It was at his home at Montreat, N.C., that the Rev. Billy Graham, “the father of modern Christian evangelism” and “spiritual advisor” to U.S. Presidents, died Feb. 21 at the age of 99.
In 1955, LIFE photographed him when that 200-acre mountainside home was being built among the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, near the farm he grew up on in Charlotte. It was a sacred place for him — and only fitting that a man who would preach about God’s presence in nature would recharge in such a place between his crusades worldwide and media appearances.
The above photos, most of which were never published in LIFE magazine, show outtakes of the Baptist minister at home. They’re images that Ed Clark had taken for a special issue that came out during the Christmas week that year, at a time when Graham was “the most famous U.S. religious leader,” as the magazine put it. The feature, “Resting Up to Save Souls” (Dec. 26, 1955), showed the “boyish-looking” 37-year-old seeking “seclusion” with his wife Ruth (pictured below, from left) — who “knows the Bible better than he does” — and children Franklin, Virginia, Anne and Ruth, plus the family dog.
See more: LIFE With Billy Graham: Rare Photos From the Early Years of His Career
In addition to reading the Bible while relaxing on a hammock, and going on hikes with his family, he played golf with “an unorthodox crosshand grip,” as the magazine observed. Graham told LIFE that the Lord won’t let him play the game well, because if He did, “I’d spend too much time at it.”
TIME’s new special edition Billy Graham: America’s Preacher is available now in the Meredith shop and at Amazon.