Junaluska: WNC's oldest black community?

From left, ASU students Emily Bastress, David Rayburn, Ashley Sedlak, Charles Taylor and Grant Maher discuss findings from two studies of Boone's Junaluska community at the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church Monday. Anna Oakes | Watauga Democrat

Junaluska could be the oldest black community still in existence in Western North Carolina, but more research is needed to confirm this, students said during a presentation at the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church Monday.

As part of the Junaluska Heritage Association's Junaluska History Project, Appalachian State University students and ASU adjunct instructor Trent Margrif presented findings from two recent studies on Junaluska — a study of “The Cultural Importance of Junaluska” and a survey of existing homes and structures in the neighborhood.

Located near downtown Boone and anchored by the Boone Mennonite Brethren Church, Junaluska is believed to have originated during the mid- to late-1800s.

During the past few years, the Boone Historic Preservation Commission has worked to develop guidelines for designating historic properties and districts within the town. Last year, the Junaluska Heritage Association asked that Junaluska be considered for designation as a historic district.

Emily Bastress, an ASU history major who interned with the Historic Preservation Commission this semester, completed a study of documents related to Junaluska history and culture, as well as the history of other historically black communities in Western North Carolina for comparision.

“It is hard to find an exact date of formation for Junaluska,” said Bastress.

However, the fact that a free black population existed in the area before other counties with black communities formed suggests that Junaluska could be the first continuing black community established in Western North Carolina, she said.

Margrif and students Grant Maher, David Rayburn, Ashley Sedlak and Charles Taylor presented an architectural survey of homes and structures in the neighborhood. Of the 137 total structures in the neighborhood, 74 were studied.

Architectural styles present in the Junaluska community include the craftsman and bungalow styles popular from the 1900s to 1930s and the minimal traditional style common between 1930 and 1960.

Although many of the structures in Junaluska may have been eligible for designation on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places, many have been renovated with vinyl siding, which would likely make them ineligible for National Register designation, the students said.

Discussion also ensued about when the community came to be known as “Junaluska.”

“For years it was just known as ‘the hill' or ‘the black section.' I think it would be back in the '70s or '80s when the town started calling it that. When I was growing up as a child, it was not Junaluska,” said Sandy Hagler, a member of the Junaluska Heritage Association.

Margrif said the studies focused primarily on historical documents and the architectural survey but that interviews of Junaluska residents would be essential to historical studies going forward.

For more information about the Junaluska Heritage Association, visit http://junaluskaheritage.wordpress.com.

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