Bryson City, NC

Bryson City, situated in Swain County as the county seat, is a small town made up of 2.2 square miles.

2018 Best Guide to Bryson City, NC

June 10, 2018

Bryson City was founded and established as the county seat of Swain County in 1871.

The town was originally founded as Charleston, and the name was changed to Bryson City in 1889.  

Bryson City and Swain County have a rich history of Cherokee culture, with several museums and events that honor the Cherokee.  

Bryson City NC is the county seat of Swain County in western North Carolina, near Cherokee NC. Located on the other side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Gatlinburg TN and Pigeon Forge TN, it is home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. 

With about 1,350 people living in about 2 square miles, Bryson City sits on the Tuckasagee River near the Deep Creek confluence and is graced by mountains on all sides - The Great Smoky Mountains, Cowee Mountains, and Plott Balsams. The Nantahala National Forest is nearby, while the Cherokee Indian Reservation rests on the east side of the town. 

Things are slow here, and Bryson City isn't what you would expect for a town so centrally located in western North Carolina. Tourism is minimal, what with the depot station for the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad. Most of the action, if you will, is downtown near the Main Street and Everett Street intersections. This is where U.S. Highway 19 intersects the roads from Murphy and Cherokee. 

Bryson City was home to the native Cherokee for thousands of years, with their eldest village of Kituhwa situated just near the town on the Tuckasagee River. That village is no longer around as it was destroyed during the American Revolution by American soldiers. 

In 1818 Chief Big Bear obtained a 640-acre plot for the area of what is now Bryson City. He sold portions of it over the next several years. Land disputes ensued, and The Shuler family in turn sold parts of the land. 

Eventually, a small village of "Big Bear" (named after the chief) grew in the area. It was a 640 acre land reserve owned by Cherokee Indian Chief Big Bear, who sold a portion of it to Darling Belk and John Love around 1820. This land found its way to James and Diana Shular, and then Colonel Thaddeus Bryson and Alfred Cline.

In 1871, parts of Jackson County and Macon County were relieved to the creation of the new Swain county. The newly appointed commissioners of the county met at Bear Springs, at Cline's Store - which was owned by Lucy Ann Cline. Cline sold several acres of land for the county seat.

Known as "Charleston", the new seat of Swain County entailed a Main Street intersecting "Everett" street (named for the first Sheriff of Swain County. By 1872, the first jail was operational, and in 1874, the courthouse was completed.

In 1889 the town changed names to its current Bryson City status, in honor Colonel Bryson - who had been heavily involved in many of the first critical processes in the town's creation and upstart. The town folk also realized there would be a certain amount of confusion with the town Charleston in South Carolina.

The railroad came to town in 1884 courtesy the Western North Carolina Railroad, followed by a bank in 1904, and completion of the new courthouse in 1908. The creation of the adjoining Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the early 1930s brought increased business to the town of Bryson City and Swain County in general. The park entails Deep Creek (camping and hiking trails) to the north, with a main entrance on the east of Bryson City, while the Blue Ridge Parkway entrance is at the south.

As the automobile increased in popularity, the railroad (now owned by Southern Railway) would cease its passenger service in 1948. And, in 1985, Northfolk Southern's freight division halted operations through Bryson City. The tracks were purchased by the Great Smoky Mountains Railway, which created a tourist attraction with the main stop in Bryson City.

Much of today's revenue for Bryson City comes from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, formed in 1933. Campgrounds and hiking trails produced much of the early income for the town, and still do.

In 1944, the Fontana Dam project was completed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Much of the hydro-electric power it produced supplied much need electricity to the Alcoa Aluminum plant, which created aircraft panels for the war effort. The arrival of the Dam brought water levels above a primary connection road between remote Smoky Mountains and the North Shore area. Accordingly, the Government initiated work on a replacement highway in 1948. After 25 years of "construction", only 7 miles had been completed, infuriating the town.


The median resident age in Bryson City is 45 years. The median estimated household income is about $34,000 making it about $16,000 less than the North Carolina average. The estimated per capita is about $21,000. The average price for a home in Bryson City is about $120,000 (2016) which is $45,000 less than the North Carolina Average. Expect to pay about $600 a month for rent.

The racial makeup of Bryson City is 87% White, 5% Hispanic, and 7% other. 76% of the population are high school graduates, with 19% holding a Bachelor's Degree or higher. 47% are married, 18% are divorced, 9% are widowed, 3% are separated, leaving 23% that have never been married.

Towns Nearby

Cherokee, NC
Dillsboro, NC
Sylva, NC
Webster, NC
Forest Hills, NC
Cullowhee, NC
Franklin, NC
Gatlinburg, TN

Swain County

Bryson City belongs to Swain County in the western part of North Carolina. The County, named after the former governor of North Carolina, David L. Swain, has a population of 14,000. The County's seat and largest city, Bryson City, has a population of 1,500.

Swain County borders Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Graham, Sevier (TN), and Blount (TN) counties.

Swain County is made up of 541 square miles. 528 of which is land with the remaining 13 as water.


The population of Bryson City, NC is about 1,400. Though the population has fluctuated over the past 80 or so years, the town has overall seen steady growth since its founding.


The elevation of Bryson City, NC is 1,752 feet above sea level.

Zip Code

The zip code for Bryson City, NC is 28713.

Area Code

The area code for Bryson City, NC is 828.

Politics and Religion

Historically speaking Bryson City and Swain County have voted mostly Republican, with 58% going to Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential Election. This represents the trend for the previous four or five elections.

As of 2010, 63% of the population are religiously unafiliated (Nones). About 35% are Protestants, Catholics make up around 1%, and 1% other.


The unemployment rate for Bryson City is about 7% (2015), making it higher than the state average of around 5%. Food service, construction, and waste management make nearly 50% of the most common industries in the town.

Newspaper & Obituaries

The Smoky Mountain Times and Swain County Herald are the primary newspapers that cover the Swain County area.