Lake Junaluska’s first Independence Day parade was held in 1978, but the community’s affection for Fourth of July festivities goes back even further: As early as the 1950s, families celebrated the Fourth with games on the athletic field, an organ recital, a community sing, and a fireworks display. Some of the activities have changed over the years — in addition to fireworks and a “family Olympics,” there are balloon artists, face-painting, and inflatable bounce houses — but the spirit of patriotism and community involvement is as strong as ever, especially for parade participants like Isaac Robinson (pictured). As the parade proceeds down the mountain, spectators are often inspired to join the fun, meaning that there are almost as many people in the parade as there are watching it.
In slideshow: The Haywood Community Band (second photo) is a fixture in an eclectic Fourth of July parade featuring classic cars, golf carts, fire trucks, and floats decorated to reflect a yearly theme. For last year’s theme, “Discover America,” Alie Boyer (third photo) dressed as Betsy Ross.
A Summer Stroll
On a bright summer day, Lake Junaluska shimmers, its waters gently lapping against the shore. The 3.8-mile loop around the lake (2.3 miles if you cross the Turbeville Footbridge) takes you past quaint cottages and towering lakehouses, shaded gazebos and sunny benches, songbirds singing in the trees and geese gathering by the water. You’ll also pass plot after plot of beautiful flowers, from butterfly gardens to the colorful Rose Walk (pictured), a collection of 210 hybrid tea, grandiflora, and floribunda roses. Roses were first planted here in 1962 by Lee F. Tuttle, then the general secretary of the World Methodist Council. In the years since, the roses, like so many of the gardens here, have been tended and sustained by the community’s love and care.
At Inspiration Point near Lambuth Inn, a lush, two-level garden overlooks the lake and the mountains beyond. Every week, 91-year-old Hattie Polk (below) leads a small team of Lake Junaluska residents in weeding, watering, and tending more than 30 types of plants. In the shaded upper garden, stone benches provide a space for meditation; a life-size bronze sculpture of Jesus, created by local artist William Eleazer, keeps watch in the lower garden. “When I stand here at Inspiration Point and look at the majestic world that God has created,” Hattie says, “I know why I work in this garden.” She looks around. “What a world,” she says, smiling. “What a place.”
Gather by the Lake
Near the water’s edge, a pair of historic gathering places stand side by side. In the 1940s, local Methodist churches were asked to help fund the building of Memorial Chapel by sending in the names of parishioners who’d served in the armed forces, along with a dollar for each name. More than 90,000 names were received (though not quite that many dollars). Next door, Stuart Auditorium (below), the first building constructed at Lake Junaluska in 1913, has hosted musicians and speakers like Eleanor Roosevelt and Billy Graham. For nearly 40 years, it had no walls — just a dirt floor and an intricate, round roof, like a giant steel umbrella. It was enclosed in 1951, but plenty of windows ensure the beauty of nature is never far from mind: Fourth of July performances get a special backdrop when the sun sets over the lake.
Before they found a location for the Methodist assembly that would become Lake Junaluska, the founders knew there had to be a lake. They dammed Richland Creek and, from the earliest days of the retreat, the 200-acre lake they created has been open to the communities of Haywood County, even though it was owned by the church. Today, locals and visitors rent paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes; fish for bass and trout; and play tennis and shuffleboard on the shore. Although Lake Junaluska began as a summer-only destination, by 1984 it was officially open year-round, another means of continuing the founders’ tradition of hospitality.
Tunes & Kabooms
Music heralds Fourth of July festivities at Lake Junaluska with three consecutive days of concerts beginning on July 2. On the Fourth, as soon as the parade arrives at its destination, the Nanci Weldon Memorial Gym, a local group like the Darren Nicholson Band (left) begins to play. They fill the open-air gym with bluegrass tunes, a fitting soundtrack for the annual barbecue picnic and square dance. Later in the evening, the Lake Junaluska Singers — a local choral tradition since 1946 — board the retreat’s boat, Cherokee IV, and sing the national anthem, their voices echoing around the darkened lake. As they sing “the rockets’ red glare,” the night’s first fireworks burst into the sky.
Hope & Light
Perhaps the most enduring symbol of Lake Junaluska is the 25-foot-tall lighted cross below Inspiration Point. Built in 1922, the cross was initially intended to be lit only during the summer. But employees of the nearby Southern Railway petitioned to have it lighted at all times: The sight of the cross shining through the darkness helped them focus on their work, they said, reminding them that someone was always watching over them. In the decades since, the cross has only been turned off on two occasions: the brown-outs of World War II, and when it was repaired and replaced in 1994. It remains a popular place to view sunrises and sunsets, as well as a comforting presence all year ’round, and all through the night.