Elkmont Exploring the Ghost Town of the Great Smoky Mountains

On February 9th of 2017 Adventures United filmed the Ghost Town of Elkmont. Our reason for filming was due to demolition plans to demolish 55 of the historic buildings set to start in March of 2017. When we arrived we were surprised to find how many Dilapidated Cabins with stone fireplaces there were as we walked through the woods. Once we entered these cabins we got a melancholy feeling for the Homes they once were. You can almost imagine the fire roaring, people laughing and having a good time with their families. We hoped by filming these cabins we could help capture the spirit that once inhabited this town, and inspire others to visit here.

Watch our Video below or Check out our Youtube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQD-Y6zUgIxW1-NIDTj0Wig

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Elkmont is a region situated in the upper Little River Valley deep in the Great Smoky Mountains of Sevier County, in the U.S. state of Tennessee. Throughout its history, the valley has been home to a pioneer Appalachian community, a logging town, and a resort community. Today, Elkmont is home to a large campground, ranger station, and historic district maintained by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Little River Lumber Company established the town of Elkmont in 1908 as a base for its logging operations in the upper Little River and Jakes Creek areas. By 1910, the company began selling plots of land to hunting and fishing enthusiasts from Knoxville, who established the "Appalachian Club" just south of the logging town. In 1912, a resort hotel, the Wonderland Park Hotel, was constructed on a hill overlooking Elkmont. A group of Knoxville businessmen purchased the Wonderland in 1919 and established the "Wonderland Club." Over the next two decades, the Appalachian Club and Wonderland Club evolved into elite vacation areas where East Tennessee's wealthy could gather and socialize.

Upon the creation of the national park in the 1930s, most of Elkmont's cottage owners were given lifetime leases. These were converted to 20-year leases in 1952, and renewed in 1972. The National Park Service refused to renew the leases in 1992, and under the park's general management plan, the hotel and cottages were to be removed. In 1994, however, the Wonderland Hotel and several dozen of the Elkmont cottages were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Elkmont Historic District, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sparking a 15-year debate over the fate of the historic structures. In 2009, the National Park Service announced plans to restore the Appalachian Clubhouse and 18 cottages and outbuildings in the Appalachian Club area (which were older and more historically significant) and remove all other structures, including the Wonderland Annex (the main hotel had collapsed in 2005).

Maintown Elkmont, TN

The first known permanent residents in what is now Elkmont settled along Jakes Creek in the 1840s. The creek's namesake, Jacob Hauser (c. 1791-1870), was probably the first to arrive. He was followed shortly thereafter by the family of David Ownby (1816-1889), who came to the area to search for gold. The small community that developed in the valley was known simply as "Little River". Like most Appalachian communities, the residents of Little River developed a subsistence agricultural economy. Most residents grew corn and apples and kept bees for honey. Several gristmills arose along Jakes Creek.

Only two structures remain from the pioneer period in Elkmont— the Avent cabin (constructed c. 1850) and the Levi Trentham cabin (constructed c. 1830). Originally built by the Ownby family, the Avent cabin was sold in 1918 to the family of noted Nashville artist Mayna Avent, who used it as an art studio until 1940. The Levi Trentham cabin was originally located in the upper reaches of Jakes Creek, and moved to the Appalachian Club's Daisy Town section in 1932 for use as a guest house.

Lem Ownby, David Ownby's legendary grandson, was born near Jakes Creek in 1889. In 1908, Ownby and his father built a cabin about a mile or so above the confluence of Jakes Creek and Little River where Ownby lived for the rest of his life. Ownby obtained a lifetime lease when the national park was established, and for several decades afterward sold honey to hikers. Among those who paid Ownby a visit were Tennessee governor (and later U.S. senator) Lamar Alexander and U.S. Supreme Court justices Harry Blackmun and Potter Stewart. The Justices were visiting a prominent Knoxville lawyer, Foster Arnett, who wanted to introduce them to a real mountain man. Foster led the two Justices up the trail to meet Lem only to discover Lem would not meet the two men. When Foster knocked on Lem's door and announced that he had two Supreme Court Justices outside who wanted to meet him, Lem simply replied that they were not welcome to come in the cabin. Foster was very embarrassed while the two Justices folded over laughing. The two Justices loved that Lem had refused to meet them because he was the one person who would tell them no, something they seldom found. Reportedly the story was one shared for years among the Justices on the Supreme Court. Ownby died in 1984, the last of the park's lifetime lessees outside of Cades Cove.

In the 1880s, Knoxville businessman John L. English began a small-scale logging project along Jakes Creek. To transport the logs to a sawmill on the outskirts of Knoxville, English constructed a series of splash dams along Little River. When the logs were ready to be moved, the floodgates of these dams were opened and the rushing torrent carried the logs downstream. While English managed a moderate profit, his venture had folded by 1900, possibly because of a disastrous flood along Little River in 1899.

In 1901, Pennsylvania entrepreneur Colonel Wilson B. Townsend purchased 86,000 acres (348 km2) of land along Little River and established the Little River Lumber Company. Townsend set up a band saw mill in Tuckaleechee Cove, laying the foundation for the town that would later bear his name. Rather than splash dams, which are at the mercy of the volatile mountain streams, Townsend constructed a logging railroad between the company's sawmill in Tuckaleechee and the river's upper reaches, all the way to the Three Forks area (where the river absorbs Fish Camp Prong and Rough Creek). The railroad was later extended to Walland, connecting it to Maryville and Knoxville. The railroad employed 10 Shay engines to move the log-filled flatcars along the river valley. Logging skidders were used to pull trees from the steeper slopes. Elkmont was established in 1908 as a transfer station where logs were moved from gear-operated trains (used for reaching higher elevations) to rod-operated trains for transport to the sawmill at Townsend.

Early Elkmont was a typical temporary logging camp. These camps bore a resemblance to later Depression-era shanty towns. Shanty houses (or "set off" houses), a post office, a transient hotel, a commissary, and sheds critical to railroad maintenance were the town's only buildings. Many loggers lived in boarding houses, and some crossed Sugarland Mountain via a trail connecting Elkmont to the Sugarlands. As logging operations progressed, it became necessary to move the camp higher up the mountain slopes to the south. The company managed this by loading the shanties onto railroad flatcars and moving them to pre-constructed foundations using a logging crane. Although the logging camps moved, Elkmont remained the company's primary base of operations in the upper Little River valley.

In 1926, Townsend sold most of his Little River Lumber tract to the newly created Great Smoky Mountains Park Commission, although he had been given permission to continue logging for most of the next decade. By the time the company ceased operations in 1939, it had produced 750 million board feet (1.8 million m³) of lumber. In the 1960s, the park service built the current campground over the site of the former logging town. Little remains from Elkmont's logging period, although three of the later resort cottages (including the Addicks and Mayo cabins) are believed to have been modified Little River Lumber Company shanty houses.

Most of the lifetime leases on the Wonderland Hotel and the rustic cottages at Elkmont expired in 1992 (two expired in 2001), and ownership reverted to the National Park Service. The park's 1982 General Management Plan calls for all structures to be removed to allow nature to reclaim the affected areas. However, in 1994, the Wonderland Hotel and several of the rustic cottages were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, giving them a special status. A debate immediately ensued over the fate of these structures.

In 2005, the Wonderland Hotel collapsed from a structural failure. Parts of the hotel deemed to have historical value were removed and the rest cleared, leaving only the annex and a chimney. In May 2016 the annex suffered a devastating fire, which is currently under investigation.

Wonderland Hotel Annex After Fire.jpg

In its 2009 Final Environmental Impact Statement for Elkmont, the National Park Service announced plans to restore the Appalachian Clubhouse and eighteen cabins in the Appalachian Club section. The remaining structures will be carefully documented and removed.

Wonderland Hotel Elkmont, TN

Plans for the Elkmont Historic District

Seventeen of the nineteen structures chosen for restoration and preservation are located in the Appalachian Club's "Daisy Town" section. These were selected primarily as the oldest and most historically notable structures in the historic district. The structures include the Appalachian Clubhouse (built in 1934 to replace the original, which had burned in 1932), the Levi Trentham cabin (Elkmont's oldest surviving structure, built in 1830), the Addicks cabin and Mayo cabin (both believed to be modified lumber company shanties, or "set" houses), and a children's playhouse known as "Adamless Eden."Most of the cottages were built between 1910 and 1930, and renovated numerous times over subsequent decades (many of the porches were added in the 1970s). The cottages are typically of balloon frame construction with board and batten exteriors, the exceptions being the Smith cabin and the Levi Trentham cabin, which are log cabins.

The Byers cabin— located south of Daisy Town in the Appalachian Club's Society Hill section, was also chosen for preservation, due largely to its association with early park promoter David Chapman. The Spence cabin, a large lodge in the Appalachian Club's Millionaires' Row section, has been restored and preserved primarily for its location at the head of the Little River Trail and is available for reservations as a day use structure. All structures will be removed from the Wonderland Club section of Elkmont, and a kiosk will be placed on the site of the Wonderland Hotel to interpret the hotel's history.

Swiss Chalet Elkmont, TN

Watch our Video below or Check out our Youtube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQD-Y6zUgIxW1-NIDTj0Wig

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