Elkmont: Tennessee’s Ghost Town

Posted by blogger in Gatlinburg Haunts
Elkmont: Tennessee’s Ghost Town - Photo

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. Today The Great Smoky Mountains see over 13 million visitors per year, with that number climbing steadily. Elkmont started the ball rolling in creating the famous national 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 massive 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. himself when he built his sawmill there. Eventually, a railroad was constructed from Elkmont to transport logs along the rough and wild 18-mile route, connecting Elkmont and Townsend. Soon after, as business began to grow, the tracks did as well, reaching the larger city of Knoxville within a few years.


By 1907 Elkmont was a proper 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 surrounding areas’ natural beauty. Even a gruesome 1909 train accident attracted more tourists hoping to catch 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 build a swimming hole.

Once tourism took off, the logging industry of the area slowed. The logging companies mainly had picked the forest clean, and around 1926, logging ceased in Elkmont entirely. This was when the little town was abandoned and started to rot away back into the Smoky Mountains land. When the National Park was established in 1934, residents had to decide whether to sell their properties for total value, surrender their land to the park, and relocate immediately, or sell their properties for a discounted price and have the ability to live out their lives in their homes. 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 wholly abandoned, a shell of its former self. With Elkmont’s history as a highly 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 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 historic graveyard on the property market with a wooden arch, with many headstones containing quartz chunks. Quartz, while beautiful, was used in the early 20th century as a superstitious way to keep resting spirits below ground; it’s eerie. The graveyard’s inhabitants are challenging and upsetting to learn about, as many infants and children are buried below ground. One of the gravestones, belonging to an Arville McCarter, reads ‘Sweet peace at last, as we go traveling home…” A peaceful but still chilling sentiment left behind by one of Elkmont’s earlier residents.


Have you ever heard of Elkmont? The National Park Service has preserved 19 acres of this once little logging town, and 19 historic structures still stand for visitation. Jake’s Creek and Little River run through Elkmont and offer a spectacular way to explore the town. These rivers are practically begging to be explored with natural beauty at the top of their offerings. Along the banks, visitors can see stone walls and chimneys that mark the former locations of cabins. The Elkmont Troll Bridge also stands here, considered one of the Smoky Mountain’s best-hidden gems! This legendary little slice of history still stands today in the arms of the Smoky Mountains, just waiting for you to stumble upon it. Are you interested in visiting the ghost town for yourself and seeing the abandoned buildings? To get there, take US-411 from Gatlinburg to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Drive toward Cades Cove for about 7 miles until you see a sign for Elkmont Campground. You’ll turn here until you see the ranger station about 4 miles down the road. Take a left at the sign for Elkmont Nature Trail, where you’ll find a parking lot. The lot is within walking distance of the historic structures in Elkmont. For more Tennessee haunts, Check out our article on Cade’s Cove and the creepy cabins that remain!


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