The Eerie Standalone Chimneys in The Smoky Mountains You Need To See

standalone chimneys at elkmont

Standalone chimneys remain scattered throughout the abandoned town of Elkmont like gravestones (photo by Paul Adams Photography/shutterstock.com)

Found deep within the Smoky Mountains is an abandoned town with an unusual sight – a collection of standalone stone chimneys

As someone who grew up about 20 minutes away from Elkmont – maybe 30 if there’s traffic – I was aware of remnants of a strange settlement dating back to the days before the National Park. But the history of it all, the loggers, the Appalachian Club, and the Wonderland Hotel eluded me. The ghosts of Elkmont linger in the mountains. They exist in the 18 remaining cabins of the Appalachian Club. They exist in the mysterious standalone chimneys that hint at the community that used to be. The chimneys serve as a solemn reminder of a people that have come and gone.  

In the days before the National Park, the Elkmont community lived multiple lives. Elkmont was a logging town, hosting a Smokies version of a gold rush. Additionally, Elkmont was a getaway of sorts for Knoxville’s well-to-do families. Today, visitors can walk in their footsteps, imagining what life was like before the park. 

Elkmont chimney remains
The Euro-American settlement of Elkmont began in the 1840s. Some of the old structures have been restored, others have been all but erased with time (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

About Elkmont 

The earliest history of Elkmont dates back to the native people 5,000 to 8,000 years ago. Euro-American settlement began in the 19th century specifically in the 1840s. And it began with the Ownby and Trentham family farms along Jakes Creek.

The tall, straight trees of the Smokies proved enticing to large-scale mining operations. The town itself was founded by the Little River Lumber Company in 1908. The Lumber Company – which owned large swaths of land – began diversifying its portfolio in 1910 selling plots of land to outdoors enthusiasts who would soon establish the Appalachian Club to the South. In 1912, the Wonderland Park Hotel – the name of which always gave me ‘The Shining’ vibes – overlooks the town. The resort hotel only lasted seven years. It was bought by a group of businessmen who turned it into the Wonderland Club, where the wealthy of the Roaring 20s socialized.

As the park was born, and disagreements over land abounded, the owners of Elkmont’s cottages took lifetime leases. In 1952, they were converted to 20-year leases and renewed again in 1972. The leases were not renewed in 1992. The original plan was to remove the cabins. But in 1994, the Hotel and several of the cabins were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The debate over the structures raged for years. By 2009, the NPS announced plans to restore the Clubhouse and 18 cottages. The rest of the buildings were removed, including the remnants of the Wonderland Annex. 

The Spence Cabin and the Appalachian Clubhouse were renovated in 2010. They are available for reservation through the National Park Service website

a stone chimney stands alone in the forest
Today, the Elkmont site is home to all sorts of hauntingly beautiful historic structures, like this standalone stone chimney (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

About the Chimneys

Though the other buildings that made up the Appalachian Club came down, many of the chimneys remain. They stand a bit like tombstones, honoring what Elkmont used to be, a tribute to the quality of the work done by our forebears. When you see them, those things are solid. Barring outside influence, they aren’t coming down anytime soon.

Why are they still up? I haven’t found an official explanation. But I have to believe one exists in a news article somewhere when they took down the rest of the cabins. I assume that the dilapidated cabins were a safety risk while the chimneys are not and so some practicality won the day. It seems like park officials – in tearing down the old cabins – recognized the level of craftsmanship and decided it would be a sin to desecrate it. Or maybe they only paid for a certain level of demolition and tearing down the chimneys would have been more trouble – and cost – than it was worth. 

A sign for the Appalachian club in Elkmont
The Elkmont Historic District History includes the Appalachian Club (photo by James Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

How to find it

From the Townsend entrance to the National Park, turn left at the Wye onto Little River Gorge Road. You’ll drive past the entrance to Metcalf Bottoms and, a little further on, will see the Elkmont Road and signs for the Elkmont Campground.

From Gatlinburg, turn right at the Sugarland Visitor Center into Fighting Creek Road (aka Little River Gorge Road). The entrance to the campground – via Elkmont Road – will be on your left.  The campground is laid out essentially in two halves, but the road naming system is confusing. Elkmont Road A, Elkmont Road B and so on. Stay with the original Elkmont Road – also known as Little River Road – until you reach the southernmost point of the loop. There you will see the Jakes Creek Trailhead Parking and the Trailhead itself. Walk along the Jakes Creek and Little River trails for the trip back through time, the Elkmont Ghost Town. And also to see the chimneys standing sentinel to the past.

Much of the immediate history before the national park is gone. The pioneer era is well maintained by the life of the early 1900s is mostly gone. The Elkmont Cabins bridge that gap a little. The oldest dates back to the 1850s but the cabins in the park were used and renovated up into the 1990s by their owners and then later by the parks. They aren’t modern buildings. But they offer a hint of what life in the mountains could be, even into the roaring ’20s. And the Ghostly Chimneys remain to stand guard. To serve as a reminder of what was lost even though they stand among what was saved. 

Are you planning a trip to the Smoky Mountains? Be sure to check out our coupons page for area promos.

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