By The Cashiers Historical Society
Photos by Ann Austin
Proud of earlier generations and their storied paths, various groups and individuals had long collected historical information relevant to Cashiers, but prior to 1996 there had never been an organized effort to preserve the history of the vibrant mountain village.
In November of 1996, an organizational event was held at the Hanks House, a historical property located off the Highway 107 South corridor and across the street from the present-day office of the Cashiers Historical Society. The enthusiasm at this meeting to honor and preserve the history of Cashiers was simply contagious.
Attending this meeting was Jane Nardy, a historian and descendent of Colonel John Zachary, who history tells us was one of the founding pioneers of Cashiers, and Ann McKee Austin, a long-time local resident with generational ties to Cashiers.
This meeting’s passion for the stories of Cashiers led to the formation of the Cashiers Historical Society (CHS).
In 1997, the first major project of CHS was born: the preservation of today’s Zachary-Tolbert House, an iconic nineteenth-century house that now serves as a free public museum on today’s beautiful CHS grounds. As honored in the Cashiers Historical Society’s publication Faces & Places of Cashiers Valley:
“The preservation of the Zachary-Tolbert House was especially notable because it was built in 1850 by Mordecai Zachary, son of one of Cashiers’ founding fathers, Colonel John Alexander Zachary. It is a rare example of Greek Revival vernacular architecture, uncommon in the region. It had been preserved intact, had never been electrified, nor had plumbing been added. In preservationist terms, it had never been “remuddled.” And the original plain-style furniture, handcrafted by Mordecai Zachary, was still intact. This was a situation almost unprecedented in historic preservation.
In late 1997, Cashiers residents Tom and Wendy Dowden stepped forward and purchased from the Tolbert family the main house, a detached kitchen dependency, and the surrounding acreages. Having for some time considered practical ways to increase both education and stewardship in the community, they agreed to donate the house and dependency to the rapidly developing Cashiers Historical Society if the group could demonstrate it was capable of raising the funds needed for its restoration. A capital campaign quickly raised $100,000, thus securing the Dowden’s donation and launching the Historical Society’s first major project, the preservation of today’s Zachary-Tolbert House museum.”
Today, the iconic Zachary-Tolbert House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is an integral part of present-day CHS programming and its grounds, which continued to improve and grow by acquiring new land and historical structures. The campus hosts four historical structures, trails, a visitor center and an heirloom garden and apple orchard.
Preserving Character and Community
In addition to its historic campus, CHS protects and honors properties around town. On an annual basis, CHS presents the Village Heritage Award, which recognizes buildings in Cashiers that have been adapted for use as an active business and contribute to the vitality of the community. Award-winning structures are those that best exemplify the village character of Cashiers. CHS recently announced that the renovated Hotel Cashiers is the recipient of the 2020 Village Heritage Award.
A Silver Milestone
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, CHS has grown to become one of the most successful preservation, civic and interpretive organizations in Western North Carolina. Representing an unincorporated village, CHS is also considered a thought leader on Cashiers growth and intentional development.
With Cashiers experiencing rapid growth and development, sustaining CHS and its mission will ensure Cashiers remains the village we all love so dearly and that our visiting families and friends have enjoyed for generations. The continued support of the community will help ensure the success of Cashiers and CHS for the next 25 years and beyond.