A History of Bryson City, North Carolina


Swain County Court House - Bryson City, North Carolina

Upon the Act creating the new Swain County, Joseph Keener and J. R. Dills were authorized to survey the county lines. The elections for the new county officials was to be held on the first Thursday of June in 1871. The most pressing concern for the newly-elected commissioners was the selection of a site to become the county seat. The name Charleston was selected. One June 28, 1871, the first court was held at Lucy Ann Raby Cline's store in the small village of Bear Springs.

Mrs. Cline offered to donate twenty-five acres of land to become the new county seat, reserving lots 1, 2, and 3 for herself and her children. The majority of the commissioners gladly accepted her offer, however, N. S. Jarrett did not approve and therefore resigned the commission. Having secured the land, the commissioners hired Joseph Keener to survey the tract and to divide the property into lots. The first lots were sold at auction on September 11, 1871.

Bryson City therefore started out as Charleston, which was incorporated in that name in 1887. Two years later, the name was changed to Bryson City, in honor of Colonel Thaddeus Dillard Bryson. The town square was laid out on the south side of the Tuckaseegee River, with the main street paralleling the river and extending an equal distance east and west from the square. Everett Street extended across the river, which was spanned by a wooden bridge, as far as the present location of the Shuler Furniture Store.

The first post office was in the corner of the D. K. Collins store, with Mr. Collins serving as the postmaster. Later, the post office was moved to a building on Everett Street and was run by Piletus Ferguson and his wife. Telegraph service was established in 1884.

For many years, Bryson City had only dirt streets, which were often muddy, and there were no sidewalks. The first sidewalks were built with the property owners sharing expense on a voluntary basis. Consequently, some had sidewalks and some had none. There was no stock law at that time, so the streets and sidewalks had livestock running loose over them.

The early economy of Swain County was farming, trading, merchandising, and manufacturing. D. K. Collins built the first general store and Lucy Cline and Epp Everett also had stores, with living quarters attached. The three-story frame house of Billy Cline was built on the square, where the Chamber of Commerce is now located.

Due to the location of the railroad, most of the industries were located on the north side of the river. Before the railroad, all travel was by stage, wagons, or horseback. The East Tennesse, Virginia & Georgia Railroad reached Bryson City in 1884. A lot of work had been done with convict labor. Before lone, the railroad was extended westward through the Nantahala Gorge to Murphy, and there were four passenger trains, two each way operating daily, between Asheville and Murphy.

The first bridge across the Tuckaseegee River was built around 1884, and was taken out by a flood in 1890. An iron bridge was then built, it too replaced in 1918 by an even larger iron bridge.

The first pioneers moved into Swain County on foot and on horseback, with scanty household goods on pack horses. Soon, covered carts and wagons were also used. The early families brought a few rifles, an axe, a hunting knife, an auger, and a spinning wheel. Kitchen items included an iron kettle, a few pewter plates, spoons, and dishes. Other tools brought were hoes, plows, and saws. If there were to be grain and vegetables to be planted, these pioneers had to bring these with them.

The first job was to build a log cabin in which no nails were used, as they were not available. The cracks between the logs were filled with chinks and dobbins and the chimney was usually built of stone, which were plentiful in Swain County.

In 1876, when D. K. Collins built his store, he traveled to Maryville and Knoxville, both in Tennessee, to purchase merchandise for his store. He traveled over a road down the Tuckaseegee and Little Tennessee rivers, cross the Smoky Moutains at a point about three miles east of the gap through which the latter river flows.

The first county election was held in June of 1872, and approximately three hundred and fifty votes were cast. In 1880, there were 3,784 persons living in Swain County, and the population doubled by 1890 due to the arrival of the railroad.

The first bank, the Bryson City Bank, was established in 1904, with capital of $5,000. In 1906, deposits amounted to $40,000, sixty percent of which were checking accounts and the rest in savings.

The first ice plant was built in 1912 and people then had ice-boxes to keep their milk and butter cool.

There were three different court houses built in Bryson City between 1873 and 1908. Court was held at the first court house until May of 1882. Tradition alleges that a fire occurred in the year 1879, creating a need for a new court house. Construction on the second court house began in April of 1881 and was completed in May of 1882. This court house was completely gutted by a fire on January 3, 1908. The site chosen for the third court house was a spot on the public square where R. W. Wright's house once stood. The new structure was completed on November 12, 1908. It was renovated and remains on the square today.


Charleston was granted a U.S. Post Office on February 19, 1872, and its first Postmaster was David K. Collins. The name was changed to Bryson City on March 2, 1889, and its first Postmaster was again David K. Collins. It has been in continuous operation ever since inception.


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