There’s an old springhouse in the Smokies that looks like something straight out of a fairy tale
If you’re like me, and you’ve lived in the Smoky Mountains for a considerable amount of time, there’s a chance you’ve heard about The House of Fairies – an unusual moss-covered structure located off the beaten path in the Smoky Mountains.
But now the Fairy House is starting to attract nationwide attention, becoming a tourist attraction in its own right, with hundreds of people who visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attempting to seek out a photo op with the unique landmark each year. So what exactly is the Fairy House, why has it become so popular and how does one find it? You’re in luck because we’ve got the scoop!
The House of Fairies is actually an old spring house in the Smoky Mountains. It was built by Louis Voorheis, a wealthy Yale graduate who wanted a place to escape crowds into the mountains. It now is the property of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It got its fame because it looks like something that came out of a fairy tale. The House of Fairies is accessible via the Twin Creeks Trail, but it requires a small detour.
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What is the Fairy House?
Despite the nickname, you may be disappointed to learn that the structure was not built by, or inhabited by fairies. At least not to my knowledge. It simply earned that nickname due to its unique look. And it does look like something straight out of a fairy tale. Pictures rarely do it justice. But the lack of real-life fairies doesn’t make its origins any less fascinating. In fact, the structure is steeped in local lore and history. It’s a story that features the true tale of a privacy-seeking, wealthy Yale graduate who wouldn’t live to see the completion of a meticulously planned 38-acre estate. An estate that now belongs to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The original Voorheis Estate
Louis Voorheis, a wealthy Yale graduate from Cincinnati wasn’t interested in permanence. He wanted privacy – a place to escape crowds and the modern world. It would be a mountain retreat that he could bend to his own whims. A paradise for himself and his wife. His influence on the land lasted less than 20 years. And yet, that influence lingers still. The Voorheis Estate in the Smoky Mountains sits off of Cherokee Orchard Road, approximately a mile from Gatlinburg. The 38-acre site was under development from 1928 until Voorheis’s passing in 1944. According to the National Park Service, the Voorheis Estate is an example of rustic-style landscape architecture.
While appraising the property for donation in 1933, officials noted fourteen structures. Structures included a main house, two guest cabins, a horse barn, an apple barn, a pump house, three septic tanks, 1800 feet of piping and valves, machinery, 800 linear feet of waterline and two 750-gallon water tanks. Most notably, it also included a stone springhouse.
Voorheis’s plans for the property
The estate was already a working farm with several buildings when Voorheis swept down from the North and purchased the property in 1928. An inventor with an interest in hydroelectric power, Voorheis picked the site and christened it Twin Creeks Orchard because of those creeks, both of which are generated from nearby Mt. LeConte. The design he created captured water from the natural mountain streams and springs.
“Soon after the purchase, Voorheis began the construction of a dam on LeConte Creek for hydroelectric power,” the National Park Service explains. “Over the next four years, he constructed an assemblage of rustic style buildings and naturalistic settings which emphasized rustic wooden bridges, a waterwheel powered mill, flower and vegetable gardens and stone retaining walls.”
Voorheis even built homes for the craftsmen who maintained his gardens and orchards and worked the grounds for him. Louise Cole Little, whose father worked for Voorheis, told the Knoxville News Sentinel in 2016 that he “cared very much for the people who worked for him. Mr. Voorheis spared no expense.” At that time, his site was in the planned boundary for the proposed national park.
It’s unclear if Voorheis understood that his ownership would be short-lived at best. Tennessee Park Commission officials worried that the manufacturer, socialite and philanthropist would be difficult to work with. However, Voorheis maintained cordial relations with the government. He and Ethel M. Keinath gifted the property to the future park in return for a lifetime lease. His was the park’s only donation of privately owned land.
What remains of the estate today
Today, the mountains are slowly reclaiming their territory. Out of the 14 original structures, the NPS is working to preserve some of the main buildings. However, many others are already gone. Much of the stonework is in the process of being consumed by the earth or covered by vegetation. Still, many structures remain and are easily accessible from the Twin Creeks Trail. But it’s consistently the little stone springhouse – or as locals call it, The Fairy House – that seems to garner the most attention.
I think the way it is hidden back in the woods fires the imagination. It creates visions of woodland fairies and water sprites. The old spring house is a brick arch over a stone room with a wide door gaping like an open mouth leading into the side of the mountain. The rustic appearance and the architecture are primitive and stunning. For example, moss-covered stone steps lead up beside the springhouse and the remains of a rotting wooden ladder decaying to the side. The moss gives the structure the odd feeling of both life and abandoned decay. This likely inspired the House of Fairies moniker.
How to find The Fairy House
The House of Fairies is accessible via the Twin Creeks Trail. However, it isn’t along the proper trail. As you pass the office for Discover Life in America (1316 Cherokee Orchard Rd, Gatlinburg, TN), you’ll see a sign that points to a small path that veers off to the side of the trail. If you follow that, you’ll see the old spring house with a simple open door built into the side of the mountain.
Other hidden gems in the Smokies
If you enjoy seeking out old homesteads and relics, you’ll also want to check out the Elkmont region and ghost town along the Elkmont Nature Trail. If you travel along the Little River Trail (4 miles) and the Jakes Creek Trail (2.7 miles), you’ll find a series of foundations, stone chimneys and stone walls. These are the remains of the once-thriving vacation resort. Additionally, there are several log cabins to see along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, including the Noah “Bud” Ogle cabin.
But even with all these hidden gems, the Fairy House remains one of my favorites. Have you seen the House of the Fairies in Gatlinburg? What secret spots have you found hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains? Let us know in the comments!
RELATED VIDEO: Where Is the House of the Fairies in Gatlinburg?
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