The county seat is defined as the town or city where government offices and buildings are located. In Jackson County, North Carolina (population 40,271 according to the 2010 census), it also means a really big chair.
Webster, NC (population 363) sits in the geographic center of the county and was once the only township in Jackson County. It was designated as the “county seat” from 1851-1913, when it was replaced by the more powerful railroad center of Sylva, also the home of the Jackson County courthouse and library.
Even though Webster is no longer “officially” the county seat, it does HAVE a county seat thanks to local resident and former postmaster Mark Jamison. The story of how the chair came to be is long, complicated and somewhat political, but the important part is that it was built by Jamison in memory of his neighbor and friend, George Penland.
Small-town politics can often have a unique flavor that leaves a bad taste in residents’ mouths. That might be the case with the “county seat” in Webster, but Jamison is immune to the actions of what his late friend George called “The Nitpickers” in his town, and built the chair (and other oddities) in his front yard in spite of them.
After his friend passed away, Jamison decided to respond to “The Nitpickers” not with protests, petitions and social media posts, but with humor and creativity. (Maybe there’s a lesson there for us all.)
At 12 feet tall and more than 4 feet wide, many residents of the quiet town see the rocking chair (painted bright yellow) as an eyesore. Perhaps they should look at it from an outsider’s perspective. When I first saw it, it made me smile. And when I climbed up in it for a photo (even wearing my 5 inch heels), I felt like a kid again playing in the schoolyard. And for a brief moment, I was happy. (How could you NOT be happy sitting in something so overwhelming and fascinating?)
But then, I returned to my car and went back to work for the day, feeling a little like “Edith Ann” I must admit. But sitting in that chair was one of the highlights of my day and I found myself telling everyone I saw that day “Guess what I did today!?” How often do you really get to say that?
Jackson County is relatively unknown to most outside of Western NC, but its’ beautiful scenery was featured in the 1993 film The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, as well as the 1972 drama Deliverance and the 1996 comedy My Fellow Americans.
While the county seat (and library and courthouse and, well you get the idea…) is now in Sylva (population 2,588), the chair in Webster is more popular. It’s only an eyesore to those who have forgotten how to find amusement in life – like in the twinkle of a senior citizen’s eye or the giggle of a toddler, both of which the iconic chair inspires.
Jamison tells me he will be moving soon. After years of renovations to his house built around the same time Webster was formed in 1851, and years of public service, it’s time for a slower lifestyle. The chair, which meets all of the county building codes (much to the chagrin of “The Nitpickers”), is now for sale. Hopefully it will continue to bring delight to another small Southern town and passersby like me.
(To contact Jamison regarding purchasing the chair, email me!)