The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church began holding a summer Bible conference in Gastonia, North Carolina in 1915. The conference was very popular and well attended. However, in 1920, the conference planners learned the facility hosting the conference was to be sold. Efforts to buy the facility were unsuccessful, so a new meeting location was needed.
Looking for a location with cooler summer temperatures, the mountains of western North Carolina were selected to begin the search. God’s providence led a realtor in Hendersonville to suggest a particular location: a beautiful sixty-three acre estate, containing a massive home and the Heidelberg Gardens, for sale in Flat Rock. The location was perfect for the conference and was purchased on August 31, 1921.
Shortly thereafter, a contest was held to select a name for the Assembly Grounds. Mrs. Sallie Miller Brice of Chester, SC offered the following:
I submit a name for our Assembly Grounds. It is Bon-clar-ken, and it has this meaning, Bon- from the Latin, bonus – “good”, -clar from the Latin clarus – “clear”, -ken from the Scotch – “vision”. Bon-clar-ken — Good-clear-vision.
Since 1921, Bonclarken has had a good, clear vision to serve as “a Christian environment for inspiration and renewal.”
Dr. Arthur Rose Guerard, original owner, wrote the following description of the house for a realtor to advertise the house for sale. This paper was found in R.S. Galloway’s papers after his death. “The Mansion: Exterior, Swiss architecture, substantial construction, elegant equipment. Building wood-frame, encased cement stucco or pebble-dash, metal roof, wide double windows. 150 x 60 ft. Three stories with two wings, 26 x 30 ft., two stories high. Ceilings, 12, 10, and 9 feet. Long verandas on all sides, some enclosed in glass; two port-cocheres. Interior, comfortable, convenient and handsomely finished in hard wood, antique oak, black walnut, red cherry and yellow pine; inlaid parquet floors, carved mantles, wainscoting and stairways. Contains forty-five bedrooms (usually large), two parlors, two dining rooms, assembly room. Library, office, kitchen, pantries, store rooms, cellar, etc. In all sixty rooms, fourteen bath and toilet rooms, hot and cold water, steam heat, open fire-places, six chimneys, lighting plant, electric bells, and telephone system, fire apparatus, etc.”
The house is an example of the stick-style architecture popular in Europe and America in the 1800’s. Stick style is a type of Queen Anne architecture characterized by embedded corner towers, wrap-around porches, and spindle detailing, particularly at the gable peaks. The hardwood frame building was put together with large wooden pins.
Mrs. Guerard’s father designed the original building to resemble the type of home in which she had lived in Switzerland. Desiring his daughter to have the amenities he felt befitted her social class, he sent most of the materials you see in the house today, including the floors of imported birch, oak, and linden.