A look back at our past
In the early-1940’s, R.G. LeTourneau brought his earth moving manufacturing plant to Toccoa, Georgia. Additionally, LeTourneau saw the need for a conference center in the area as well. Constructed from plans designed by Mrs. LeTourneau, primarily to meet the needs of the Christian Business Men’s Committee International, a world-wide organization of which Mr. LeTourneau was recently elected president. When the building was completed, he invited the committee to hold its meetings in Toccoa. The hotel and “auditorium” (rotunda) operated as non-denominational Bible conference center in the summers.
To make the conference center grounds still more attractive, LeTourneau, skillful in the building of dams, created an artificial lake with a shoreline of 25 miles and depth up to 75 feet by constructing a 1500 foot dam across the lower end of the Walton Creek which conveniently ran near the property. Such an undertaking provided plenty of opportunities for LeTourneau to test his big earth moving equipment. The dam was built and the lake came into being. This new body of water was promptly named “Lake Louise” named after his only daughter.
Early brochures describe the conference center, known as Hotel Lake Louise as “A Christian hotel for Christian people.” Its purpose was to provide a quiet retreat for sensitive souls from the turmoil and strife and the workday world; to furnish a satisfying vacation refuge for respectable, God-fearing people who want to seek their rest in beautiful and restful surroundings.
Hotel Lake Louise had an unusual design and was a triumph in mid 1900’s architectural engineering. It was constructed by one of the world’s leading exponents of steel fabrication and made entirely of this durable material, 20 tons of it, plus 60 tons of efficient insulation. The building was constructed in the form of and eight-pointed star, with one ray cut away to fashion the entrance. Each ray of the original structure was 110 feet in length and one story in height. The center high domed auditorium could seat more than 1,000 people.
Hotel Lake Louise maintained its own herd of 54 pure-bred Jersey cows providing an abundance of the best milk, cream and butter for guests. Chickens and eggs came from the hotel’s own poultry farm; a truck garden on the grounds not only provided freshest vegetables in season, but permitted canning to last through the winter months.
While the lovely conference center was primarily used for Bible conferences and retreats, the U.S. Army leased the facility and it functioned as a hospital during World War II in connection with “Camp Toccoa” the paratrooper camp located near Currahee Mountain. More than 10,000 soldiers trained at Camp Toccoa.
In 1962 LeTourneau approached the Georgia Baptist Convention regarding the purchase of the conference center. He wanted a buyer who would carry out the Christian purposes for which the conference center was built.
With LeTourneau contributing $10,000 of the purchase price, the Georgia Baptist Convention purchased the conference center, lake and property for approximately $235,000 in 1963.
This newly acquired campus was named the “Georgia Baptist Assembly” and was purchased to be used as a State Mission Ministry. Channing P. Hayes, an associate of LeTourneau’s, assisted in the transition of the property and acted as the first manager of the Georgia Baptist Assembly.
Meal Rates in 1963:
- Breakfast – .85
- Lunch – $1.10
- Dinner – $1.35
Room Rates in 1963:
- $6.50 per day for private bath
- $5.50 per day for a connecting bath
Keep in mind in 1963, gas cost .30 a gallon, milk cost .49 a gallon and minimum wage was $1.00!
Clifton A. Forrester became the second conference center manager in 1964 and served until 1972. During his leadership, there were many improvements and enhancements to the buildings and land.
In 1972 Harold Sangster began his service as the conference center’s manager. Under his leadership, there were many expansions and renovations to the conference center which included the additions of the existing Lakeside dining hall, Garrison Auditorium and the Griffith Hotel. Sangster retired in 1995.
Bill Wheeler is the current manager and has served in that role since April 1996. The GBCC can host groups of 15-1,000 overnight guests in the Griffith Hotel, King Hotel, Forrester Lodge and cabins. The Garrison auditorium seats 1,000 and the chapel 300. There is abundant meeting space with over 42 various conference rooms. A favorite of campers is the lakeside campground complete with water and electrical hook ups, a bathhouse, laundry room and covered open-air waterfront theater.
Camp Tugalo, a self-contained, rustic, waterfront, facility with four cabins, is also a part of the conference center. Each air conditioned cabin sleeps 20 and has private baths. Camp Tugalo also has a kitchen/dining hall, ball field and open-air pavilion.
Over the past 50 years there have been many changes to the Georgia Baptist Conference Center. Buildings have been razed, structures re-built, and rooms re-modeled – all of which are a part of conference center life. The Georgia Baptist Conference Center is it truly one of the gems of Georgia Baptists as well as northeast Georgia.
What do the next 50 years look like? Who will be attending camps, conferences and concerts at GBCC? What will their needs be? …..
GBCC is still a “Christian hotel for Christian people” but it has become a conference center where many meet Christ for the first time. It is Christian conference center for people. The ministry of the Georgia Baptist Conference Center is committed to “serving Christ by serving others.”