Stuart Auditorium in 1913.
The auditorium was the first and only structure completed by June 25, 1913, the first day of the Second General Missionary Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South at Lake Junaluska. At this time, there was no official place for guests to lodge, but approximately four thousand people attended the conference that is recognized as the birthday of Lake Junaluska.
The auditorium was an open-air structure with a dirt floor covered with sawdust when services were first held. It was initially intended to be open only during the summer. Later, the auditorium was enclosed with walls and was renamed in honor of George R. Stuart, a minister and strong supporter of the Southern Assembly.
Several notable public speakers have spoken in Stuart Auditorium, including as Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited Lake Junaluska in July 1944. Famous evangelist Dr. Billy Graham and hymn writer and minister Dr. William E. Sangster also have spoken at Lake Junaluska gatherings. In addition to distinguished speakers, Stuart Auditorium hosts regular musical performances, including the Junaluska Singers.
After renovations, the Stuart Auditorium now contains second-generation theater seats and has the capacity to hold 2,000 people, making it the largest auditorium in Haywood County. While Stuart Auditorium often hosts conferences and services related to the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center, people unaffiliated can lease the auditorium for events.
Since there were no lodging facilities in 1913, conference attendees stayed in Waynesville, North Carolina. During Lake Junaluska’s infancy, the construction of hotels and restaurants was in progress. At that time, the popularity of Lake Junaluska caused the Southern Railroad to run an excursion train three times a day during the conference of 1913, taking people to and from their lodgings and restaurants since there were no places on the assembly’s grounds to stay or dine.
Although construction on the grounds of Lake Junaluska was well under way, the assembly tried to finance its costly endeavors several ways. A private corporation sold stock to pay for all endeavors related to the establishment of the assembly on its behalf, including the construction of the dam and the auditorium, which meant that the Methodists did not own the auditorium nor the land. In addition, land lots were sold to help further finance this endeavor. The assembly hoped that the area would be like a camp meeting, so portions of land were sold for people to live or camp on. Each lot was only 20 feet wide, so people purchased multiple lots in order to construct homes.
The Atkins House is one of the original houses constructed in the 1920s.
Because of the demand for house construction, the Junaluska Construction Company was formed, building houses for only $1,600. By late 1913, a hotel and 13 houses were under construction. Eleven of these historic houses are still standing. The Sunset Inn and the Atkins House (the Intentional Growth Center), which were built by James Atkins, and George R. Stuart’s house Winona, are three historic structures that still stand along Lake Junaluska. Today, there are over 700 houses, apartments, and cottages around the lake.