It seems fitting that the section of Highway 107 from the Grassy Creek Road area be proclaimed the Orville and Kent Coward Highway by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).
Members of the Coward-Hooper family, the Coward brothers’ mother was a Hooper, settled, homesteaded and ultimately owned more than 1, 000 acres of the property along the present Highway 107. The Coward-Hooper property at one time stretched from the Moody Bridge up the Tuckaseegee River to Cashiers Township and to the top of Big Ridge. In the ensuing 150 years, the land has been home to family members, sold off for public use or considered for cultural and historical benefit.
“A highway naming requires that the honorees record of family, business and activities be pertinent to the designated highway section,” explains Joel Setzer, N.C. Department of Transportation Division Engineer in Sylva. Orville Coward, who survives his brother Kent, recalls many family highlights that meet the requirements for a highway naming. Among them are the Tuckaseegee Baptist Church that was founded by a Hooper, the Tuckaseegee School, no longer standing, was built on Hooper land and the site of the Duke Energy Power Plant was once Hooper land. The Coward Law firm was established in Sylva by the brothers who were involved in numerous civic and community activities through the years. Orville remembers well about Coward-Hooper history and easily relates anecdotes, stories and tales involving the family.
Making a highway naming happen is not an easy task. Several government agencies are involved ranging from the county commission to Department of Transportation engineers in Raleigh and Jackson County as well as the DOT’s Road and Bridge Committee and Road Naming Committee. All of the agencies are in communications with the family, in this case, Orville and Nancy Coward and the widow of Kent Coward, Betty Coward Stillwell, who are deeply involved in the decisions for the location of the Orville and Kent Coward Highway, in addition to the naming and placing of the highway markers. Along with the DOT event coordinator, the family is planning the highway dedication ceremony, scheduled for Saturday, June 29, at 2 p.m., at the First Baptist Church in Sylva. The public is invited to the dedicaton and reception afterwards. Those expecting to attend may respond to (828)586-2147.
Submitted by Carol Adams