The Elkmont District in the Smokies

Spence Cabin
Spence Cabin

The first time I saw Elkmont was on a solo camping trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As I laid in my tiny tent, I heard thunder. Lightning seemed quite close. Then I saw a light from somewhere in the void. A house? A flashlight from a confused hiker? My imagination? This was June 2001, just before the last residents moved out of the Elkmont District, north of Elkmont Campground and only a few miles from Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Today, I walk up toward Jakes Creek Trail and find a row of old, deserted houses. Most are falling apart, with their roofs caved in, the door hanging on with one hinge. Windows are broken or nonexistent. One house still has an old sheet for curtains. A few screens cover the window openings.

On Society Hill
On Society Hill

Yet, green shoots from daffodils are interspersed with wild flowers. Exotic plants were always considered better than natives. However, unlike many home sites in the park, no one planted boxwood bushes. Paths were put in between houses, leading to the creek. This was Society Hill, one of three neighborhoods of summer homes owned by influential Knoxville families.

The Little River Trail starts on Millionaire Row, at the Spence cabin, built in 1928, one of several properties owned by Alice Townsend (1883-1969). She was quite a businesswoman, starting with her marriage to Colonel Townsend, twenty-nine years her senior.

Her husband, Colonel W.B. Townsend from Pennsylvania had logged the area and brought in the railroad, first to take out the wood and then to bring in the tourists and summer people.

Appalachian Club
Appalachian Club

Daisy Town on Little River ends in the Appalachian Club, the best preserved of the three areas. So much of Elkmont’s allure is in the imagination. During the summer, children played in the rivers. Mothers spent time socializing with each other. Men came up on weekends.

The remains of the Wonderland Hotel stand further down from the modern campground and up a hill. Because the hotel wasn’t located near a creek, it may not have been seen as desirable as the Appalachian Club. Men who were snubbed by the Appalachian Club started the Wonderland. Here, several cabins stand precariously on a loop path. They’re in even worse conditions than those below. Today the Wonderland Hotel area doesn’t have roads linking the cabins.

I’ll be leading a hike for Wilderness Wildlife Week (WWW) on Little River Trail and Jakes Creek Trail on Thursday May 19. This is one of many activities scheduled out of Pigeon Forge. Check it out and come on out.

PS Just as I was posting this, a fire finished off the Wonderland Hotel. Here’s what the park press release said.

An 8,600 square foot structure associated with the former Wonderland Hotel in the Elkmont area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park burned to the ground on Tuesday, April 19. The fire was reported by a park visitor at approximately 7:15 a.m. The park fire management crew and Gatlinburg Fire Department responded to the area. 
The Wonderland Hotel Annex was a two-story frame building that set approximately 10 yards from the main hotel structure. The building contained 24 guest rooms, a common area, and a screened porch.  In December 2006, the structurally-failed Wonderland Hotel was removed after a selection of historic materials was salvaged for conservation in the park’s museum collection. The annex structure was slated for removal pending available funding.

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