Lake Junaluska — Celebrating 100 years

Historical highlights of a century at Lake Junaluska

By Kathy Ross | Apr 13, 2013


Time line:


Early fall, 1908: A committee of Southern Methodists visit Western North Carolina to look at possible site for a proposed Methodist retreat and missionary center. They visit Hendersonville, Asheville, Weaverville and Waynesville. In Waynesville they are hosted by local businessmen Alden Howell, G.W. Maslin, S.C. Welch, B.J. Sloan and C.H. Ray. In the months to come, the Waynesville Courier blasts local landowners, accusing them of hiking land prices in expectations of purchase for the retreat.


October 22, 1909: The Charlotte Observer erroneously reports that Southern Methodist search committee has abandoned Waynesville as its choice for the assembly grounds and is close to choosing a Black Mountain site instead.


June 16, 1910: The search committee of the Southern Methodist Church decides upon Waynesville as the location for its new lake and assembly grounds. The next day, The Waynesville Courier heralds the news, stating the committee made its choice “despite the concerted efforts and combined capital of her competitors.”


Jan. 6, 1911: The Waynesville Courier blasts its neighboring publication, The Asheville Citizen, for reprinting an article on chatauquas in Western North Carolina – but omitting the original article’s discussion of Waynesville and the nearby proposed Lake Junaluska site. “Jealous Contemporary Ignores Beautiful Waynesville: In a reproduction of an article appearing in the Manufacturers’ Record it Chops Off Waynesville’s Head,” the Courier declares, reprinting the portion of the article discussing the proposed Methodist grounds.


Tents and collections

June 30, 1913: The Second General Missionary Conference of the United Methodist Church closes a four-day session at its new Lake Junaluska  facility, with “the largest single collection for mission work ever taken in the United States, the total being a little over $151,000,” according to the Waynesville Courier. The amount is triple the previous record. Many of the attendants are traveling from Waynesville for the daily events. Others are staying in half-finished homes, where blankets are hung for privacy and water is carried from springs.


1914: The Epworth League promotes tents as an alternative to hotels for Lake Junaluska visitors.


1919: A golf course built by Jerry Liner opens at Lake Junaluska.


July 10, 1918: Junaluska Inn, built on a hill above the dam, burns. It will be replaced by the Mission Inn, later renamed the Lambuth, for Bishop Walter R. Lambuth.


October 1920: The Auditorium Hotel burns


Flight and plunge

August 1921: Stuntman and barnstormer B.R. “Fearless Scotty” China jumps into Lake Junaluska from an airplane. He is injured but survives.


1922: The Colonial Hotel is constructed.

‘Keep it lit’

1922: The Federation of Wesley Bible Classes of the Western North Carolina Conference donate a cross, which lights up the night, at Inspiration Point. At the summer’s end, the lights are turned off  — until railroad engineers ask that it remain lit for their enjoyment and inspiration.


1922: J.B. Ivey constructs Upper and Lower Lakeside Lodges as less expensive options for families with young children. A new Lakeside Lodge will be built in 1985.


1922: The end-of-season election of a queen for Lake Junaluska becomes a summer ritual of pageant and campaign.

1923: Shackford Hall is constructed and dedicated to religious education.


1925: The first Cokesbury book store at Lake Junaluska goes into business.


Free fish

November 1931: Lake Junaluska announces a carp give-away as it drains the lake for cleanup and sediment removal. Desirable fish from the lake, including bream and bass, will be wintered at the state hatchery at Balsam. However, the carp will be given to anyone who wants them.


Financial troubles

June 18, 1932: Lake Junaluska is placed in receivership as creditors petition against it as part of banktuptcy proceedings. Jerry Liner, owner and manager of the Junaluska Supply Company, is named temporary receiver for the Lake Junaluska Assembly. Liner and the succeeding receiver, James Atkins, will be credited with saving the lake and grounds for the Methodist Church.


Feb. 13, 1936: A court order temporarily halts the sale of Lake Junaluska properties to satisfy bond holders after the assembly has declared bankruptcy. On Feb. 3, a sale of the assembly bonds had received a high bid of $50,000 for property estimated at $400,000. A judge gives supporters of the assembly until Aug. 15 to raise almost $105,000 to cover the debts and interest. If the money is not raised, a judge warns, the sale will go forward.


‘Save Lake Junaluska’

Summer, 1936: Citizens raise money to help save Lake Junaluska from bankruptcy under the rally of “Save Lake Junaluska.” Children send in allowances; one child puts on a show to raise funds, charging a penny for admission and sending in $1.50. An 80-year-old woman with little income and no vehicle goes out on foot, collecting almost $600.


Aug. 15. 1936: Bond holders agree to give supporters of Lake Junaluska until September to raise the last of the needed money to hold off the property’s sale. Supporters are $21,000 short of the needed sum.


September 1936: Despite a summer of concerted effort to save the assembly and the distractions of bankruptcy, Lake Junaluska reports a 30 percent increase in business for the summer compared to the year before.


Summer 1937: Lake Junaluska’s artist series includes separate performances by two Metropolitan Opera singers, the first being Rosa Tentoni in July, followed later by Peter Althouse.


Aug. 30, 1937: Thanks to extensions on repayment deadlines and citizen efforts, Lake Junaluska Assembly is now debt-free. The property is turned over to 15 trustees with ownership now in the hands of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.


1939: The east gate is constructed.


Sewage diverted

1939: Thanks to a lawsuit by Lake Junaluska, the towns of Waynesville and Hazelwood agree to stop dumping untreated sewage into Richland Creek, which feeds the lake. Instead the towns construct a sewer line and dump the waste below the lake, into the Pigeon River.


1940: Jerry Liner builds a store, Junaluska Supply, near the east gate of the Assembly. It offers a range of goods and services for lake visitors, including fuel and groceries.


1941: The Gilbert Center, a gathering and worship center for African Americans working at the lake, opens.


Eleanor arrives

July 25 and 26, 1944: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spends two days at Lake Junaluska.


November 1946: Rear Admiral William N. Thomas, director of Navy chaplains, gives the address at the groundbreaking for Memorial Chapel. Residents have been asking for a worship site at the lake more intimate than Stuart Auditorium for many years. This chapel will also be dedicated to Methodists who have served in the Armed Forces during World War II.


1948: A west gate is constructed.


1948: Southern Railway announces the end of passenger train service to Waynesville, also ending train service to Lake Junaluska.


Summer 1948: A round of major expansions are announced, including plans for a new year-round hotel, new sewer lines and construction of a bridge across the Junaluska dam.


Aug. 28, 1948: Tragedy befalls the usually idyllic summer atmosphere at the lake when a soda jerk’s body emerges. The young man had written a note nine days earlier, declaring, “I am leaving this world,” and searchers had been combing the lake waters and surrounding lands since that time.


May 18, 1950: The new 555-foot bridge across the Lake Junaluska dam is opened to traffic.


1951: Stuart Auditorium is enclosed. What remains of the sawdust floor is concreted.


Graham visits

July 20, 1951: Evangelist Billy Graham makes his first visit to Lake Junaluska. He will make two more visits in the next seven years.


1952: An administration building is constructed.


1953: The Kennedy-Skinner Children’s Building is opened.


June 22, 1953: The Haywood County Board of Health closes Lake Junaluska to swimming and bathing, due to concerns about pollution, including frequent overflows of raw sewage from Waynesville and Hazelwood. A series of meetings with the towns follow. Faced with threat of a lawsuit, the towns commit to improve their joint sewer system.


1954: Faced with the reality that improving the lake’s water quality will be a long-term effort, the assembly constructs a swimming pool.


1954: Glenn Draper leads his first performance at Lake Junaluska as director of the Keesler Air Force Base Chorus. Draper will become music director at Junaluska in 1956, retiring in 2009.


September 1955: Frogs emerge from Lake Junaluska by the thousands and try to cross the nearby highway, leaving a slick layer of carnage on the pavement.


Politicians and movie stars

Aug. 5, 1956: Vice President Richard M. Nixon speaks at Stuart Auditorium. He is introduced by evangelist Billy Graham.


Aug. 19-20, 1956: Evangelist Billy Graham speaks to overflow audiences at Stuart Auditorium.

1956: The Swan, a movie starring Grace Kelly and Alec Guiness, films a scene at the Junaluska Train Station. The movie’s film is based at Biltmore House.


1956: The World Methodist Council relocates to Lake Junaluska.


1956: A fund-raising campaign aims to build what will be known as the Paul Kern Youth Center.


1960: The old boathouse is replaced by the Harrell Center, containing a tea room, adult center, library and bookstore.


Roses and music

1962: Lee Tuttle plants a few roses along North Lakeshore drive. Over time those plantings will be extended into the lake’s well-known rose walk, extending from the Harrell Center to the Colonnades.


1966-67: Glenn Draper organizes the Junaluska Singers.


1968: The Junaluska Associates organize as a support group for the assembly. In the coming years they will raise more than $3.3 million for the grounds, including funding for the Rose Walk and half the salary for a grounds horticulturalist.

June 1969: The Nanci Weldon Memoiral Gym is dedicated, named for the 1962 Junaluska Queen who died of cancer in 1965.


1969: The old Junaluska Depot is purchased and relocated on South Lakeshore Drive, converted into a residence.


1971: Lake Junaluska Assembly purchases and renovates the Colonial.


1973: The original Terrace Hotel is demolished and replaced by the modern Terrace, which opens in 1977 with a second phase opening in 1979.


Heritage and Heating

1983: The Southeastern Jurisdictional Commission on Archives and History opens the Heritage Center.


1986: A heating system is installed in Stuart Auditorium, allowing it to be used year-round.


1988: A walking bridge is constructed across the “narrows” of the lake and named for its donors, Paul and Willie May Turbeville. The same year, an amphitheater is constructed below the lighted cross at Inspiration Point. And a bust of the Cherokee leader Junaluska is placed outside Stuart Auditorium.


1988: An amphitheater is added below the cross for outdoors services.


1990: The Corneille Bryan Nature Center is constructed.


1991: The Asbury Trail Waterfall is built.


1994: The original Junaluska Cross is replaced with a replica lighted cross.


June 29, 1998: Tragedy strikes when April Ensley, an employee at Lake Junaluska, accidentally plunges her vehicle off the Junaluska Dam bridge. Following her death, the assembly initiates a series of safety improvements to the bridge and dam.


1999: The rosewalk is renovated with new fencing and lighting.


2013: To mark its centennial, Lake Junaluska Assembly announces it will host a series of celebrations and homecomings, drawing nationally recognized speakers and entertainers throughout the year.


March 2013: The town of Waynesville and leaders of Lake Junaluska reach initial agreement for the lake to be taken into town limits.