6 abandoned places in the Smokies you didn’t know existed

Ghost Town in the Sky

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

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You can find them throughout the mountains, above the streams and along the old roads.

The forgotten places that generations of people used to live and work and call home.

Then something happened. Maybe a financial hardship. Maybe a personal tragedy.

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 or the barn roof has collapsed. Maybe all that’s left is a hard pad, the only reminder that a home used to sit there, filled with warmth and light.

We often say “if these walls could talk” but, my friends, the walls have the boring, comfortable stories.

Sit down and listen to the lonely brick chimney, reaching to the sky and held up by a scraggly mess of brush and gnarly trees.

The mountains are full of former homesteads, forgotten farms, lost cemeteries and dilapidated dreams that could not withstand the simple, grinding, relentless passage of time.

Here are some of our favorite abandoned places in the Smoky Mountains:

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)

6. Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus (Pigeon Forge)

On Sugar Hollow Road, near the Life Changers International Church, which is private property, sits decaying grandstands and a metal roof, ready still, for a water show that will never return.

The Water Circus came to Pigeon Forge too late.

Had the massive water show, which began in Wisconsin in the 50s, brought its 8.5 million gallon man-made lake to Tennessee a decade and a half earlier, it would have been a wonder.

But by late 70s, the world had changed.

Skiing pyramids and water acrobatics belonged to the Beach Boys and Frankie and Annette. They had no place in the disco era, even in the decidedly un-disco Smoky Mountains.

The show lasted only 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.

Read Also: The short-lived act of Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus in Pigeon Forge TN

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)

5. 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. 

The remains of the old, abandoned park are visible from a public parking lot in downtown Gatlinburg.

Read Also: Fun Mountain Gatlinburg: What remains of the abandoned park today

Elkmont in the Smoky Mountains
Elkmont is an interesting area to explore and imagine the early settlers in the mountains (photo by ehrlif/stock.adobe.com)

4. 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, about two-thirds of the land owned by the company had been clear cut. Essentially the forests had been mowed down. It was a Lorax situation.

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.

Read Also: There’s a troll bridge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse. The Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse
The Little Greenbrier Schoolhouse opened in 1882 and is now part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by ehrlif/stock.adobe.com)

3. 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.

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)

2. 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. But 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 we cannot recommend trying to ascend the tower itself.

Still, the hike is worth it just to see the historic landmark, which may not be there much longer.

The park service is likely to take it down as it is increasingly a safety hazard and a liability.

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

1. 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. The shows included shootouts, can-can dancers and mountain music.

Ghost Town in the Sky opened in 1961 and quickly became one of the premier attractions in North Carolina.

But 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.

However, by the late 90s, many of the rides were either frequently shut down or completely closed. Attendance fell off, and money dried up.

It finally 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.

Read Also: When will Ghost Town in the Sky reopen? The latest update

Bonus: Pressmen’s Home (Hawkins County)

If you’re willing to go a little further to explore the region’s forgotten history, we recommend Pressmen’s Home in Hawkins County.

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.

It’s a monument to the former power of tradesmen and unions.

It’s a ghost town now. However, 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. It was converted into a haven for members of the union.

Until the facility closed in 1969, union members could retire to Hawkins County. They could live among fellow members of their guild.

Today, most of the buildings have fallen into disrepair and a few have burned down. For that reason, they tend to frown upon people trying to explore the grounds.

As you explore, respect private property and don’t venture too far.

Did you know of any of these abandoned places? Let us know in the comments.

Click here to read the web story version of this article.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at [email protected] for questions or comments.

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11 thoughts on “6 abandoned places in the Smokies you didn’t know existed”

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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

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

  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 !!!!!

  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.

  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…

  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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