Junaluska: Community Development in an African American Village
Dec, 2017 Photo: Yndiana Montes
Once, it was a village. Nobody wanted to live in the bare rock backside of the mountain that was Junaluska a century ago, so it was given to the African Americans. The oldest African American neighborhood in Western North Carolina used to have several businesses and around 200 inhabitants.
Today, more than half of the 200 residents left, but Junaluska still hangs in there, under the avid eye of developers. Boone’s land is very valuable because being the city surrounded by mountains and does not have much space left to grow. Newcomers in Junaluska have been good and bad, some people say, but blacks and whites live in harmony, which makes us remember the founders of Junaluska, Johnson, and Ellington Cuzzins. Around 1985 they were both free men of color and married to 2 white women.
This could seem incredible, but Appalachia was so poor and even slaves were a luxury for the whites. From 1895 to 1915, there were between fifteen and eighteen black families living in the mountains, and they did the first hard-pack roads in Boone. The rest of the time, they stay up, eating from their wild gardens, few crops, and few animals. Life was even harder for them in the poor Appalachian region. The white Mennonites from Texas who founded their church, but at once they were 5 churches.
Today, only the Mennonite stands in there. On Sundays, people park in the City Park, which is few meters away Mennonite Church. The Mennonite Church, which is going to be 100 years old in 2018, is located on the same road as the park and serves as the center for the happenings, parties, and gatherings. Services on Sundays are very vivid, and the band sound really good. An interesting fact is that in those times, on some occasions the whites would go up the hill for religious services on Sundays a century ago. Unfortunately, religion unites and can do wonders for a community, but also divides by race, family, class… And the choice of being or not churched is not always welcome in very small communities. This is why an inclusive community center is a must. It is not healthy to leave community development in the exclusive hands of religious leaders.
Junaluska Park could be one of the poles of attraction of Junaluska. It has an elevation of 3,337 feet, and is beautifully wild forested, with a picnic pavilion, trails, playground, basketball courts, and an open field. I want to say this church is located in the heart of the neighborhood, but this is difficult to know:
“The general area is referred to as the Junaluska neighborhood but there are no defined limits that I know of that are similar to say a planned neighborhood with an HOA and a defined layout. Since it is general in nature there are no maps or measurements of the area,” said John Ward, Boone’s Town Manager. To coordinate this local open space with regional green infrastructure plans which “maximize, ecological and public benefits that green infrastructure provides,” would be one of the cleverest initiatives in order to promote sustainability (Godschalk and Rouse 47).
There are two housing developments surrounding the actual Junaluska neighborhood, which were part of Junaluska in the past. These are Weekapaug Grove and Ridge View Town Homes. Less than three months ago a huge barn was turned down, and the trees in its surrounding area were cut. Signs of Blue Ridge Realty selling the land were posted on the site.
We know one thing for sure: If the road is paved, and the town’s water & sewer systems get up there, the land zone and the character of the neighborhood are going to change. What to do to preserve this rural declining community, and improve livability? More than take care of the roads, they need to build a sustainable community that connects people. Recalling past stories in order to reenact some of the valuable past, is the only path for this community to survive.
Once, Junaluska had its very own soccer team. The village also had a charming chocolate house as the social gathering place. Plan to build those back, using Junaluska’s history to develop ecological tourism is the only path to a sustainable economic activity. As we know, the new developments (to which we refer to our Neighborhood Assignment paper,) are bringing some concerns about the historic preservation of Junaluska across the Town of Boone.
There are important organizations, institutions, and individuals, supporting the Junaluska community. In the opinion of Dean Williams, who has 28 years working in Special Collections at the Belk Library and Information Commons at Appalachian State University, “Junaluska will stay woods only as long as the Town of Boone does not run water and sewer up the mountain,” but it is true that supporting the community heritage has the two sides of a coin. Some say the need injection of funds to enhance the infrastructure, and others are pushing to live things as they are. Some residents do not like the students and told us that they have brought drug consumption to the area.
Others say the news developments have dried the old water wells, and that lawyers have been pressuring them to pay $10,000 for drilling for new water wells. They blame the construction of the triple building unit Ridge View Town Homes right above for causing the problem. Hopefully, the land rights of the owners will prevail and they will be the ones that benefit in the long run, and the losers are the avid developers. We also hope that gentrification—which is taking place in many neighborhoods, cities, and towns in the country—will not erase this part of the history of Appalachia. On the other hand, flooding in downtown Boone could be a threat in the years to come, if there is more loss of topsoil in the mountain.
The majority of the residents of the old Junaluska are not rich. Some are really hurting for money, and offers to buy the land are multiplying. This can be tempting, and wash off this neighborhood very quickly. Junaluska have no problem with shortages of water, but some flooding issues because of some basic lack of upkeep by the town on the roads. I think that from the planning perspective will be better not to do too much with the infrastructure, but to build a community center “African Village” type.
Environmental planning for a project like this will attract visitors, “Environmental protection and environmental planning are inevitable contentious for a number of reasons. Environmental legislation and regulation often impose major losses in some parties and deliver large gains in others (Levy 331). To develop Junaluska around their rich heritage resources as something unique to Boone, culturally and ecologically based can be done identifying where is the potential for growth, and giving mini-grants for home-based artisan shops.
The population of the old Junaluska used to make leather shoes and prepare their own herbal remedies. Practical souvenirs inspired in “Old Time Junaluska,”, and walking and horse tours in the Junaluska park would be the perfect complement of the perfect framing to attract visitors and locals. Wild gardening projects in this small rural community as Junaluska would make this historic neighborhood a part of the local economy, and not to be languishing outside its mainstream.
There is a difficult equilibrium that needs to be reached, and only with environmental planning and the implementation of sustainable practices, this can this be achieved. Junaluska is a jewel that needs to be preserved, not only for its historical value but for ecological reasons.
-Godschalk, David, and Rouse, David. Sustaining Places: Best Practices for Comprehensive
Plans. American Planning Association. 2015. Sustaining Places: Best Practices for Comprehensive Plans (PAS 578). January 2015. https://www.planning.org/publications/report/9026901/
-Levy, John. Contemporary Urban Planning. Routledge. 2017.