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Little People tunnels found under Sylva, NC theatre


By Mary Joyce, website editor

Sometimes emails pile up and are forgotten but, thank goodness, not erased.  This one from Wes Hill should have been posted long ago.

“Good morning. I recently read your book on the Cherokee little people, and I found it to be absolutely fascinating. I am in the process of doing some research for a book concerning a murder that happened in the Balsam area in the 1920s, and I found something that might interest you.

“As I browsed through the microfilm at the Sylva library, I noticed an interesting headline. I’ve attached the scan of the article for the July 6, 1927 issue of the “Sylva Herald” that describes the discovery of tunnels under the old Lyric Theater site on Main Street in Sylva. I didn’t remember a mention of this in your book, so I thought I would send it along. Again, thanks for a great read, and I hope you have a great holiday.”

mb paper

A 2016 photo of the Mad Batter restaurant which occupies the old Lyric Theatre building,
and the original 1927 article about ancient tunnels discovered beneath the theatre

The original article from “The Sylva Herald” is retyped below for easier reading.

July 6, 1927

“Workmen excavating for the new Lyric Theatre building on Main street dug into what appears to be the remains of two ancient tunnels, or perhaps only one tunnel, the connection between the two having been filled in sometime during the centuries.  One was from the east to west and the other north and south.  In one Mr. John Sheppard, who is in charge of the excavating work found a pine knot, still in good state of preservation.  The tunnels are from 12 to 15 feet under the surface of the ground, and are only large enough for a man to crawl into, though, it is probable that they were much larger at one time, having gradually filled up leaving only the small space at the arched top.  There has been much speculation as to how the tunnels were made and as to who made them – the Indians, the mound builders, or some race that preceded them upon the continent.”

After reading the 1927 article, I’m convinced it describes ancient Cherokee Little People tunnels for several reasons.  First, downtown Sylva is within six miles of other sites where small ancient tunnels have been found south of town and at Western Carolina University.  Second, the downtown tunnels have arched tops like others that have been discovered.  Third, all the tunnels that have been uncovered are so small that a normal-size man must crawl to get inside them.