All the comforts of home – in 1850

With no electricity, plumbing, central heating or interior paint, the Zachary-Tolbert House in Cashiers has all the comforts of home – all the comforts of a home in 1850, that is. A tour of this two-story, Greek Revival-style house today provides a fascinating glimpse at mid-19th century life in Western North Carolina.


Cashiers is 160 miles from Charlotte. Plan on a 3 1/4-hour drive, one way.

Getting there

Take Interstate 85 South to U.S. 74 Bypass West. In Hendersonville, take U.S. 64 West and continue to Cashiers. Turn left on N.C. 107. The Zachary-Tolbert House is two miles ahead, on the right.

To see and do

When the Cashiers Historical Society was formed in 1996, its primary goal was to preserve the 150-year-old Zachary-Tolbert House, an important historic building falling into disrepair.

In 1998, Tom and Wendy Dowden bought the property and donated the house and its furnishings to the society. After an extensive three-year restoration, the refurbished house opened for tours.

The Zachary-Tolbert House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the most significant historical buildings in Western North Carolina. It showcases what is believed to be the largest collection of Southern “plain-style” furniture made by a single identifiable individual anywhere in the United States.

Col. John A. Zachary and his family were among the first white settlers in Cashiers Valley (1832).

Mordecai Zachary, one of the colonel's three sons, started clearing land for the house he envisioned as early as 1842. Felled trees were taken to the family saw mill and cut into lumber for the home's construction.

Ten years later, 29-year-old Mordecai presented the house as a wedding present to his bride, Elvira Keener. The couple had 13 children over the course of their marriage, all but one born in this house.

Along with his father and brothers, Mordecai Zachary was a skilled craftsman. He was responsible for making almost all the furniture used by his ever-growing family. “Southern plain-style” furniture, it is characterized by clean lines, functionality and durability.

When the Zachary family moved from the house in 1873, they left most of the furnishings behind. Subsequent owners used the furniture.

The result: Much of the original furniture crafted by Zachary remains. Among the many pieces displayed are a three-part table and massive cupboard in the dining room, round tables in the parlor, half-moon bedsteads and double wash stands in the bedrooms, and interesting ladder-back chairs and side tables in almost every room. The unusual single dovetail used by Zachary is evident in many pieces.

For many years, the house served as a boardinghouse for travelers.

After 1873, the house was used as a summer home by subsequent owners, including four generations of the Tolbert family. Since it was only inhabited for brief periods, the house was never modernized. Even today, the only concession to modern conveniences are security devices.

The expression “If walls could talk” takes on new meaning at the house.

Interior walls have never been painted, revealing hundreds of notes scribbled in every room. Much of the graffiti is illegible, but readable marks note simple moments in life, such as the one on the first floor stairway that “Charlie Zachary took his first step the 10th day of April 1870.”

The house is also a stop on the N.C. Civil War Trail.

Proving that the War Between the States was truly a civil war, Mordecai Zachary supported the Southern cause. Mordecai's brother, Alexander, was a staunch Union man, as were many other Cashier Valley residents. Gary McCullough