Four hundred sixty nine miles of curving road etched into the ridgelines. Romanesque-looking tunnels, dark holes through the granite mountain rock. Bridges arching over steep slopes, defying gravity as they hover over the treetops below. Spectacular views above a sea of blue mountains, unfurling across the horizon in waves and folds.
With the closest entrance only 16 minutes away, the Blue Ridge Parkway remains one of the most popular destinations for Lake Junaluska guests. But few realize that the Parkway’s history is entwined in the history of the lake—in fact, the Parkway wouldn’t come through North Carolina at all if not for Lake Junaluska.
The story began in 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson appointed Josephus Daniels, a devout Methodist, as Secretary of the Navy. Daniels needed help, so he appointed a promising young politician as his assistant secretary of the Navy. Also that year, Daniels built a summer cottage at Lake Junaluska.
The Guilded Age followed, with a burst of prosperity for the country. And then came the Great Depression. In an effort to pull the United States out of its slump, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal and the Civilian Conservation Corps to create new jobs while simultaneously preserving the country’s natural resources. One of the projects was the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Parkway planned to join the Shenandoah Valley National Park in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the south. Competition ensued by economic interests in Tennessee and North Carolina, each group vying for the Great Smoky Mountains portion of the Parkway to come through their own state. Finally, the word came down. Tennessee had won.
Promoters in Tennessee were jubilant: The Parkway would bring jobs, tourists and greater prosperity to their state. The North Carolina interests were stunned. Didn’t North Carolina boast Richland Balsam Mountain, the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains? Weren’t some of the best views along the ridgeline of the North Carolina mountains? They weren’t willing to accept defeat.
Several influential men quietly planned a meeting at a location on Stuart Circle along Lake Junaluska. This was the summer cottage of Josephus Daniels, now the publisher of the Raleigh News & Observer. This meeting changed the course of Parkway history, but turning the tide didn’t happen without some effort.
Those at the meeting included the publisher of the Asheville Citizen-Times, the director of the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, and a top road engineer with the North Carolina Highway Commission who had trekked the western North Carolina mountains extensively in preparation for the Parkway.
Their purpose was to get the Blue Ridge Parkway diverted from its scheduled course through Tennessee, to go through North Carolina instead. The men asked Daniels to make an appeal to an old friend, that promising young politician he’d appointed as his assistant in the Navy – and who now resided in the White House – Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Daniels had remained friends with Roosevelt all those years, and he didn’t want to impose on, and possibly damage, their relationship. After three hours of discussion, however, Roosevelt agreed.
Thanks to the enduring friendship between Daniels and Roosevelt and that fateful meeting at Lake Junaluska, the Blue Ridge Parkway, “America’s favorite drive,” was successfully routed through North Carolina.
As a side note, during his tenure over the Navy, Daniels ruled that ships could not stock alcohol. He suggested the crew could drink coffee instead. The crew may not have been happy about that, leading some to believe the expression “cup of joe” refers their reaction to that long-ago ruling by part-time Lake Junaluska resident, and devout Methodist, Josephus Daniels.
So next time you’re savoring the view from the Parkway or at Lake Junaluska, raise a cup in a toast to Joe.
Lake Junaluska is open to the public for vacations, group retreats, weddings, reunions and more. The grounds include a modern hotel, a historic inn, a campground, a golf course, vacation rental homes, meeting spaces, food services and recreation opportunities. Lake Junaluska also hosts concerts and other events throughout the year. To learn more about Lake Junaluska, visit lakejunaluska.com.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Length: 469 miles
Number of tunnels: 26, with 25 in N.C.
Highest peak: Richland Balsam Mountain (6,047 feet)
Visitors: 17 million per year
Year round sites: N.C. Minerals Museum, Spruce Pine, N.C.; Folk Art Center and Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor Center, Asheville, N.C.
Peak of fall season leaf color: mid-October, depending on weather and elevation. For the latest reports, call Parkway information line at (828) 298-0398 (press option 3).
More information: National Park Service http://home.nps.gov/blri/index.htm