Tour The Abandoned Tennessee Ghost Town Where Millionaires Vacationed

A forgotten vacation destination that was formerly favored by the richest families in East Tennessee is concealed inside the forests of the Great Smoky Mountains. Elkmont, which is now reduced to an eerie ghost town, formerly bustled with quaint log homes and opulent facilities; the town even had a Millionaires’ Row. Let’s go back in time and learn why this opulent location was so quickly abandoned in this image by Leland Kent for Abandoned Southeast.

Mountain Escape

National Park Service

The Little River Lumber Company established Elkmont in 1908 as a logging hamlet, although city inhabitants had already started coming here in the late 19th century to escape the oppressive heat of Knoxville and other surrounding cities in Tennessee. To pass the sweltering summer days in the cool mountain air, they would caravan up to the pastoral paradise.

Tourist Attraction

National Park Service

Yet it wasn’t until 1910, when the Little River Lumber Company began offering land parcels to Knoxville’s elite, that tourism in Elkmont truly took off. A daily railroad service linking the metropolis and the charming mountain village had been created by the company the year before. Day-trippers and vacationers would ride in open observation cars to make the most of the breathtaking views.

Affluent Visitors

Brian Stansberry / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 3.0]

Rich people from Knoxville came to the area, buying up acreage and building opulent vacation cottages. They established the exclusive Appalachian Club in 1910 and constructed a large clubhouse. The 3,000 square foot building served as a meeting space for members and their visitors and played home to several glamorous events.

Exclusive Hotel

Graphic Arts Agency, Knoxville, Tenn / Wikimedia Commons [Public domain]

A group of Knoxville merchants founded the private Wonderland Club in 1919 after purchasing the Wonderland Hotel, a posh 50-room resort lodge, which had been built in 1912. The two-story hotel, which was more opulent than the Appalachian Clubhouse, was situated just over the Little River Railroad station.

Rustic Interior

National Park Service

As can be seen in this incredible old photo of the Wonderland Hotel lobby taken in 1938, the lodge, like the other structures in Elkmont, was decorated in a rustic style with enormous stone and brick fireplaces, hardwood flooring, and clapboard walls. Country-style furnishings, such as cozy rocking rockers and wooden sofas, were everywhere in the rooms.

Scenic Spot

Library of Congress [Public domain]

From the train station to the hotel, there were stone stairs, and tourists like to take pictures on them. At the top of the stairs, rocks from the Little River were set in concrete to form the word “Wonderland.” The steps are still there, although it’s difficult to see them because of the weeds and deep vegetation.

Grand Retreat

Historic American Buildings Survey [Public domain]

As shown in this image from sometime in the 1920s or 1930s, vacationers and their guests gathered around the stone fountain in front of the hotel. Even though the fountain has endured to the present day, it is fighting Mother Nature for survival, so you’ll need keen eyesight to find it.

Sad Demise

The Jack Coker / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Unfortunately, this is all that’s left of the luxurious Wonderland Hotel. The structure collapsed in 2005, and what was remained of it was destroyed by fire in 2017 in what was likely an arson assault. A number of cottages were also set on fire. The Appalachian Clubhouse was originally destroyed by fire in 1934, but it was rebuilt that same year and has since been preserved for future generations.

Elkmont’s Heyday

Abandoned Southeast

Elkmont was the exclusive summer retreat for Knoxville society during the 1920s and 1930s, when the resort town was at its peak. Several cottages were constructed along the way to the Appalachian Clubhouse on the now-abandoned lanes. Daisy Town was the name given to this area of Elkmont. Other areas of the resort were given the names Millionaires’ Row and Society Hill because of the extravagant log homes there.

Oldest Cabin

Abandoned Southeas

The Levi Trentham cabin is the oldest building in the community and one of the oldest still-standing houses in the Great Smoky Mountains. The log structure was built in 1830 and housed mountaineer Levi Trentham, known as the “Prophet of the Smokies,” who acted as a guide for numerous tourists visiting Elkmont. After his passing in 1932, it was moved to Daisy Town where it now serves as a guest residence.

Traditional Design

Abandoned Southeast

The cabin’s original location was in the neighborhood around Jake’s Creek. Despite his advanced age, Trentham used his carpentry abilities to help construct a number of log homes in Elkmont between 1910 and 1920. Several of the buildings built during those decades included architectural elements from the mountain man’s old residence, such as dovetail corners and outside stone chimneys.

Artist’s Studio

Bms4880 / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY-SA 3.0]

The Elkmont region’s second-oldest building is the Avent Cabin. The cottage, which was constructed in 1845, was purchased by Frank Avent and his wife Mayna Treanor Avent in 1918. Mayna Treanor Avent was an artist who used the home as a studio and created some of her most renowned works there.

Society Hill

Abandoned Southeast

On the banks of Jake’s Creek lies a region known as Society Hill. Rich Knoxvillians constructed spacious holiday homes with a view of the peaceful river. Regrettably, a large number of the abandoned homes in this area have fallen into disrepair, with the majority of the structures slowly slipping down the slope.

Spindle Top

National Park Service

Colonel WB Townsend, the company’s founder, directed the building of Spindle Top, a stunning chalet in the Swiss style, one of Elkmont’s best structures. The colonel and his wife Alice spent several summers at the chalet. After that, newspaper editor Loye Miller rented the cottage, also known as the Miller Cabin.

Ramshackle Interior

Abandoned Southeast

If this picture is any indication, the chalet is now in a terrible condition of repair. In a tale of riches turned to ruins, garbage covers the flooring, and windowpanes are gone from the French doors that open onto the porch. Yet, the building itself seems pretty sturdy, in contrast to the flimsy houses of Society Hill that flank the river.

Millionaires’ Row

Abandoned Southeast

Colonel WB Townsend and his wife Alice also rented out numerous opulent nearby homes, including Faust Cabin and Cambier Cabin. This neighborhood, known as Millionaires’ Row, was the most sought-after in Elkmont, along with Society Hill.

Spooky Cemetery

Abandoned Southeast

Elkmont also featured less affluent neighborhoods that housed basic homes for loggers as well as modest holiday cottages that Knoxville’s less fortunate people either purchased or rented. The village also had a church, a general shop, a post office, a theater, and even a cemetery.

Visitors’ Campaign

Abandoned Southeast

Paradoxically, Elkmont’s collapse was caused by attempts to protect the area’s wildness. The town’s troubles began in 1920 when David C. Chapman and cottage owner William P. Davis, who had been inspired by Yellowstone National Park, joined forces to push for the establishment of a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains.

National Park Status

Abandoned Southeast

In 1925, the Little River Lumber Company surrendered 76,000 acres of property to the State of Tennessee after the two men were successful in convincing state legislators to designate the region as a national park. Several long-time inhabitants in the area of Elkwood received eviction notices, but property owners in Elkmont were given the choice of selling their cabins for 50% off in return for lifetime leases.

A Turn For The Worse

Ehrlif / Shutterstock

In 1952, the lifetime leases were changed into 20-year leases, and they were renewed one more in 1972. The leaseholders’ luck, however, was running out when the National Park Service declined to extend the agreements in 1992. The Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, fought against allowing private property ownership in national parks, which had an impact on the outcome. The cottages and other buildings were abandoned, and the landowners were essentially evicted.

Demolition Thwarted

Barbara L. Slavin / Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

The Wonderland Hotel and other noteworthy buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994, creating the Elkmont Historic District, which put an end to a 1980s plan that called for the removal of all buildings in Elkmont in order to restore the region to nature.

Dilapidated Buildings

Abandoned Southeast

The threatened historic homes were protected, but little to nothing was done to keep them from falling into disrepair and becoming increasingly dangerous. The Wonderland Hotel fell in 2005 as a result of the powers that be’s inactivity after years of discussing the fate of the ghost town.

Restoration Plan

William Silver / Shutterstock

15 years after Elkmont’s best structures were designated as significant historical monuments, restoration work finally began in 2009. The town’s first structure to undergo reconstruction was the Appalachian Club, which was brought back to its former splendor that year.

Stalling Work

Abandoned Southeast

In 2009, the National Park Service also revealed plans to renovate 19 cabins deemed historically significant, leaving 55 of Elkmont’s 74 cottages planned for removal. Nevertheless, only a small number of cabins have been repaired to date, perhaps as a result of a lack of financing, and many of the buildings that were supposed to be demolished are still standing, albeit barely.

Completed Projects

National Park Service

The National Park Service currently rents out the lovely pink Spence Cabin for weddings and other occasions, as well as the formerly dilapidated Levi Trentham Cabin and the Avent Cabin, which are the oldest buildings in Elkmont.

Revamped Cabins

Abandoned Southeast

The Creekmore Cabin has also been renovated. The Creekmore family held the property, which was constructed about 1910. Just the Mayo Cottage and the cabin’s servants’ quarters have been saved for future generations in addition to the aforementioned residences.

A Crumbling Ghost Town

Abandoned Southeast

Several of the other historically significant holiday homes now sit vacant, remnants of a bygone era. Visitors can see them from the outside, but the dangerously hazardous interiors are completely off limits. Although there is cause for optimism, Elkmont’s future as a whole is still uncertain. If this deserted ghost town can be revived, only time will tell.

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