Local lists favorite spooky abandoned attractions, homesteads in the Smokies
As a local, I’ve seen a lot of business come and go. I’ve also stumbled across a few forgotten places in the mountains. Sometimes I find them above the streams and along the old roads. They are forgotten places that generations of people used to live and work and call home. Then something happened. Maybe a financial hardship. Or maybe something as mundane as the family grew apart and moved away. With no one left to tend it, the farmhouse has fallen into disrepair. I often say “if these walls could talk”. However, my friends, the walls have boring, comfortable stories. Sit down and listen to the lonely brick chimney. Here are some of my favorite abandoned places in the Great Smoky Mountains:
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1. Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus (Pigeon Forge)
On Sugar Hollow Road, on private property, sits decaying grandstands and a metal roof, ready for a water show that will never return. The Water Circus came to Pigeon Forge too late. Had the show brought its 8.5 million gallon man-made lake to Tennessee a decade and a half earlier, it would have been a wonder. However, by late 70s, the world had changed. Skiing pyramids and water acrobatics belonged to the Beach Boys and Frankie and Annette. The show lasted only about four years, bowing out in the early 80s so Bartlett could invest in a more modern endeavor: Tommy Bartlett’s Robot World. Today, Robot World is known as the Tommy Bartlett Exploratory, an interactive science center operating in Wisconsin Dells.
2. Fun Mountain (Gatlinburg)
Fun Mountain had it all. Entertainment. Food. Carnival rides. Games. But today, all that remains of the attraction is dreams and an empty, rusting lot that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Twilight Zone. It isn’t clear why Fun Mountain didn’t make it in Gatlinburg. It’s possible that it was bad marketing and perhaps bad timing. It may have been the right idea at the wrong time. For example, they likely didn’t allow enough funds and didn’t account for the massive growth at Dollywood, which ate up market share like Pac-Man swallowed yellowed pellets. Notably, the remains of the old, abandoned park are visible from a public parking lot in downtown Gatlinburg.
3. Elkmont (Sevier County)
Settlers began arriving in the Elkmont area, about six miles from Gatlinburg, in the mid-1800s. They were homesteaders, hunters, squatters and small-scale loggers. Over the years, they created the Little River community where logging was king. By 1907, thanks to the Little River Lumber Company, Elkmont was a thriving town with a post office, schoolhouse, hotel and general store. About that same time, tourism in Elkmont was on the rise with the Appalachian Club and the Wonderland Club, which later formed the Wonderland Hotel, which was opened to the public. Unfortunately, the short-sighted business practices of the Little River Logging Company resulted in ruin.
By 1925, the forests had been mowed down. It was a Lorax situation. Then the logging company ceased operations in Elkmont and continued cutting operations in other parts of what would become the national park. Without the logging industry, the rail shut down and jobs in the area dried up. The last residents of Elkmont, who had lifetime leases to live in the park, have since passed away. Today, several buildings are being restored. Still, not all the history was preserved. The buildings not marked for preservation were removed. Yet, these buildings were not completely erased from the landscape. Traces of their existence remain. Along the Little River Trail and Jakes Creek Trail are a series of stone chimneys and foundations: The remains of the demolished buildings.
4. Little Greenbrier School (Sevier County)
Built in 1882 and in use until the 1930s, the schoolhouse was the result of an agreement between the members of the Greenbrier community and Sevier County. If the residents of Greenbrier would build the school, the county would pay for a teacher. Located near Metcalf Bottoms, the school served the famous Walker Sisters, a group of spinsters who became famous in the 1940s and 50s for clinging to their old mountain ways even as the national park took over. Also, they lived about a mile from the school following an old gravel and dirt road.
5. ShuckStack Fire Tower (Robbinsville)
The trip to the Shuckstack is not for the faint of heart. The trail follows a section of the Appalachian Trail and is for experienced hikers. The last quarter mile of the 3.4 mile trail is a steep climb. Still, the views are spectacular. Built in 1934 by the Public Works Association, the 60-foot tower was staffed by the National Park Service and served as a fire lookout covering much of the Western part of North Carolina. It remained in use until the 60s when the fire towers went out of service and were replaced by aerial surveillance. Over the years hikers have climbed the tower for spectacular views. However, it has fallen into a state of disrepair and I cannot recommend trying to ascend the tower itself. The hike is worth it just to see the historic landmark, which may not be there much longer.
6. Ghost Town in the Sky (Maggie Valley)
Virginia businessman R.B. Coburn brought the vision to Maggie Valley for an amusement park themed after the Wild West. Ghost Town in the Sky had stores, a saloon and a church. It opened in 1961 and quickly became one of the premier attractions in North Carolina. However, by the late 80s, there was a serious decline in interest for the Wild West. Several attempts were made to revive the attraction, including the introduction of the Red Devil Roller Coaster. Still, Ghost Town in the Sky was seemingly doomed to the fate of its very own name. By the late 90s, many of the rides were either frequently shut down or completely closed. Attendance fell off, and money dried up. Finally, it closed around 2002. Since then, ownership has exchanged hands a few times. Briefly resurrected in 2007, the park ultimately closed its doors once again not long after.
7. Pressmen’s Home (Hawkins County)
Finally, if you’re willing to go a little further to explore the region’s forgotten history, I recommend Pressmen’s Home in Hawkins County. This was the former headquarters for the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union of North America from 1911 to 1967. Pressman’s home is a throwback to another era of American industrialization. For more than 50 years, Pressman’s home was a self-sufficient community with a trade school, a sanitarium, a post office, a retirement home and its own hydroelectric power plant. Then, the community was born of the idea of George Berry, a Hawkins County native who grew up to be president of the Pressmen’s Union. He convinced union leaders to purchase the Hale Springs Resort. Until the facility closed in 1969, union members could retire to Hawkins County. Today, most of the buildings have fallen into disrepair and a few have burned down.
Finally, remember that if you’re exploring any abandoned places, respect private property and don’t venture too far. Did you know of any of these abandoned places? Let me know in the comments.