Transylvania County Celebrates a Sesquicentennial

In front of City Market in Transylvania County.

In front of City Market in Transylvania County.

When you mention Transylvania County, many people think of Brevard’s white squirrels, the Mountain Song Festival at Brevard Music Center or the more than 250 waterfalls that draw tourists to the area all year long.

However, starting January 1, 2011, Transylvania County kicks off a 12-month series of events to celebrate its 150th birthday.

“The key point of this sesquicentennial celebration lies in understanding who we are as a community,” says Transylvania County Chairman and Brevard native Mike Hawkins, who also is chairman of the sesquicentennial celebration committee. “We will do our best to entice citizens to sample as many of these events as possible,” he says. Hawkins, who has worked as part of his family-owned and operated Pisgah Fish Camp since he was 10 years old, says the events will be geared to both natives and newcomers.

“Especially in difficult times, it is important to understand who you are and where you come from,” Hawkins explains. “Looking back, we can see how our ancestors persevered, often in times even more troubled than our own. Looking at the present, we can see ourselves for who we are, a people with strengths and weaknesses. Looking ahead, we can vision the Transylvania County we hope to become. Whether you are a 5th-generation Transylvanian or a recent arrival, those are vital activities.”

Restoring the luster to Silvermont

The first big event on the county’s birthday calendar is the unveiling of the restored second floor of the former home of Transylvania County’s first industrialist and founder of the Toxaway Tanning Company, Joseph Simpson Silversteen.

The Silvermont Mansion was built on East Main Street in the early 1900s and both the 33-room home and eight-acre estate was willed to the county after Silversteen’s last remaining heir died in 1972.

The property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981 and it was opened to the public in 1982. A small museum inside the house previously showcased eight rooms to give visitors insight into that time period, but now after a year and a half of restoration, the second floor of the historic structure is scheduled to reopen on New Year’s Day.

“We have worked 18 months on the restoration and preservation of the eras and lifestyle in which Joseph Silversteen and his wife Elizabeth lived,” says Lee Stewart of the Silvermont Museum. “Over the years, many of the furnishings and belongings disappeared, but I can’t wait to share more of this special place.”

Taking it to the streets

“My favorite aspect of the year’s events is the participation of communities in the celebration,” says Transylvania County Heritage Museum Executive Director Rebecca Suddeth. Traveling exhibits will move throughout the county during the year and several community centers will be incorporating the exhibit and special speakers into their events. Suddeth, a lifelong county resident, also says that an exhibition focusing on the history of music and community bands will debut this July.

Looking back while looking forward

Many involved in the planning say they hope these events bring history to life and possibly even offer inspiration to last the next 150 years.

The Transylvania County Library’s Rowell Bossee North Carolina Room is already home to the Transylvania County Archives and its important historical documents, photographs, postcards, newsletters and scrapbooks that tell the personal stories of the people who lived here, but the library is also co-sponsoring special seminars starting in the spring that will focus on the county’s changing economic culture.

“For me, the sesquicentennial celebration is an opportunity to teach our children not only about the history of this community, but also allow them to dream about our future and their roles in shaping that future,” says Dr. Scott Elliot, Director of Secondary Education, Career and Technical Education and Student Services for Transylvania County. “Who are we? What do we value as a community? How do we preserve what we value while being deliberate about change? It is about looking forward.”

For updated Transylvania County sesquicentennial event information, visit

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