By Michael O’Hearn
The Crossroads Chronicle
The demolition of the Hanks House that has been around for generations in Cashiers has raised questions about why the home was leveled.
Chattooga Club members used the Hanks house on Hwy. 107 South near the Zachary Tolbert House and Cashiers Historical Society as their meeting site when Bud Darden started the group in the early 1980s.
According to some residents, the house was built by Jonathan Zachary as early as the 1830s and later served as the Chattooga Club’s dining room. It is remembered as the “Old McCall’s Grocery Store.”
The house was owned by Tom Dillard and served many purposes, including a birthing house where midwives aided in birthing local babies. Bryan Hanks, an oilman and lawyer from Texas, purchased the home in 1935.
Bryan Hanks’ daughter, Nancy, served as the second chairperson of the National Endowment of the Arts, and she hosted politicians such as Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger at the house.
The house was then bought in 1988 by John and Kathleen Rivers, developers of the Chattooga Club, after an excursion to their family summer cottage. They, like the Hanks family before them, were compelled by what they saw and later described it as the most beautiful land they had ever seen.
In February, after decades of history in Cashiers, the house was demolished after the owner tried to give the property to the Cashiers Historical Society on multiple occasions.
Sadler Poe, the chairman of the historical society’s board, said CHS did not have the resources to own the house, and he encouraged more community members to do what they can to preserve other historic structures around town.
“The Cashiers Historical Society understands the heartfelt concerns of the community regarding the demolition of the Hanks house on Highway 107,” Poe said. “The land is subject to a conservation easement, but the owner had the right to demolish the house. Encouraging the community to be more involved in historic preservation is core to our mission. This is true whether it be a 200-year-old house or a 50-year-old store. The demolition of any historic building in our community saddens us. We hope this experience will increase the community’s awareness of the value of our historic sites and buildings. With your help, whether it be time or financial support, we can preserve other historic homes and buildings for future generations.”
In an interview with the Crossroads Chronicle, Rivers said he had been in communication with professionals for the past six years about what to do with the house. Rivers owns Rivers Enterprises, a real estate management company based in Charleston, South Carolina.
Rivers said the conversations led to one conclusion – that the house was unsafe for inhabitants and unsalvageable.
“I am a preservationist and a great believer in environmental stewardship,” Rivers said. “Coming to a decision to take the Hanks house down was extremely difficult and was not done at all lightly. We tried to give the house to the Cashiers Historical Society, which I’ve been supporting for as long as it has been in existence, in 2018 and they declined it. We offered to give them some money to help them move it, and it was declined again in 2019.”
He said he had studied what could be done to save and preserve it, and ultimately, after consulting with architects, engineers and contractors, it came to the point where it was beyond saving.
“I have a letter from our main architect, who has been involved with the Chattooga Club for 35 years, that says it is not able to be saved, and this is due primarily to the extensive renovations and poor structural work done in the 1950s and 1960s,” Rivers said. “That was long before we got involved with it, which I think was in 1988.”
He said the house did not have any structural footing, and large areas and openings were added throughout the years to modernize the building.
“This action, combined with the eroding soil and ever weakening stone foundation, just made it structurally unsafe,” Rivers said. “The other thing is, when I bought that property in 1988, I was told it was the oldest house in Cashiers and that we wanted to do everything we could to save it and use it. Over the last 35 years, through research by others, it wasn’t the oldest house. It became the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, whatever.”
As of last week, there were two chimneys still standing at the site, but Rivers said those are not scheduled to remain.
When asked about whether he considered putting the house on the National Register of Historic Places, Rivers said there were conversations about doing that, however, he was not keen about the idea of going through the federal government’s “red tape.”
He said he had a similar situation occur with the Dillard Farmhouse at the Chattooga Club and, when he was told to tear that building down, he said he would not because, being from Charleston, he believes in preserving history. He later changed his mind when an accident occurred there.
“We wanted to save the Dillard Farmhouse, but there was a guy who fell through the roof and then we found out there were termites and all kinds of other issues,” Rivers said. “Ultimately, much to my regret, we ended up tearing that farmhouse down.”