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Archive for December, 2010

Part II: “Today”

Even 100 years after its construction, Lee Hall continues to serve as the main focal point of the Assembly. The building, which still lacks central heating or air conditioning, remains open for lodging and meeting spaces only in the summer months. Currently Lee Hall, with a maximum capacity of 396 people, has 146 rooms: 57 rooms with two single beds and private bath, 17 rooms with four sets of bunk beds, and 72 dormitory-style rooms with two single beds and central bath on the hall.

In addition to rustic, seasonal lodging, Lee Hall also provides several office and meeting spaces. In the basement level are the “Paul Grist Room” and the “George Williams Room,” which can accommodate up to 125 people, while the first floor levels has the smaller “Founders Room” and “Clark Room.” However, the building’s largest and most popular gathering space is the expansive 4,400 square foot lobby, which is currently decorated with mission-style furniture from Tyson Furniture, a Black Mountain establishment since 1946. Several portraits of historical figures (including President Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, the buildings namesake) by the early 20th century artist Henry Kirke Bush-Brown hang on the lobby’s walls. Lastly, above the large stone fireplace is a painting of Jesus Christ, reminding visitors and staff of the Assembly’s strong Christian origin’s, commitment to religious values, and the overall beauty of God’s creation.

Today Lee Hall is the epicenter of the Assembly’s summer conferences. For eight weeks a year, Lee Hall accommodates large national youth conferences such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and well known regional Y leadership conferences like the Blue Ridge Leaders School, Youth Conference on National Affairs, and the High School and Jr. High School Christian Values Conferences, all which the Assembly has been hosting for decades.

Blue Ridge Leaders School on the steps of Lee Hall, Summer 2010

Lastly, it is the famous green rocking chairs on the porch of Lee Hall that continue to be an icon of the Blue Ridge spirit and its peaceful mountain setting. Ask any summer guest his/her favorite spot at Blue Ridge, and the answer will surely include Lee Hall – either the majesty of the building itself or its inspiring view of the Blue Ridge mountains which continue to bring back memories, year after year.

Lee Hall rockers and the view of the Craggy Mountains

Coming soon…Lee Hall, Part III: “Tomorrow”

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Robert E. Lee Hall

Robert E. Lee Hall is the oldest, largest, and perhaps the most recognizable structure at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly.  The massive building stands on a hillside in the middle of Blue Ridge grounds and overlooks the beautiful Craggy Mountain range. Throughout the years, thousands of guests and conferees have sat on the rocking chairs of the building’s wide portico and watched memorable sunsets and moon rises.  Lee Hall’s captivating presence and commanding size reflect and reinforce the communal ideals of the it’s founder, Dr. Willis D. Weatherford and constantly reminding visitors of the unique history, strong values, and beloved traditions of the Assembly. 

Part I: “Yesterday”

Construction of Lee Hall began in 1909, three years after the Assembly was founded.  It was designed by Louis E. Jallade, a well known Canadian architect who was an active member of the YMCA in New York.  After learning of the plans for the Assembly, Jallade volunteered his services and commissioned a contractor and supervising architect for the project.

One of the most outstanding features of the neoclassical, plantation-style building are the eight, three-story wooden columns, all of which were fashioned in the Midwest and brought by train to Black Mountain. The rest of the wood in the building came from timber harvested from Blue Ridge property, which totaled over 1,500 acres at the time. Lee Hall’s monumental size (at 55,000 square feet) and stark-white color make it hard to miss against the lush woodland backdrop that surrounds it.

The four-story building was named after the great Civil War general, Robert E. Lee, who exemplified the traditions and ideals of the Old South and was an active supporter of the YMCA. Dr. Weatherford described Lee as “the finest flower of Southern chivalry. He represents the truest type of Christian manhood, the loftiest moral life, the purest and noblest ideals of the old South” in a 1920 issue of the Blue Ridge Voice. The building is therefore a tribute to this historical icon and represents the values of education, leadership, moral character and Christian principles.

Completed in the summer of 1912, Lee Hall was originally designed to house around 400 people and was to be used primarily for year-round conferences and schools.  The first conference held at Blue Ridge, a YWCA student group, attracted almost 1,000 delegates. They overflowed into tents on the Assembly grounds and it soon became clear that the necessary capacity of Lee Hall had been underestimated. Weatherford immediately began plans to expand the accommodations and two additional wings were added to form a large informal courtyard at the back of the building. This expanded capacity came in handy in 1916 when the YMCA joined the war efforts and nearly 2,400 workers were trained at the Assembly to work with U.S troops.

Lee Hall, 1923

Decades later, in 1933, Black Mountain College was established at the Assembly. BMC used Lee Hall as their main campus for many years until it eventually relocated in 1941. The expansive size of the building provided the perfect accommodations for this small college community. Classes, lectures, meetings and performances were held in the lobby, the dormitory-style rooms housed students and faculty, and the porch and rooftops provided perfect places for social gathering. While attic space offered additional housing, the Lee Hall basements housed a Library, provided the location for the College’s legendary Halloween parties, and even operated its own Post Office in the summer months.

After years of intense year-round use, the future of Lee Hall eventually came into jeopardy during the 1960’s.  In 1968 the Board of Directors considered demolishing the historic building and replacing it with a modern structure with the same architecture. It was to cost around a quarter of a million dollars and YMCA’s all over the South would raise the money to cover the project. However, many people quickly realized that the unique structural integrity and heritage of the building simply could not be reproduced. There proved to be very little support for the demolition and only about 10 percent of the necessary funding was raised. Frank Washburn, the Executive Director at the time says, “(Lee Hall) meant too much to too many people.”

Lee Hall’s strong following became clear again in 1970 when the Blue Ridge Center was purposefully constructed at a lower level to preserve the building’s scenic view of the mountains.  Finally, in 1979 Blue Ridge Assembly was registered as a Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places. The Assembly’s beautiful grounds and cherished structures deserved this honorable recognition. Lee Hall serves as a landmark to a historic legacy that will never be forgotten.

Coming soon…Lee Hall, “Part II: Today”

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On the final day of November, Blue Ridge staff and families gathered in the Blue Ridge Center lobby for the 2010 Tree-Trimming party. The annual event is the perfect way to unite everyone in the warm holiday spirit and welcome in the Christmas season. Although this year’s tree is significantly smaller than last years, there was no lack of festive camaraderie or cheer as staff hung decorations, mingled in front of the fireplace, and sipped on hot cider and cocoa with Christmas music playing in the background.

Bill has the honor of placing on the tree-topper

The collection of black and white Archive photos used to decorate the tree each year

The tree will remain in the lobby for the next month,  not only providing a visual reminder of the joyful holiday spirit, but also of the remarkable history and beauty of YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly. Thank you to all of the staff who helped to share in this wonderful tradition!

Happy Holidays!

Blue Ridge staff at the 2010 Tree Trimming Party

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On Saturday, December 4, the Black Mountain Christmas parade was held in downtown Black Mountain. Blue Ridge has been participating in the parade for over a decade, winning  2nd place in 2002 & 2003 and 1st place in 2004.

The Maintenance Department’s Van Burnette helped to design and build the Blue Ridge Assembly float which featured a miniature replica of Lee Hall. It was constructed from an old Asheville Hall trashcan and pieces of salvaged wood from Assembly buildings. Several Blue Ridge staff members and their families rode inside the wagon, waving, cheering, and handing out candy to parade-watchers.

The theme of this year’s parade was “Spirit of Christmas” and even though the weather was less than ideal (a damp and dreary afternoon with freezing temperatures and rain), hundreds of people came out to show their support for the community and celebrate the holiday season.

Merry Christmas from YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly!

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Finally, the holidays would not be complete without a belly full of home cookin’! Last week we held our Christmas Potluck Luncheon, a beloved annual tradition at Blue Ridge. About 25 staff came together to enjoy an assortment of  classic family recipes and homemade casseroles, salads, entrees, and desserts. Everyone chipped in to bring their favorite dish and it was a great opportunity to be able to try such a variety of foods in one sitting. Everything was DELICIOUS…if only we could make the event a monthly occurrence! 🙂

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