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Lake Lure Flowering Bridge

Mollie Lund (2021)

The road leading into the town of Lake Lure wound sharply along the hills surrounding the picturesque man-made body of water. Like a scene from a movie, the trees broke open and we were confronted by the sheer beauty of the landscape. The lush peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains towered over an expansive, impossibly blue lake. As our eyes climbed upward, we saw the smooth granite cliffs of Chimney Rock, which stood stark against the rich green shades of summer foliage. Entering the town of Lake Lure felt like entering a bygone era, one characterized by simple pleasures and harmony with the natural world. 

 

As we continued down the winding road, we passed countless lake homes of every color and age. The residences which dotted the perimeter of the lake created a sort of kaleidoscope, with the water below reflecting back to us a colorful array of structures ranging from tiny shacks on stilts to enormous mansions complete with backyard boathouses. We passed the town’s man-made beach which was dotted with locals and tourists alike. Across the street from the beach, the Mediterranean-style 1927 Lake Lure Inn stood pristine. I couldn’t help but wonder what F. Scott Fitzgerald thought when he first visited the resort town in the 1930s. Was he as awestruck as I? I supposed he had to be, considering he visited so frequently. 

 

We carried on past the town in my father’s little Jeep Liberty, slowly weaving our way along serpentine roads toward Chimney Rock. My friend Abbie and I had planned a spontaneous day trip to Chimney Rock Village, with the intent of shopping and snapping some pictures along the way. On the hour-and-a-half drive up from Belmont, Abbie remembered a place she went with her family in years past. It was a sort of community garden situated along a historic bridge; an ideal picture spot if there ever was one. We enthusiastically decided that we simply had to find it, however, we lacked the foresight to look up the bridge’s address before losing service. 

 

Several minutes after passing through downtown Lake Lure we passed over a bridge spanning a small river that emptied into the lake on our right. Directly parallel to the bridge on which we drove was a much older bridge, the entire length of which was lined with vibrant flowers and plants. We had found the Flowering Bridge at last. 

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After parking in the gravel lot on the western side of the river, we wandered towards the gardens. A paved walkway led us first through the pollinator and swing gardens. The Flowering Bridge’s volunteers had planted annual flowers in the pollinator plot which attracted bees, monarch butterflies, and even hummingbirds. The swing garden was lined with antique and handmade seats which were perfect for a short rest. We next passed through the atrium gardens, which were covered by an overhead sprinkler system that provided us with much-needed relief from the summer heat. The walkway throughout the atrium region of the walkway was lined with lavish green plants, making it feel as though we had wandered into a tropical paradise.

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Abbie then directed me to a “secret garden” hidden behind a flowering arch on the left side of the main pathway. The area was full of dense blue and purple hydrangea bushes and featured a vertical wall covered in plants and antique mirrors on the far side of the garden. The hydrangea had been allowed to grow a bit out of control, which added a wildish and dreamlike atmosphere to the area. After a few hundred pictures, we found our way back to the main pathway.

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Drawing closer to the bridge itself, we passed an interactive potting shed, which allowed visitors to plant their own carrot seeds. Directly next to the potting shed was a cottage garden, complete with a handmade akin to a wooden hobbit house. Our progress along the path grew slower as Abbie stopped to take a picture of every single fairy house. These handcrafted structures were scattered throughout each area of the garden, and they seemed to only grow more frequent as we neared the bridge. The Bridge’s volunteers had also decorated the gardens with local artwork, antique furniture, sculptures, and fountains. The eclectic nature of these seemingly random additions made our journey along the walkway feel like a treasure hunt, and we created a game out of spotting especially curious objects. 

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When we finally made it onto the bridge, a twisting pathway led us past a series of successive garden plots. We passed through a rock and succulent garden, a prairie garden, a rose garden, and a tropical garden. Each was decorated with unique features, whether that be a fairy house, a bird feeder, or some obscure sculpture. Perhaps the most bizarre yet exciting addition to the gardens was a Canadian goose lounging in one of the planters which hung over the side of the bridge. The area encompassing the goose, which we later learned was named Gertrude, was blocked off by a makeshift barricade of colorful string and a weather-worn drink cart. After reading the Flowering Bridge’s Facebook page, we learned that Gertrude was a seasonal resident who has nested in the Bridge’s flowering pots several summers in a row. Over time, Gertrude has become a member of the garden community, and she has even inspired artwork that is now featured throughout the walkway. I will not lie, I was initially terrified of how close we were to Gertrude; I have heard how mean Canadian geese can be. I eventually warmed up to her after Abbie bravely snapped a few pictures without being mauled. 

 

As we continued past Gertrude, we passed another pollinator garden which was full of happy worker bees. We then passed another tropical garden, as well as a plot dedicated to NC wildflowers. As we made our way towards the end of the bridge, we passed several more plots, including a fragrance garden (which smelled of heaven), a herb garden, a garden planted by local schoolchildren, and the founders’ circle garden, which is dedicated to the original creators of the Flowering Bridge. We passed through a magnificent flowered arch that marked an end to the bridge. 


Before turning around and making our way back to the car, we visited the Franklin Garden, which honors the Flowering Bridge’s Franklin tree. The Franklin tree has been dubbed the garden’s most historic plant, and its species can no longer be found in the wild. The Franklin tree, or Franklinia alatamaha, has late-season white flowers and striking red leaves in the fall. It cannot grow in compacted wet clay, and should not be planted where cotton has been grown. The plant was saved from extinction by botanist John Bartram and his son, William, in 1765. John collected specimens of the plant and named it after his friend, Benjamin Franklin. All currently existing Frankin trees, including the one at the Flowering Bridge, originate from the specimens that John and William collected over 200 years ago. This history is explained on a plaque by the Flowering Bridge’s Franklin tree garden.

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On our way back across the bridge and through the western gardens, we discovered an area that we had not yet explored. Nestled to the right of the main walkway was a small pathway down towards the river bank. Not yet ready to depart the whimsical fairytale, we made our way down the hill. We passed a small boat that had been transformed into a flowerbed and cement blocks painted with classic novels featuring dogs, such as Ribsy and Good Ol’ Snoopy. We made our way into a garden dedicated to dogs, complete with a Doggie Stick Library. We later learned that this area is named the Riverside Dog Garden, and it remains one of my favorite features of the Flowering Bridge.

 

After considerable stalling, we made our way back to the car and continued our journey. The Lake Lure Flowering Bridge is one of those weird yet wonderful things that you tend to happen upon when traveling; one of those unplanned treasures that create long-lasting memories. There is not a doubt in my mind that I will return to Lake Lure to visit the Flowering Bridge in the coming years... hopefully, I will make it in time to see Gertrude’s newly hatched goslings.

The Story of Lake Lure

Mia D'Agostino (2020)

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 feet into the air, and 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 Parkinson, 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 1926, and the lake was formed in 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 recently the festival has drawn over 3,000 fans from across the country and all over the world. 

The Winding Road to Lake Lure

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 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 of 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, and 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 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 our 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 were 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 to us, the sun was bright and was highlighting the yellow, red, and orange leaves on the bevy of trees surrounding the mountain.

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