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Charters of freedom coming to Sylva

fr chartersAfter months of fundraising, cash is now in hand to get a monument to the country’s founding documents in place at Mark Watson Park in Sylva.

“I think it’s important to be able to reflect on our history,” said Jackson County Commission Chairman Brian McMahan. “These are very powerful words found in these documents. These are the words that started our nation and sustain our nation today.” 

Private donations have inched the meter ever closer to the $20,000 needed to create the Your Charters of Freedom Monument since the fundraising kicked off with a Patriot Breakfast in November. The final push came from a radiothon that Roy Burnette of WRGC 540 AM in Sylva hosted, bringing in nearly $8,000 — overall, more than 50 individual donors contributed to the cause. 

The plan is to install bronze versions of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights on Sept. 17, Constitution Day. They’ll go in the grassy corner of Mark Watson Park that’s between the greenway sidewalk and U.S. 23 next to the park exit. The bronze documents will be set in displays of brick treated to match the white brick of the Jackson County Public Library atop the hill. 

While the dollars for the monument originated locally, the effort was led by Morganton-based Foundation Forward Inc., whose founder Vance Patterson first approached Jackson County Commissioners in March of 2015. 

“About three years ago my wife and I were up in Washington and we had some free time, so we decided to go to the National Archives because we’d never seen the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution before,” Patterson told commissioners. 

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The sight gave him goosebumps, and after realizing that very few people from his home in Burke County would ever make it to D.C. to see the sight firsthand, he began building a nonprofit committed to getting replicas installed in places where people far from D.C. could experience them. So far, monuments have been installed in Buncombe, Burke and Cherokee counties, with three more in place in Illinois, Indiana and South Carolina. Projects have also been approved in Henderson and Pitt counties. 

“Once we raise the right amount of money then we go ahead and do everything,” Patterson told commissioners. “All we ask the county to do is do site preparation.”

Commissioners liked the idea, and Foundation Forward got moving with fundraising efforts. At first, the cost had been projected at $70,000 to $80,000, but using brick rather than granite for the settings tamped the cost down and also resulted in a design that everyone seems to agree will fit in better on the site, as it will match the nearby library. 

 “I think it’s important for our kids to be able to have that reinforced and to be able to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, especially now when more than ever we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure the kids know freedom isn’t free,” said Mike Murray, superintendent of Jackson County Public Schools. 

Foundation Forward has been working with the school system since the beginning of the effort, and Jackson County’s schoolchildren will be well represented in the proceedings. 

The September ceremony will involve burying a time capsule, to be opened on Sept. 17, 2087, the U.S. Constitution’s 300th birthday. In addition to letters from a variety of community leaders and officials, the capsule will include work from the winners of essay and bookmark contests held for children in kindergarten through eighth grade and the names of students who participated in a challenge to read books about American history, whether that be state, local or national history. 

“I think it’s exciting, especially for these kindergarten kids that we’re hopeful will be able to see their work on that opening day,” Murray said. “I think it’s a really neat concept.” 

McMahan hopes to see the county continue to improve the site once the monuments are installed, contracting with a landscape architect to develop a plan for flagpoles, shrubbery and other landscaping. The board will likely try to get some plans completed prior to the monument installation so that the placement will be conducive to any future development of the area. 

Further down the road, the commission would like to see the old rescue squad building across the drive from the soon-to-be Freedom Park turned into a community gathering space that could be used in conjunction with any ceremonies held by the monuments. 

“I think they deserve a nice environment where people can come and reflect on the words of Jefferson and our founding fathers,” McMahan said, “a place for us to come as a community and gather in occasions where it’s fitting to pay tribute to those parts of our history and honor those who are serving today.” 

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