Date Explored: October 9, 2011
Elevation: Around 2,200'
Weather: Mostly Sunny, 59°
GPS: 35.65353, -83.580036
Of all the years I have been going to the Smoky Mountains since 1988, I never realized the historical significance of Elkmont, Tennessee. I have passed it several times, thinking that it was simply a great place to camp.
It was only recently that I discovered the historical significance of this place, and I had to check it out myself. But before I give you my personal experience on this area, here is a brief history of Elkmont.
Elkmont, Tennessee, was founded in 1908 and was largely based on the logging industry. A few years later, affluent individuals from the Knoxville area began to vacation around Elkmont and established The Appalachian Club near the logging camp.
Several luxurious vacation cottages and even a fancy hotel (the Wonderland Hotel) were built at the site, and it became one of the top destinations for the wealthy during the next decade.
A logging railroad existed there from about 1901 to 1925, until it was removed and replaced by a road.
As the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was being created in the mid-1920s and into the 1930s, Elkmont was unique in the fact that the government exempted the area from eminent domain. The luxurious cottages of the Appalachian Club were sold to the government for half price in exchange for 20-year leases to the original owners.
Most of the leases were renewed every 20 years until 1992, when the park service refused to renew them. Two leases remained until they expired in 2001.
The cottages that remained were scheduled for demolition until 1994, when the entire area was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the cottages have been neglected, and many are in a dilapidated state. However, some of the buildings are reportedly going to be saved, while others will be demolished or moved.
The present-day campground was established in the 1960s where the logging operations were. The Appalachian Club cottages are located several hundred yards from the campground today and continue up the creek for a good distance.
Back to my personal experience, I was excited to finally explore this place after hearing about it a year ago. However, time was short, as we had a full day of touring other parts of the Smokies.
We walked about a hundred yards up the Elkmont trail (where the road used to be) and saw two different homes. These cottages were clearly vacation homes and were quite fancy for the time period. But they were abandoned, falling apart and in a state of disrepair.
We wanted to spend more time taking in all the structures, including the remains of the Wonderland Hotel (It collapsed in 2005.), but we were running out of time and had to move on.
One thing I should note about these buildings: Obviously, it is unsafe to enter them, and we did not, although I was able to take some video of inside the structures through windows and doors. But, more importantly, it is against the law to "enter or tamper" with these buildings, according to the information sign at the trailhead. So if you decide to explore Elkmont yourself, please respect the historical significance of these structures and let them be.