Contributed by Sarah Downing
Lake Junaluska, situated amidst the verdant mountains of Haywood County, hosted its first grand assembly in 1913. Its beginning can be traced five years earlier at a meeting of the Layman’s Missionary Movement held in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A resolution was passed calling for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South to create “a great assembly ground” that would be used “for the gathering together of our forces” at appropriate times, as well as being improved to allow for conferences and institutes and to allow for “the general upbuilding of the Church.”
Lake Junaluska and auditorium. Alexander Inn Collection, WRA.
A committee was appointed and locations discussed. Among those considered were Asheville, Hendersonville, Waynesville, and Lake Toxaway in North Carolina; East Tennessee; and a spot in Tidewater, Virginia near the growing resort of Virginia Beach. A group of organizers created a corporation and issued stock. A dam was created over Richland Creek to form Lake Junaluska.
By 1913, in addition to the auditorium and public services building, a dozen or so cottages were in various stages of construction, with their owners from the Carolinas and Tennessee but also as far away as Mississippi. Development was slow and there were many setbacks, but the construction of cottages and inns continued, and a tradition of summering at Lake Junaluska began.
During the Great Depression, the Assembly went bankrupt but received funding from the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In 1936, a successful campaign was undertaken to raise money to pay off the mortgage. The General Conference agreed to take over the property, provided it remain mortgage-free. In 1939, after the reunification of the southern and northern offshoots, the assembly became the property of the Methodist Church.
Today, visitors can stay in a variety of accommodations at Lake Junaluska, including cottages, inns, lodges, and a campground. Sojourners make their way to the historic gathering spot to attend conferences, events, or for personal respite. Lake Junaluska is headquarters of the World Methodist Council and home to the World Methodist Museum.