Left to its own devices, time undoes the works of man.
So it is that the mountains are taking back what an eccentric, wealthy Yale graduate from Cincinnati wrought in the rock and forest in the years before the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
But Louis Voorheis wasn’t interested in permanence. He wanted privacy – a place to get away from crowds and the modern world.
He wanted a mountain retreat he could bend to his own whims, a place where he could use wood and stone to create a paradise for himself and the secretary who became his wife.
Voorheis’s influence on the land lasted less than 20 years and yet that influence lingers still, though it lessens each passing year as the mountains reclaim what isn’t being actively preserved.
The Voorheis estate (a 38-acre site developed from 1928 to his death in 1944) sits off of Cherokee Orchard Road, approximately a mile from Gatlinburg.
Voorheis ashes are buried somewhere up there, already lost to time.
The history of the Fairy House in the Great Smoky Mountains
It was already a working farm with several buildings when Voorheis swept down from the North and purchased the property in 1928 before the federal government could buy it.
At that time, the site was in the planned boundary for the proposed park, but it’s not entirely clear 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 deal with, but Voorheis maintained cordial relations with the government.
He and Ethel M. Keinath, whom he married in 1934, gifted the property to the future park in return for a lifetime lease.
An inventor with an interest in hydroelectric power, Voorheis picked the site, which he christened Twin Creeks Orchard because of those creeks, both of which generate from nearby Mt. LeConte.
“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.”
“His design focused on creating unique stone garden features that captured water from the natural mountain streams and springs.”
Who was Louis Voorheis?
Voorheis was nothing if not industrious. He fostered a little community, building 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.”
While appraising the property for donation in 1933, officials noted fourteen structures, including a pump house, three septic tanks, 1800 feet of piping and valves, machinery, 800 linear feet of waterline, a stone springhouse and two 750 gallon water tanks.
Much of that work has been lost to time. The park service is preserving some of the main buildings but many others are already gone.
And much of the stone work and water features that weren’t taken down by the park service are in the process of being consumed by earth or covered by vegetation.
Where is the Fairy House in the Great Smoky Mountains?
Today, the mountains are slowly reclaiming their territory.
Still, many of the structures remain and are easily accessible from the Twin Creeks trail, like the water mill and the Voorheis estate house.
But it’s one particular structure, the stone springhouse hidden back in the woods, that fires the imagination and creates visions of woodland fairies and water sprites.
This structure in the Great Smoky Mountains is known as the House of Fairies. 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 architecture is primitive and stunning with moss-covered stone steps leading up beside the springhouse and the remains of a rotting wooden ladder decaying to the side.
The moss is slowly reclaiming the site, giving the structure the odd feeling of both life and abandoned decay and likely inspiring the House of Fairies moniker.
The House of Fairies isn’t along the proper trail. As you pass the Natural Resource Center, you’ll see a small path that veers off from the main trail.
If you follow that, you’ll see the old spring house built into the side of the mountain.
If you’re unsure of the path to take, it’s not a bad idea to ask at the Resource Center.
Have you seen the House of Fairies? Let us know in the comments!