A New Beginning for an Old Ghost Town?

An abandoned cabin in Elkmont, a former town in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo: Brian Stansberry/Wikimedia Commons)

Tucked away in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee is a ghost town filled with abandoned, rundown bungalows. Many years ago, Elkmont was a vacation destination where well-to-do travelers sought respite from the summer heat. Today, the remaining cabins have been preserved as the Elkmont Historic District, part of a large campground run by the National Parks Service.

This area of Elkmont was once called 'Society Hill' and became the property of the National Park Service in 1992. (Photo: Brian Stansberry/Wikimedia Commons)

When settlers arrived in Elkmont in the mid-1800s, they built farms and cabins. Logging was key to their survival, and they logged ash, poplar, cherry and hemlock trees. They used horses to drag cut logs to the nearby Little River, where the wood was sent downstream for processing.

This was the start of what would become the Little River Lumber Company, which began in 1900 and encompassed 80,000 acres of land at its peak.The company eventually started the Little River Railroad Company, which built a railroad between Elkmont and Townsend to transport logs.

Abandoned vacation cabins in Elkmont. (Photo: Steven C. Price/Wikimedia Commons)

After a while, the railroad added an "observation car" on which tourists from Knoxville could ride for $1.95 each way. They'd pack picnics, ride the train for 2.5 hours and spend the day in Elkmont. This was the start of the tourism industry in Elkmont.

By 1907, Elkmont was the second-largest town in the county with a post office, schoolhouse, hotel, church and more. In 1910, the Little River Lumber Company sold 50 acres to the Appalachian Club, which built a hotel, cottages and a clubhouse to further boost tourism.

Elkmont began as a logging town before it became a summer resort community. (Photo: Dennier/Wikimedia Commons)

Families flocked to the riverside community that earned the name "Society Hill," where they would swim, canoe, play horseshoes, go to dances and listen to live music. Visitors could enjoy meals prepared in the main dining hall, or they could prepare their own food in their cabins.

By 1926, much of the area had been cleared and the logging operations ended. Prominent residents lobbied for the area to be established as a national park, and in 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established.

An abandoned vacation cabin in Elkmont. (Photo: Kevin O'Mara/Flickr)

Some residents continued to live on the park's land and signed agreements to lease the property from the park. Elkmont remained a resort community, though fewer people visited after World War II. Some cabins were demolished and others sat empty, but the main hotel continued to entertain locals and guests alike. It remained open until 1992, when the residents' leases expired and they moved away.

Cabins in Elkmont Historic District of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Photo: Joel Kramer/Flickr)

Visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park can hike to Elkmont Historic District and see the 17 cabins that NPS is in the process of preserving (pictured above). You also can see remnants of the demolished buildings — stone chimneys, fireplaces and walls.

While you can take self-guided tours through some of the cabins, others that aren't safe have "no trespassing" signs. The NPS restoration work is in its early stages and will take another few years to complete, so the area still has a ghost town vibe.

The Appalachian Clubhouse was restored back to its original 1930s glory. (Photo: National Park Service)

The Appalachian Clubhouse (above) has been restored to its original 1930s appearance, featuring beamed ceilings, stone fireplaces and a porch with rocking chairs and a view of Jakes Creek. The building often is rented for meetings, weddings and other celebrations.