Elkmont: Tennessee’s Ghost Town
When most people think of ghost towns, images of barren desert landscapes, tumbleweeds, and the wild west come to mind first. Ghost towns aren’t a western-only happening, as proven by Elkmont, a ghost town right in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Elkmont actually started the ball rolling in the creation of the park, and lends an important historical role to the entire area.
Elkmont’s Early Days
The very first settlers arrived in what is now Elkmont in the mid-1800s. They were hunters, homesteaders, and loggers. Forming a community along the Little River, they made a living with logging, which would eventually grow to be a huge industry in the small town. Lumber from poplar, hemlock, cherry, and ash was cut here and send down the river into Knoxville for processing. Elkmont was properly established in 1907. Before its establishment, a local man named Levi Trentham started selling tracts of land to a businessman named W.B. Townsend, a name which most Tennesseans are familiar. Townsend established the Little River Lumber Company, which took the logging industry in the area to an entirely new and massive level. The small-scale operation was growing. Of course, the nearby settlement of Townsend is named after W.B. when he built his sawmill there. Eventually, a railroad was built from Elkmont to transport logs along the rough and wild 18-mile route, connecting Elkmont and Townsend. Soon after, the tracks reached all the way to Knoxville.
By 1907 Elkmont was a true town, complete with a post office, school, a hotel, a Baptist church, stores, and multiple homes. The homes were movable and were known as ‘set-off houses,’ which could be picked up and moved to wherever the next logging area was. Almost like an early version of moveable manufactured homes! Elkmont soon became the second-largest in the entire county. Residents who worked at the lumber company spent six days a week there, with Sundays off to go to church.
Elkmont’s Tourist-y Start
Elkmont had a small tourism industry developing by 1909, in which visitors could take a two-and-a-half-hour ride from Knoxville to Elkmont on an observation car that sat at the back of a logging train. For only $1.95 each way, visitors could see how Elkmont residents lived and the natural beauty of the surrounding areas. Even a gruesome 1909 train accident attracted more tourists hoping to see a glimpse of the wreckage…
In 1910, the lumber company sold 50 acres to the Appalachian Club. This area was dedicated to being a recreational area for Knoxville’s businessmen, in which Townsend was a member and investor. The club built a hotel, cottages, and cabins, which are sold to its members. By 1912, the tourist industry in Elkmont was in full swing. A man named Charles B. Carter bought 65 acres of the land and created ‘The Wonderland Club’, which hosted parties, dances with live music, and even dammed the nearby river to create a swimming hole.
Once tourism took off, the logging industry of the area slowed. They had mostly picked the forest clean, and around 1926, logging ceased in Elkmont entirely. This is when the little town was abandoned and started to rot away back into the land of the Smoky Mountains. Today, the National Parks Service is working to restore some of the buildings and preserve the history in Elkmont, but the town itself is uninhabited, and most of the structures give off that ‘paranormal summer camp’ vibe.
Paranormal Park Visitors?
Reported as one of the eeriest locations in the entirety of the Smoky Mountains, Elkmont stands completely abandoned, a shell of its former self. With Elkmont’s history as an extremely successful logging community comes the fact that dozens of loggers were maimed or even killed in logging accidents. The train wreck of 1909 also took some lives of those on board the train. These incidents were gruesome, involving exploding boilers and derailing trains filled with massive logs. Today, visitors to the park report a very uneasy feeling as they walk past the still-standing historic homes in Elkmont and the lingering feeling as though they are being watched.
A review was left by a visitor on TripAdvisor when she and her sister visited Elkmont. It read, ‘The day is warm and humid, yet being here there was a coolness to the area. Of course, the ghost town is secluded in the woods, but there is a campground right next to it. As my sister and I walk up to the first building, she stops short, and I enter and immediately feel that the area I have walked into is an eerie cool, and I sense a presence. My sister enters and feels the same thing and says that she stopped short at the door. We continue exploring all the buildings we could, and from time to time, my sister and I would both make a comment that ‘the little old is still with us. By the time we left, we both felt as though the spirit that was following us around had gone back to the cabins.’
There’s even a graveyard on the property market with a wooden arch, with many of the headstones containing quartz chunks. Quartz, while beautiful, was used in the early 20th century as a superstitious way to keep resting spirits below ground… eerie. The graveyard’s inhabitants are difficult to learn, as there are many infants and children buried below the ground. One of the gravestones, belonging to an Arville McCarter, reads ‘Sweet peace at last, as we go traveling home…”
Have you ever heard of Elkmont? This legendary little slice of history still stands today in the arms of the Smoky Mountains, just waiting for you to stumble upon it. For more Tennessee haunts, Check out our article on Cade’s Cove and the creepy cabins that remain!
Featured Image Courtesy of Wikimedia