Did you know there's an abandoned resort town in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? The remnants of this old Gatlinburg, Tennessee town are right outside of the Elkmont campground and predate the National Park itself. If you're a fan of ghost towns, consider visiting the remains of what was once a booming vacation destination.
Appalachian pioneers inhabited this hidden spot in the Little River Valley before being established as the town of Elkmont in 1908 by The Little River Lumber Company. Founder Wilson B. Townsend decided to start publicizing the area as a getaway for outdoor enthusiasts after all of the success he found from the logging camp. Townsend did such a good job making business boom in the area that a neighboring town was even named after him.
Vacationers could take the train that connected the town to Knoxville for under $3 and get to Elkmont in under 3 hours. The Lumber Company sold some of its land to the Appalachian Club, a group of elite businessmen from Knoxville, of which Townsend was a member. They built up a series of cabins that became a vacation destination. That same group established The Wonderland Hotel in 1912 as an upscale resort hotel. A few years later, the Wonderland Club was created, and all of a sudden, the area became a resort community for the Tennessee elite.
The tourist business was booming. Unfortunately, the popularity of the town was tied to the lumber industry because the lumber train between Tennessee towns is what made it so accessible. Since most of the surrounding area had already been sourced, Elkmont lumber went into decline by the mid-1920s.
When the railroad discontinued its Elkmont trips, this vacation town started to fade away. But one of the founders of the Appalachian Club didn't want the area to go to waste. Colonel David Chapman was instrumental in selling the park to the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association. By 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formally established.
The Appalachian Club and Wonderland Club continued to operate for years. The Appalachian Club was discontinued in the '50s and the Wonderland Club lasted until the early '90s. Still, the National Park Service entirely took over the area by 1992, when the last resident of Elkmont's lifetime lease finally expired. That same year, the Wonderland Hotel also closed its doors for good. In 1994, the Wonderland and some of the rustic cottages were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, honoring the history of Elkmont.
The NPS put a plan in place to preserve the Elkmont ghost town. Seventeen cabins and the Appalachian clubhouse became the Elkmont Historic District. Unfortunately, the Wonderland Hotel's main building fell in 2005, but the plan is to fix up all of the buildings in disrepair by 2025. They will all be accessible to visitors in the form of a museum.
While you wait for the museum to get finalized, you can explore the Little River Trail and Jakes Creek Trail to see some of the remnants of the old buildings. Hikers exploring the area can see some of the cabins that have been fixed up and get the full ghost town experience from some of the crumbling remains of this once vibrant community.
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