Artifacts of Sylva’s history uncovered

Originally published in The Sylva Herald 

Robin Sharrett was clearing the basement of the former Farmhouse Mercantile and Coffee Bar in Sylva when he found something buried under the old shelves. He dug it up to find a cola bottle made by the Nehi Bottling Company in Bryson City in 1936. After a little more digging, Sharrett and his team realized they had uncovered a trove of Sylva history. 

Sharrett and his team were working to return the building back to its original structure to make way for Blue Ridge Bootleg Roastery. In preparation, the building owner requested Sharrett and his team clear the basement and remove trash.  

When Sharrett found the bottle, he realized that there was years’ worth of untouched history from the businesses that belonged to the building before Farmhouse.  

“We wanted to go through each and every box, figure out if there was any history to Sylva in one of the last untouched buildings,” Sharrett said. 

Sharrett and his team found more than they expected. From a copy of The Ruralite to a 1984 basketball trophy, the basement held hundreds of mundane items from the past that have become gold with time. 

“I was so emotional, I believe the building was almost speaking to me,” Sharrett shared, “there’s a hundred plus years of moving, shaking and people loving and hating and probably fist fights and there’s energy that’s been captured in these walls that remains over a hundred years.” 


The building began as the C.J. Harris building, named after Charles Joseph Harris, a vital figure in the history of Jackson County, according to Jason Brady, a Sylva local and specialist at WCU special collections. 

“Harris is the one that is mostly responsible for Sylva becoming the county seat, before that it was Webster. He is also responsible for the construction of the courthouse and the hospital that used to be next to the courthouse,” Brady shared. 

In 1902 Sylva Supply began to operate out of the C.J. Harris building. Multiple cases of Sylva Supply’s products were found unopened. Cases of Wizzard Ointment for burns, bruises and insect bites, Thedford’s Black Draught for dyspepsia, sour stomach, indigestion, headaches, “offensive breath” and colds, Canada Dry that was bottled in Greensboro, Jet-Oil Ox-Blood shoe polish, spices and seasonings and so much more. 

Sharrett also uncovered a paper trail of the business operations. Checks for the Mercantile Supply Company, a cash book from 1926, a ledger dated from Jan. 1, 1931 to Apr. 1, 1931, receipts from 1958 and other stacks of books and papers. 

“The fact that I was involved in the excavation of Sylva’s history – if I were to leave the Earth tomorrow, I would be on cloud nine,” Sharrett said. 

Sharrett is a local handyman who moved to Sylva in 1998. He previously owned his own business, Bird’s Eye Handyman, and has had a part in nearly every business in downtown Sylva. “You name it, I’ve been it,” Sharrett said, “I’ve dug my hands deep into hundred-year-old buildings for the last eight years.” 

Sharrett has been involved in the construction of the Cut Cocktail Lounge, Lucy in the Rye, Snake Song, City Lights Café, Meatballs, Innovation Brewing, Ilda, White Moon and more. 

Both Sharrett and Brady have a deep pride in the way Sylva’s locals preserve the town’s history. 

“Mountains have a very long memory,” Brady said. Brady’s time in special collections has shown him how dearly Sylva locals hold past artifacts. 

“To be able to work in a place like this, you really have to want to preserve the history. There really is no other way you can,” Sharrett said. 

The recovered items that are not being donated are being auctioned online by building owner Tammy Brown on “Hopefully everyone that would love a piece of Sylva history can get some,” Brown said.