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A Denney for Your Thoughts – Historic site brings fresh start (Feb. 4, 2015 issue)

Having been established in 1917 would, in itself, indicate the historic nature of The Dillard House, located barely (well, a couple of miles) across the North Carolina line in Georgia. However, according to the attraction’s Web site, one has to look back to the Revolutionary War to get a glimpse of the “first Dillard.”
Captain John Dillard’s land grant of 1,000 acres for his service during the American Revolution is background for the legend saying he “made peace with the local Cherokee Indians by trading a muzzle-loading rifle, a jug of apple brandy, one coonskin cap and $3 cash for all the land between the two mountain tops.”
A brochure I picked up on a recent visit tells a compelling story: While fighting the Cherokees at the battle of Little Tennessee Valley the young soldier was so taken with the natural beauty of a pastoral valley that he dreamed of living there with a family someday. The story continues with his dream coming true in 1820, when he moved his family to what is now known as Dillard, with succeeding generations working as farmers and innkeepers, raising crops which fed their families and, eventually, their guests.
John is also the name of the Dillard family member, who, asked for his business title, said “chairman.” When I spoke with him while working on this piece, I learned that although they do not produce the food served as in bygone days, freshness is still key. He said that they still use locally-grown produce when available and buy from the farmers’ market in Atlanta other times so that 80-90 percent of the vegetables served are fresh.
Although those family-style meals are a destination in themselves, the lodgings and other amenities are worth checking out at this “self-contained, year-round resort,” as described in the brochure.
Memories, of course, are about more than just good food and comfortable atmosphere. There was time in a chalet that allowed privacy on a deck with our feet propped on the railing. Another time the squirrels came to scamper and eat outside on a porch overlooking meadows and pond.
Another time luna moths came to a woodland cottage and clung to the outside of its front. One came inside and went high into a sleeping loft. Later it was attracted to a lamp left turned on in the night so it could be caught and safely released.
The last time we crossed Sam’s Gap with Dillard in our sights was for a wedding. It was just after Valentine’s Day and planned to be a small and very informal affair. It was not a time for pomp and to-do. As the groom said, “We have experience.”
It was, though, a time for pause and appreciation for love, family and friends—followed by visiting and fun and wonderful food, shared at a long, bountiful table.
Deb and Rick, as I remember our gathering around the gazebo on a chilling Sunday afternoon, here’s wishing you an institution as endearing and as enduring as The Dillard House tradition.
(This article first appeared March 5, 2013.)