Elkmont Historic District: Explore an Appalachian Ghost Town in the Great Smoky Mountains

When most people think of ghost towns, they imagine dusty towns in the Old West where prospectors flocked hoping to mine gold or other precious metals. However, the Appalachian Mountains in the Eastern United States are home to many spooky abandoned towns. Among these is the Elkmont Historic District located in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. This district offers a glimpse of a logging town that transformed into a vacation hotspot, only to eventually decline when the area was designated as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In the early 20th century, the Great Smoky Mountains became the epicenter of a booming logging industry. The Little River Lumber Company built a railroad in the mountains to facilitate the transport of lumber to Knoxville. This railroad development thrust the small mountain town of Elkmont into popularity. By the 1920s, a series of clubs and cabins emerged, catering to visitors looking for a serene summer getaway. The Appalachian Clubhouse and the Wonderland Hotel became favored spots for urban dwellers seeking a rustic mountain retreat.

However, with the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934, Elkmont’s fate changed. The federal government did not want a privately owned vacation village within the boundaries of a national park, so they persuaded both temporary and permanent residents of Elkmont to relocate. Over time, nature began reclaiming Elkmont. It wasn’t until the structures were added to the National Register of Historic Places that the National Park Service took steps to restore the remnants of Elkmont in the early 21st century.

The Elkmont Historic District is not prominently marked, but it can be located by hiking near the Elkmont Campground. Visitors are allowed to tour the inside of any fully intact structure. The salmon-colored Spence Cabin, for example, boasts a scenic patio. Additionally, remnants like chimneys and foundations of several other structures are scattered amid the lush greenery.

A particular highlight of the Elkmont Historic District is the stone “troll bridge.” Local legend suggests that various mischievous mystical creatures, including a cantankerous troll, dwell beneath this moss-covered bridge. Moreover, the troll bridge serves as an excellent vantage point to watch Tennessee‘s renowned fireflies light up the night from mid-May to June.

For those intrigued by ghost towns, exploring the haunting vestiges of a once-vibrant logging hub and vacation destination in the Great Smoky Mountains is undeniably a journey worth undertaking. The sight of once-grand buildings being overtaken by nature serves as a poignant reminder of the impermanence of time and the importance of cherishing the present.

504 Little River Rd
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, 37738
United States

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