The Story of Lake Lure
The Winding Road to Lake Lure
By Taylor Hill (2013)
I have always found October to be a beautiful month, as the rustic and subtle transformations of the leaves begin to take place. Vibrant oranges, dull yellows and shocking red hues line the trees and the medley of colors presents the last glimpse of life before the dull and brittle cold of winter. Our fall trip through the foothills of North Carolina offered me an even deeper respect for the month of October, specifically our journey to Lake Lure on the winding road of Highway 64.
The morning of October 19th, 2013 saw me and my travel group in a hotel room in Statesville, NC. Having just been immersed in the captivating festivities of the Statesville Balloon Festival the night before, we felt that staying the night in Statesville would be an opportune moment to regain our energy for the drive into Lake Lure the next day. Waking up to a rather glum and rainy morning, we checked out of our hotel, heading toward Lake Lure, but not before stopping off into Taylorsville to revisit a thrift shop that stole the heart of one of my fellow travelers Immanuel- he was particularly taken by the assortment of Nintendo 64 related products sold there- as well as spending some time in Lenoir to revisit our good friend Jeff, whom we met at his quaint farmer’s market a previous weekend.
The hour and something drive from Lenoir to Lake Lure was one that presented me with visuals that looked like they could have been painted by an artist. The dreary day produced low hanging clouds that shielded some of the mountains in the distance, with only the peaks jutting out from the very top wisps. The fall colors were enhanced by the grey overtone of the sky as the building pitter-patter of rain dressed the windows of the car. I was in the backseat and was overcome with lethargy as riding in cars during the rain always has that effect on me. I drifted in and out of sleep, catching glimpses of the beautiful autumn scenery that surrounded us with each brief opening of my eyes. During my longer spans of alertness, I was able to get a feel of the homes in the area, which consisted of expansive fields peppered with various grazing animals and noticeable spacing in between each home. Every now and again I would see the owners of the homes in their yards, playing with their dogs, doing lawn chores despite the weather, or sitting on porches in rocking chairs, covered from the gentle and relentless rain.
As I continued to notice the surroundings, I also realized that the scenery was changing, as we neared our destination. The road began to wind like a serpent as we began to navigate between high slopes of land and trees. Another five minutes of this persisted before we turned a bend and were met with a breathtaking view of Lake Lure, with a regal mountain in the distance, the top half of which was covered by clouds. The trees provided green, red, yellow and orange tints that lined the mountain and lake; it was reminiscent of a well-crafted portrait.
We briefly stopped our car in front of the lake to get some photos, me posing in front of the “Welcome to Lake Lure” sign cheesing especially hard. We noticed a restaurant located on the water that we wanted to explore for a potential snack, but decided not to as their menu didn’t satisfy our needs. One of my travel partners, Anna, and I did take a restroom break inside, noticing the creative décor, which consisted of $1 bills plastered over the walls, ceilings and doors, each one with a short message or drawing from the customer who left it. As we left the restaurant, and continued to drive into the town a bit more, we came across Lake Lure’s bi-annual art festival. We patted ourselves on the back for our sheer luck to travel during such a busy weekend for the towns on our list, and delved into the atmosphere that was the art festival.
Most of the sellers present were locals who hand made every item they had up for sale. There were craftsmen selling beautifully detailed chairs and ottomans made from mahogany and oak, painters with life-like creations made with watercolors, as well as talented women selling stunning hand-made jewelry and glassware with iridescent webs of color. Anna and I took particular notice to a woman who made soaps, lotions and oils for both humans and dogs, allowing us to test her goat milk moisturizer, which I fell in love with. I was fond of the closeness of all of the participants, how many of them knew each other by name and would stop by the other’s tents to catch up. I am from Atlanta, and the larger city does not really allow for such a closeness of residents so I was fortunate to experience the closeness of a small town gathering.
After spending our time at the art festival, we wanted to check into our motel, which was located right next to Chimney Rock Mountain in front of a small river that we had a nice view of from our window. The room was very cabin-like, with wooden walls and beds lined with tacky floral sheets. The bathroom was a little larger than out Statesville hotel, but had an uncharacteristically short showerhead, which we all struggled with. We discovered that we could walk behind the motel, closer to the river that flowed through the back, where we snapped some photos as a light rain began to fall again. I was moved by the distinct closeness to nature and how
Walking through the town, we saw all of the souvenir shops that were squeezed tightly next to each other, most of which garnished with suffocating Halloween decorations. My travel partner Jeff had noticed a bakery called Laura’s House that he wanted to test out, so Immanuel and I followed along with him. We were met with the owner who had an amazing story. He was an ex-karate instructor who retired and was living out of his car for three years before setting up shop in the bakery. One of his workers really caught our attention, an energetic and gregarious man named Austin who was adamant that we all try the sour cream cake with apples on it. Jeff ended up ordering it and we all tried some, and after trying it, I would also urge visitors to order the apples as well.
We ended up returning to Laura’s House in the morning for breakfast and we dined on the second floor of the bakery, with a stunning view of Chimney Rock Mountain through a large window. Unlike the day before, the morning showed favor on us, the sun was bright and was highlighting the yellow, red and orange leaves on the bevy of trees surrounding the mountain.
Many people know Lake Lure as the setting of their favorite 80’s classic, Dirty Dancing. But did you know the lake was man made? The lake resort surrounding Lake Lure today was the vision of one man: Dr. Lucius B Morse. Morse was a physician from Missouri who had been diagnosed with tuberculosis and was in search of a healthier climate. Morse gained financial backing from his brothers, Hiram and Asahel, and purchased 64 acres of land in present day Chimney Rock State Park for $5,000 from Jerome Freeman. Later, the brothers acquired enough money to purchase 8,000 acres of land. The mountains in Chimney Rock State Park contained a rare sight (Chimney Rock), which rose 315 fet into the air, which provided spectacular views for climbers. The centerpiece of Morse’s vision was to be a man made lake created by the Rocky Broad River. Morse’s wife, Elizabeth Parkenson, is credited with naming the lake Lake Lure.
This project required the construction of a dam, which began in 1925. The dam was completed in September of 1926, and the lake was formed by 1927. The town of Lake Lure also became incorporated in 1927, the boundaries of the town included Lake Lure. Unfortunately, Morse’s resort dreams were squandered by the failure of the economy in 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression.
An often unknown fact about the 80’s classic Dirty Dancing is that the movie was produced on a shoestring budget. Filming began on September 5, 1986, and only lasted 43 days. The scenes filmed in Lake Lure were filmed at a former Boy Scout Camp called Occoneechee, which is a private residential community called Firefly Cove today. Specifically, the scenes include Baby carrying the watermelon and practicing on the stairs, Johnny’s cabin, the staff cabins, and the golf scene where Baby asks for $250. The famous ballroom lift scene was filmed in the ballroom of the Lake Lure Inn.
Today, fans of Dirty Dancing can have the time of their life by attending the Dirty Dancing Festival Weekend Getaway, in Lake Lure. The Festival is supported by Lionsgate Films, Eleanor Bergstein (the writer of the film) and much of the cast and crew. The Dirty Dancing Festival is a non profit fundraiser managed by a team of volunteers to raise awareness, support, and funds for PanCAN (the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network) and the Chamber of Hickory Nut Gorge. In 2010 the festival began its first year with a candlelight vigil for Patrick Swayzee, after his two year battle with pancreatic cancer. In that first year, the event drew 1000 local attendees, but has recently the festival has drawn over 3,000 fans from across the country and all over the world.