Lost Mountain Towns

Abandoned home in Elkmont, TN.
Abandoned home in Elkmont, TN.
Wonderland Hotel
Wonderland Hotel

A hiker in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was surprised to find a ghost town in the Tennessee wilderness named Elkmont, including a small hotel called the Wonderland.

When vast tracts of land were incorporated into the park decades years ago, several towns went with them. Park developers seldom had the time or money to tear them down, so these lost mountain towns remained standing to be overgrown by the forest. They serve as gaunt reminders of days gone by.

Other towns were covered by the impoundment waters of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s hydroelectric reservoirs. Perhaps the largest of these was the town of Butler, Tennessee (pop. 430), covered by Watauga Lake in 1948. Residents moved to higher ground and built the present-day town of Butler, but their descendants still gather on the second Sunday of August to celebrate Old Butler Days and reminisce about life in the submerged town.

Old Butler, TN
Old Butler, TN

In 1983, TVA authorities drained the lake to make repairs on the dam and the abandoned town became visible again. Many of the old structures were still standing, though the streets were deep with mud. This prompted one tourist periodical to dub Old Butler “The Town That Wouldn’t Drown.”

Abandoned mountain towns are much like their former residents in that respect: Time and natural elements may alter their visage, but their spirit lives on.

One thought on “Lost Mountain Towns”

  1. My mother, Ruth Ownby, used to run back and forth on the covered porch of the Wonderland Hotel when she was a little girl. She is the daughter of Lawrence and Katie Ownby who lived up the road from the hotel and summer homes of the seasonal tourists . Mr. Ownby stocked the river with speckled trout and his little daughter Ruth would sell fresh picked tomatoes from their garden door to door. Now Ruth is 92 years old and has a framed picture of the Wonderland Hotel in its’ heyday hanging on her wall. She was so pleased I happened across this picture. She still remembers the echoes her little bare feet would make on the porch of the Wonderland Hotel.

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