Lake Junaluska — Celebrating 100 years

Lake Junaluska attracted famous visitors

By Kathy Ross | Apr 20, 2013
Eleanor Roosevelt is at the front left of the photo.

From the world’s best-known Christian evangelist to one of this country’s most-beloved first ladies, Lake Junaluska has drawn a remarkable range of notable people in its first century.

Evangelist Billy Graham has made at least three visits to Junaluska, at one time meeting and sitting astride a horse that had been named for him. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt rode the Cherokee boat around the grounds. Twelve years later, then-Vice President and future President Richard Nixon addressed an audience in Stuart Auditorium, condemning Communism and praising the assembly’s choir.

Following is a partial list of visitors who stirred the spiritual, emotional and political waters at the lake:

Billy Graham on Billy Graham

In 1949, a N.C. farm-boy-turned-preacher was thrust into national attention with a crusade in Los Angeles that directed movie stars to Jesus and was heavily covered by William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers. Two years later, while still rising to what would become world-wide fame, Billy Graham made his first visit to Lake Junaluska, preaching the night of July 20. People claimed seats at Stuart three hours ahead of the service while hundreds stood around the walls and others filled the grounds beyond.

Graham has always emphasized a personal commitment to Jesus Christ in his crusades. But this time, speaking to an audience of believers, he also addressed his concerns of Communism, the “greatest counterfeit of Christianity.”

Fundamentalism, Graham said, was leaning too far to the right, neglecting the social aspect of the cross, while modernism had neglected the message of the cross itself. Christians, he added, should carry the message of the cross in one hand and a cup of cold water in the other. “With the one we will meet the material needs of men, and with the other we will satisfy his soul,” he said.

Five years later, Graham returned to Lake Junaluska to introduce Vice President Richard Nixon in August 1956. That same month, Graham came again as one of several preachers for the Candler Camp meetings, bringing with him Dr. William Sangster, considered England’s greatest evangelist of the day, and missionary linguist Dr. Frank Laubach. Many people arrived at the lake grounds by noon that day in hopes of getting a seat for the 8 p.m. service.

During the 1956 visits, Graham was introduced to Billy Graham, a horse belonging to lake superintendent James. W. Fowler Junior. The evangelist, dressed in his well-known colorful style, including two-toned shoes, was photographed astride the horse.

Another well-known evangelist, Oral Roberts, spoke at Stuart Auditorium in July of 1974.

Presidents and families

In July 1944, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt  spent all of Tuesday the 25th and a portion of the 26th at Lake Junaluska, participating in conferences, interviews and a tour of the grounds. Tuesday evening, Mrs. Roosevelt spoke at Stuart Auditorium on the role of the United States after the coming end of Second World War.

Americans must decide, she said, “are we to consider as paramount the good of human beings as a whole? Are we to make it one of our chief functions to increase the consideration among civilized people for the value of human life and human personality?”

The first lady also discussed race relations, acknowledging that “most of us who would like to see in the everyday lives of people of the world the spirit of right living have been troubled because our actions don’t square with the ideals we have.”

Vice President Richard M. Nixon spoke to an overflow audience at Stuart auditorium on Aug. 5, 1956, saying “the churches can play an important role in combating Communism, bringing about permanent world peace, bringing about better labor — management understanding and helping create a ‘climate of and understanding and good will’ which is essential to carry out the Superior Court’s school desegregation decision,” stated The Mountaineer. Of the 60-voice choir at Lake Junaluska, Nixon said, “I have never heard better.”

On the way from Stuart, the Mountaineer added, Nixon stopped to speak to one child, then approached a girl who had a box camera. Realizing the camera had no flash, the vice president advised the child to take her picture at the same moment that the other photographers did, to take advantage of their lighting.

Another future President, Ga. Governor Jimmy Carter, visited Lake Junaluska in 1973.

Leaders with long ties to the lake

Several prominent citizens spent summers at Lake Junaluska and left their mark there as well as on the state and nation. Joseph Benjamin Ivey, founder of Ivey’s Department Stores, not only built a summer home at Lake Junaluska; he constructed the Upper and Lower Lakeside Lodges as less expensive options for families who stayed at the lake. Each summer Ivey hosted a birthday party for all the children at the assembly, including gifts for each of his young guests. He also entertained them with magic tricks. Ivey grew flowers and set out free cans of dahlias and gladiolas for anyone to pick up.

Josephus Daniels, former U.S. Secretary of the Navy during World War I and founder/editor of the News and Observer, had a summer home at the lake. Daniels was often a speaker during Haywood County Day, when the lake would open its summer season and welcome local visitors. Daniels spoke at the event a year before his death in January 1948.

Daniels was only one of several prominent leaders within the U.S. Navy with ties to the lake. Admiral William N. Thomas, chief of Navy chaplains, also served as dean of memorial chapel. He sometimes hosted parties on the tour boat, the Cherokee. And Lake Junaluska summer resident Carl Mundy grew up to become Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Well-known visitors of another kind visited Lake Junaluska in 1956 when The Swan, an MGM motion pictured, filmed a scene at the Junaluska Depot. The bulk of the movie was filmed at Biltmore Estate, but the depot was used to film the arrival of the visiting prince. The movie starred Grace Kelly and Alec Guinness. The local scene also “starred” an 1888 Baltimore and Ohio locomotive towed from Maryland for the filming. The list of prominent entertainers who have performed at Stuart Auditorium is a long one, including blue grass legends Ricky Skaggs, David Holt and Balsam Range, Christian contemporary recorders New Song and nationally recognized storyteller Donald Davis.

Other well-known visitors to Lake Junaluska have included William Jennings Bryan in 1916 and NBC news anchorman Chet Huntley in 1967.