Elkmont ghost town: Smoky Mountain tales that will give you goosebumps

Abandoned building in Elkmont

Interior of an Elkmont district home in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by ehrlif/stock.adobe.com)

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It’s easy to be brave in the light of day, wandering around the empty lodges of the Elkmont ghost town in the Great Smoky Mountains.

It’s easy to peer into the dusty corners and ignore the dancing shadows when the sun rests high above, illuminating the forest and ramparting the weaknesses that fall prey to silly things like ghost stories.  

But then the sun goes down and the moon is shrouded by the clouds. The campfire flickers blue and the lanterns sputter.

A cold wind rustles through the leaves. And our impudent bravery becomes a much rarer commodity. 

As a good Hoosier, I was raised with a grandmother who could recite James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphan Annie” from memory.

And I can tell you, in the daylight, I never feared the witch tales about ghosts that came and snatched up naughty children. But today, at near 46 years old, put me in the mountains near Elkmont as the sun goes down, and my old Nanny’s favorite parable comes sprinting back to the front of my mind. 

“The goblins will get you, if you don’t watch out.”

Abandoned home
An abandoned home in the Elkmont district (photo by ehrlif/stock.adobe.com)

The Elkmont ghost town in the Smoky Mountains

The Elkmont ghost town is the former logging town and resort community near the Sevier-Blount County line in Tennessee. 

In the daylight, Elkmont is a historic relic lost to time.

Elkmont was established in 1908 by the Little River Lumber Company as a base for mining operations. Not surprisingly, considering working conditions at the time, it was an especially dangerous place to live and work.

Various logging and train accidents claimed lives and limbs, seeding the potential for angry ghosts – if you believe in that sort of thing – or good ghost stories, if you don’t. 

Two years later, the company began selling plots of land to rich families from Knoxville and the surrounding area for hunting and fishing cabins. By 1912, a resort known as Wonderland Hotel was built on a hill overlooking Elkmont.

In 1919, a group of elite businessmen bought the resort and rechristened it the Wonderland Club.

For the next two decades, it hosted East Tennessee’s wealthy socialites in what I can only assume were creepy parties. (Picture the guy in the bear suit in “The Shining”).

When the national park came, Elkmont’s cottage owners were given lifetime leases that were converted to 20-year leases in 1952.

The leases were renewed once in 1972, but the renewal was denied in 1992.

The buildings were scheduled to be torn down. However, they were saved when they were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Elkmont cabin
The ruins of an abandoned holiday home in Elkmont in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Steve/stock.adobe.com)

The abandoned buildings in the Elkmont ghost town

According to the National Park Service (NPS), the park had to decide which buildings to preserve. The decisions were based on cost, environmental impacts, the feasibility of preservation and the importance of the structure.

Specialists within the park service and from contracted firms worked on the project. 

As a result, 19 of the cabins associated with the Appalachian Club are being preserved by the NPS today. A map of the buildings can be found on the NPS website.

One by one, each cabin will be refurbished until all cabins near the Appalachian Clubhouse appear as they were in Elkmont’s prime.

The buildings that were not marked for preservation have been removed. Yet, these buildings were not completely erased from the landscape.

Traces of their existence remain.

The Elkmont ghost town hike

Visitors can explore the Elkmont area on foot.

If you travel along the Little River Trail and the Jakes Creek Trail, you’ll find a series of stone chimneys and foundations.

These are the remains of the demolished buildings.

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

The Elkmont Campground in Tennessee

Nearby, the Elkmont Campground is the largest and busiest campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Reservations are required to camp in Elkmont Campground, which is typically open from mid-April to late November.

You can make a reservation for the Elkmont campground online at Recreation.gov.

Why Elkmont can be creepy at night 

The Elkmont area by day is a history lesson. At night, it’s a living Rorschach test.

There have been reports of the nagging apparitions of railmen and loggers in the area.

I’m a skeptic by nature. I don’t really believe in haints or ghosts or goblins. I don’t believe in spirits that linger in the places where their souls were wronged. 

But. 

I remain my Nanny’s boy, and when the sun goes down and the wind comes up, my skepticism flickers with the firelight.

Read Also: Haunted places in the Smoky Mountains: Ghost stories from Gatlinburg

Abandoned home
Another abandoned home in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by ehrlif/stock.adobe.com)

Elkmont ghost stories: Is Elkmont haunted?

While I am a skeptic, I can concede that if there are such traumas a soul can suffer in life that may be bound to a place in death, Elkmont is as likely a spot as any.

And if you do see a lost soul in Elkmont, chances are it belongs to one of the workers who lost their lives on the mountain, such as Daddy Bryson and Charles Jenkins. 

On June 30, 1909, Bryson was driving a train stacked with logs heading to Townsend from Elkmont.

As the train approached a sharp curve, Jenkins, the brakeman, applied the brakes, trying to account for the rails being wet with rain from earlier in the day.

The NPS reports that brakes didn’t have enough sand and passengers, and crew jumped to safety.

Bryson and Jenkins remained aboard the train and paid with their lives. 

It’s tragic to be sure.

But it doesn’t seem quite so egregious as to warrant more than a century of hauntings, right?

Let’s put it another way. Why haven’t Jenkins and Bryson gone into the light? 

The answer is about as East Tennessee as it gets. 

Tourists.  

Tourists flocked to the wreck, not to mourn the lives lost but to gawk, gander and get photos of the wreck. 

Somewhere, in the great beyond, Daddy and his brakeman may have been like “Oh, Really? Y’all tourists want a show? We’ll give you a show.”

So, at least theoretically, the souls of the two trainmen have stuck around Elkmont for the sole purpose of giving tourists the Large Marge treatment.

Have you visited Elkmont? Do you know of any ghost stories? Let us know in the comments below.

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4 thoughts on “Elkmont ghost town: Smoky Mountain tales that will give you goosebumps”

  1. I used to work at Elkmont for the National Park Service. This story comes from my coworker at the time. Bill had been cleaning the Appalachian Clubhouse after a family reunion the previous day. He came to the maintenance building looking pretty shaken up. When he first arrived at the Clubhouse, he noticed an old man in the historically preserved part of the cabin. He was about to tell the guy that he wasn’t allowed in there. The man looked up and then vanished. Bill quickly opened all of the doors hoping that visitors would come inside so that he wouldn’t be alone. Bill never gets scared. A little while later, the lady responsible for the family reunion showed up because she forgot something in there the day before. Bill told her about the old man’s ghost that he saw earlier. She pulled out an old photo from the family reunion and asked, “Was this the man?” The hair on the back of his arms stood up. The man in the photo was the same man he saw. He was wearing the same clothes as the ghost. Turns out, it was the lady’s great grandfather, who was a pharmacist. He was buried in the clothes he was wearing. He drowned nearby in Jake’s Creek in 1914. I guess he wanted to be at the family reunion too.

  2. We go up there everytime we visit. We have a voice recorded on video that was not ours!😳

  3. Great place, stayed there for a week. Never new about the ghost. It was very cool fishing off of the rocks those bungalows were built on.

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