With our honeymoon approaching, Lowry and I were trying to plan stuff for us to do in Gatlinburg, TN. Lowry had seen an article about an abandoned town in the Smokies called Elkmont. On our last day in Gatlinburg we set out to find it. There is quite a bit of information on the web ever since Jordan Liles’s video [here] went viral, so figuring out how to find it was a simple Google search. Quite a few other media companies picked up on his story, passed it around a bit so that others have been able to add their own information to it. Here’s my contribution.
The first permanent settlers appeared around the 1840’s and settled along Jake’s Creek. Only 2 of those cabins remain today, Avent cabin and Levi Trentham cabin (these have been preserved). By the 1880’s John English, a logger, began his industry in the area. Due to flooding, English folded the company in 1900, but in 1901 Colonel Wilson Townsend picked up the endeavor. Elkmont began as a temporary logging camp, and resembled a depression-era shanty town. It had a transient hotel, post office, a commissary, maintenance sheds, and shacks. Thus Elkmont started as the base of operations for the Little River Lumber Company in 1908. By 1910 the company began selling plots of land to people from Knoxville who enjoyed the mountainous areas (they then started the Appalachian Club just a bit south of Elkmont). In 1911, Townsend gave Charles Carter several acres of land on a hill overlooking Elkmont with the stipulation that Carter build on it within one year. In 1912, Carter made good on the promise when he opened the Wonderland Hotel. Billed as a resort lodge, the hotel contained 50 rooms with an extensive balcony looking out over the valley and Meigs Mountain. Soon, the area evolved into a private getaway for Knoxville’s elite. By 1919, several people who had been rejected into joining the Appalachian Club and getaway bought the Wonderland Hotel and started the Wonderland Club, erecting cottages along the way. In 1920 the idea floated up about making the area into a National Park. Little River Logging Company concluded business in the Elkmont area in 1925. Fearing a lawsuit from the residents in Elkmont, Wilson Townsend, in the secret dark of night, removed the railroad tracks leading to Elkmont. The residents were outraged, but Tennessee Governor Austin Peay, who owned a cottage here as well, had a road built where the railroad was. In 1926, Colonel Wilson Townsend sold 76,000 acres of land to the state of Tennessee making the first sale towards it becoming a National Park. In 1934, Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formed – the first in the United States, and most of the cottage owners at Elkmont were given lifetime leases. When the last person in the structure would pass away, the lease would transfer to the federal government. In 1952, the leases were converted into 20-year terms, renewed in 1972. But in 1992, the National Park Service refused to renew the lease, and under the park’s General Management Plan, the cottages and hotel would be demolished. In 1982, the General Management Plan called for the demolition of all the propeties, to allow nature to take over. In 1994, special status was given to the Wonderland Hotel and a few of the cottages and they were listed under the National Register of Historic Places. In 2005, the Wonderland Hotel collapsed from a structural failure. Parts of the hotel deemed to have historical value were removed and the rest cleared, leaving only the annex and a chimney fall. In its 2009 Final Environmental Impact Statement for Elkmont, the National Park Service announced plans to restore the Appalachian Clubhouse and eighteen cabins in the Appalachian Club section. The remaining structures will be carefully documented and removed
Make sure to check my source links below for older pictures of when the club was in use as well as a personal account of one of it’s visitors.
The Abandoned Cabins of The Elkmont Region of The Great Smokey Mountain – AbandonedPlaygrounds.com
Wonderland Hotel – DMarlin.com
Wonderland Hotel – OffBeatTenn.com
Beginning of Our Love Affair With Smoky – ToBeholdTheBeauty-al.BlogSpot.com