Until a few weeks before her death on her 99th birthday, Madge Merrell’s mind was sharp and her memory unbelievable. She could repeat word for word conversations from 70 years in the past. At the Dillard Farmhouse, she was born in 1907, a child of Thomas Allison Dillard and Susan Fugate, both life-long residents of Cashiers. Some of the apple trees from Tom Dillard’s apple orchard are still bearing fruit near the Chattooga Club’s dining room, just up from where the Dillard Farmhouse once stood. Madge outlived her parents, all of her six siblings and her two sons, Curtis and Dink.
My mother, Geneva Zachary, was the same age as her cousin Madge and they spent a lot of time together in their teenage years when Geneva would come from Atlanta in the summer to visit her Zachary grandparents. Often they would walk to the Mordecai Zachary House to play croquet with the Tolbert teenage boys. [Sometimes she called me “Geneva’ because I reminded her of my mother.] Madge finished high school at Western Carolina and then attended college there for 1 ½ years, getting a teaching degree. For 45 years, starting in 1930, she taught at schools all around Jackson County. Many folks remember her as their teacher.
She met her future husband, Merritt Merrell, when he was working in the Cashiers area. Madge, Merritt, and their two young boys lived in a tent for a couple of years when she was teaching at Pleasant Grove School in Bull Pen. At the time of her death she was the oldest registered voter in Jackson County and was a lifelong Democrat. She was very active at the Cashiers United Methodist Church where she was a member for 89 years. She was a direct descendant of two of the founders of Cashiers Valley – Barak Norton and Col. John A. Zachary. She never missed a Norton or Zachary yearly reunion and always brought her delicious chicken and dumplings.
While still a young woman, suffering from a toothache, Madge rode the bus alone from Cashiers to Brevard where the dentist [her cousin, Dr. Fred Zachary] pulled her teeth and inserted a set of false teeth, all in the same day. Then she rode the bus back to Cashiers, holding a white towel to her mouth. It was a red towel by the time she got home just before dark. She was buried with that same set of false teeth in her mouth.
When I started writing a Cashiers history article each month for the Laurel Magazine, she became my best source for information on early times in Cashiers and she answered any question I had without fail. Sometimes she’d say, “Let me think on this so call me back tomorrow.” The next day she would give me a detailed answer and all the readers greatly benefited from Madge’s remarkable memory. She said, “Jane, you’re going to miss my brain.” She was right.