Left to its own devices, time undoes the works of man.
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 Mountains National Park.
But Louis Voorheis wasn’t interested in permanence. He wanted privacy – a place to get away from crowds and the modern world.
It would be a mountain retreat that he could bend to his own whims. 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.
However, it lessens each passing year as the mountains reclaim what isn’t being actively preserved.
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. The estate featured the main house, two guest cabins, a horse barn, an apple barn and a number of landscape and water features.
Today, Voorheis’s ashes are buried somewhere up there, already lost to time.
The Voorheis Estate in the Smoky Mountains
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 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.”
The design he created captured water from the natural mountain streams and springs.
Voorheis 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 not 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 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.
This was the park’s only donation of privately owned land.
How many structures did the site originally feature?
While appraising the property for donation in 1933, officials noted fourteen structures. Structures included 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.
Today, the mountains are slowly reclaiming their territory.
The NPS is preserving some of the main buildings. However, many others are already gone.
Much of the stonework is in the process of being consumed by earth or covered by vegetation.
Still, many of the structures remain and are easily accessible from the Twin Creeks trail.
What is the Fairy House in Gatlinburg?
The stone springhouse hidden back in the woods fires the imagination. It creates visions of woodland fairies and water sprites.
This structure in the Great Smoky Mountains is known as the House of the 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 rustic appearance and the architecture is 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 inspires the House of Fairies moniker.
Where is the Fairy House in Gatlinburg, Tennessee?
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, you’ll see 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.
What are some other hidden gems in the Smoky Mountains?
There are several more hidden gems to be found in the Great Smoky Mountains.
For instance, there’s an old hiker’s tunnel known as the Thomas Divide Tunnel near the Clingmans Dome observation tower.
If you enjoy seeking out old homesteads and relics, be sure 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.
Even with all these hidden gems, the Fairy House remains one of our 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!
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