The action was at The Soda Shop at Lake Junaluska
The Soda Shop at Lake Junaluska was a rocking-and-rolling place in the mid 20th century before there was rock and roll.
"The jitterbug was the big thing," said retired United Methodist minister James W. Hart who with his brother Joe managed the gathering spot from 1947 until the early 1950's when they were on summer break from college. "And the Soda Shop was the place to be. As soon as we heard the benediction and the amen next door at the auditorium (Stuart Auditorium), we prepared for the onslaught. There was something every night all summer, and when the programs were over, a sea of people surged to the Soda Shop ready for their Co'Cola or ice cream."
The Hart boys had one chore before they could drop the first nickel into the jukebox:
"We had to make sure Mr. Ivey was at home and asleep," Hart said. "Mr. Ivey didn't approve of dancing."
Mr. Ivey was J. B. Ivey, multi-millionaire mogul of Ivey's Department Stores. His house was one of the first built when the Lake was established, and he took a personal interest in the children's playgrounds he endowed. Hart's girlfriend Frances Cobb ran the playground on a daily basis.
The Soda Shop was an economic engine. "We sold more Sealtest and Pet Milk products than anybody else in the County," Hart remembered in a recent interview at the home his family has owned since 1934. "We didn't even know what a banana split was, much less how to make one, but we were fast learners." Part of that learning curve included how to mix a Coca-Cola. "We squirted the Coke syrup and the sugar syrup, and then we added the carbonation. It made a really good drink."
Open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., the Soda Shop was the lake's gathering place.
"We were busy all day long," said Hart. "The local lawman spent a lot of his time with us, sort of 'holding court' there."
After closing time the Hart boys and their peers mopped up and headed for Charlie's Place in Waynesville for a pimiento cheeseburger.
The Soda Shop was located in the predecessor building to the one which until recently housed the Cokesbury Bookstore. Its screened-in back porch perched out over the lake, with a boat slip underneath for the "Big Boat," said Charles Alley. Alley's brother Zeb piloted the sight-seeing vessel around the man-made lake in the 1940's.
Charles Alley, who had his own dance band before he was old enough to sign contracts, enjoyed the Soda Shop's best years. Said the former Waynesville Township High School cheerleader: "The Soda Shop was open from about May through September, and we would anxiously await all those girls from other places who came to Lake Junaluska for their religious instruction by day. We would see to their social instruction at night."
The Hart brothers were the first non-adults to run the Soda Shop, a fact Jim Hart is proud of. "I'm just glad that Dr. Love, Lake Junaluska superintendent, (executive director) had faith that we could do it. We worked hard," he said of the tight-knit crew including Alvin Cobb, Paul Hardin III, Madison Crum and others. "We were not able to frequent the pool because we were too busy making money."
Early photographs of Jim Hart indicate his interest in setting his own fashion trends. His bowtie was as prominent then as the Rev. James W. Hart's signature bowtie is now.
The Rev. Hart and his beloved Frances built a house on family property to display their extensive Lake Junaluska memorabilia. There's a story everywhere one looks, and Jim Hart tells it with exuberance.