about the home folks,” Crawford said, “and people that are old like me, he wrote about stuff we could remember.”

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A newspaper writer who got his start in Sylva and went on to write for the United Press International and Associated Press from cities including Asheville, Raleigh, New York City and London, Parris returned to Western North Carolina in 1947 and began writing a popular column on mountain life for the Asheville Citizen-Times. His published book titles include Roaming the Mountains, These Storied Mountains and My Mountains, My People. 

When the property came up for sale, it piqued the Jackson County Commissioners’ interest both as an opportunity for historic preservation and as a prudent purchase to buffer property the county already holds surrounding the Jackson County Library, housed in the county’s historic courthouse. The property is just downhill from the library’s parking lot and looks out over downtown. 

Commissioners voted to buy the property for $75,000 with plans to tear down the house and cut down some be-vined trees on the property but keep the cabin around. 

The house was poorly constructed and ill maintained, Wooten said, not worth the cost to get back in shape. And the trees aren’t showcase specimens either.

 “I think we believe that taking those (trees) down is going to open up that view significantly,” Wooten said.  

The county struck a deal with the sellers, who had purchased the land from the Parris estate years ago, that the sellers would do some of the initial demolition on the house. 

 The county will still pay $13,000 to remove the house and an additional $18,000 to remove the trees, bringing the total cost for the land purchase and cleanup to $106,000. 

No decisions have yet been made on what, exactly, will happen to the cabin, though some options include an office for a nonprofit, a location for library programs or a small museum commemorating Parris’ work. Commissioners will likely discuss those possibilities down the road once cleanup is complete, though Wooten said that accessibility would be an obstacle to overcome in any potential use of the building. The property is on a hillside, and making it ADA-accessible could be difficult. 

“I’m glad they’re saving it,” Crawford said, “because it’s definitely a piece of history.”

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