7 Abandoned Places in the Smoky Mountains That Will Give You Chills

entrance to ghost town in the sky in north carolina

Ghost Town in the Sky lived up to its name and became a true ghost town (photo submitted by Gary and Carol Cox)

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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Tommy Bartlett's water circus in Pigeon Forge
The man-made lake that was once the home to Tommy Bartlett’s water circus is now dried up (left archive photo via attraction brochure; right, contributed photo)

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.

The abandoned attraction fun mountain
You can still see what is left of Fun Mountain from a parking lot in Gatlinburg (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

a buiding yet to be restored at elkmont
Elkmont is full of history and features cabins that are being restored (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Inside greenbrier schoolhouse
A look inside the Little Greenbrier School (photo by Marie Graichen/TheSmokies.com)

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.

The Shuckstack Fire Tower
The Shuckstack Fire Tower is on the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Brian Rogers/shutterstock)

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.

Many of the structures from Ghost Town in the Sky remain on the property (photo submitted by Gary and Carol Cox)

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.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at editor@thesmokies.com.

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Disclosure: We have used and experienced all the products and activities recommended on The Smokies. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products and experiences featured.

19 thoughts on “7 Abandoned Places in the Smoky Mountains That Will Give You Chills”

  1. I love the Smoky Mountains. I remember going to Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus when I was young. It was really fun. I have seen the empty lake bed and seats where it used to be. So sad.

    Reply
  2. I too love the whole Smokey mountain area . I lived there from 1991 through 1994 was amazing to get out to see all of the history and mystery of the smokies . I started visiting with my grandparents when I was a young boy . We went to the water show several times a it was on my grandparents main to do list . I’m in my early fifties now and it breaks my heart to know today’s children will never know the great shows and attractions of days gone by.

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  3. I shared this with my wife who had been to Ghost Town and Cades Cove. I too, love the mountains. I was born in Chattanooga and have family in the area. I’m 70 yrs old and miss the old days. Thank you for the memories.

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  4. We love the smokies Been going for 50 years sometimes 2 times my children love it to they go two and three times a year

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  5. loved ghost town . remember the shows . remember riding the tram to top and watched the gun fights and the saloon

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    • My family crossed the mountain from pigeon forge every summer ..We’d load up the truck bed to the rim with kids in the family and neighborhood for a day at fun-filled frontierland …It’s something I’ll always remember from my childhood

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  6. All Ghost town needs is Proper Advertising and Marketing. I spent my teenage and early Adulthood going to Ghost town several times a yearalong with my Best friend and his frienfamily…I’m in my mid Fifties now , Open Ghost town and I know ALOT Of people that will still go !!!!!

    Reply
  7. I have some videos that I took of some of the homes before they were torn down in Elkmont…where the chimney graves trail along Jakes creek. Some needed to be torn down, some of them could have been repaired.

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  8. I went to Ghost town in1969. We were on vacation with 2 other families from IL. Took a caravan of Campers down South. I have pictures of my family in Ghost town and also riding up the mountain on a ski lift. We also went on a huge slide down the mountain…

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  9. Oh, so many good memories of Ghost Town in the Sky.
    I was so eager to arrive at the top. The trip up the trim seemed forever.
    My biggest memory was seeing the true Indians in their native dress.
    To this day I start looking for the special native Indians as we begin our trip from Pigeon Forge thru Gatlinburg and then Cherokee.
    I pray these memories never change.

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  10. Surprised no mention of Frontier Land in Cherokee. Harrah’s Cherokee casino resort sets there now. 8/21/2023

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  11. I’m surprised Christus Gardens didn’t make your list. Having been visiting the Burg/PF/Sevierville my whole life, it was a great, informative stop my family made almost each year, on our vacations. Its closing hurts my heart and is just one example of an era fading; one of Biblical learning. With places like this closing their doors, kids today are missing out on what really matters.

    Reply
  12. My family crossed the mountain from pigeon forge every summer ..We’d load up the truck bed to the rim with kids in the family and neighborhood for a day at fun-filled frontierland …It’s something I’ll always remember from my childhood

    Reply
  13. My husband and I were fortunate to take our kids to Ghost Town to enjoy the rides, gunfight and other activities before it closed permanently. So sad that our grandchildren won’t be able to enjoy moments like that. We took them to Elkmont a couple of years ago and even though there was quite a bit of construction they enjoyed the visit and learned about the history.
    I truly hope someone will restore some of those places so our grandchildren and their future children will be able to visit them and learn true history.

    Reply

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