July 6, 2015

[Travel Itinerary] Elkmont Historic District, Tennessee

  • By: Nancy Tinker
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Daisy Town sits at the heart of the historic Elkmont community and includes the Appalachian Clubhouse.

Nestled in the lush Little River Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the Elkmont Historic District. The site has played multiple roles over many years. It was home to East Tennessee’s earliest settlers, a 19th-century logging camp and railroad line, and the Smokies’ most popular public campground. Elkmont is also the park’s most controversial historic district.

The story begins in 1908 when the Little River Lumber Company established the town of Elkmont as a base for logging operations and site of a railroad devoted to timber removal. Within two years, 86,000 acres of the Smokies had been cut, and the lumber company began deeding land to Knoxville businessmen who constructed cabins as weekend retreats and summer homes.

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The Appalachian Clubhouse has been restored to its 1930s appearance by the National Park Service.

Over time, Elkmont became a seasonal, privately held resort community of 74 modest cabins and outbuildings, two hotels, and a social clubhouse. Once a bustling summer enclave, Elkmont provides unique architectural evidence of the tourism boom of the early 20th century -- a movement that produced much of the impetus for the expansion of the National Park System.

With the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1937, all residents and commercial enterprises located within the new park were required to move outside of its boundaries. Elkmont residents, however, acquired long-term leases from the National Park Service (NPS) and continued to occupy family-owned cabins. With the expiration of these leases in the early 2000s, NPS proposed that all of Elkmont’s buildings be removed and the landscape be allowed to return to wilderness.

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Elkmont's Hale Cottage.

Following lengthy engagement with the National Trust and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, NPS opted to retain 19 of Elkmont’s buildings, restoring two properties for day-use rental and opening 17 others for self-guided tours. The village’s remaining 55 buildings will be documented and removed. The enclave is now interpreted as a museum community, relaying the story of Elkmont from its days as a logging camp through its history as a seasonal resort.

Begin your visit in Daisy Town, the heart of the Elkmont community, and the location of the Appalachian Clubhouse. Restored by NPS to its 1930s appearance, the building features beamed ceilings, massive stone fireplaces, and an expansive porch furnished with rocking chairs and a view of the tumbling Jakes Creek. The clubhouse was designed as a dining/social hall for Elkmont families and their guests. Today, the building may be rented for meetings and celebrations.

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Elkmont's Sneed Cabin.

Leaving the Appalachian Clubhouse, the cabins of Daisy Town stand shoulder to shoulder, lining the single-lane road leading through the village and displaying a wide range of architectural styles and building materials. Be sure to look for Adamless Eden, a miniature log building constructed in 1921 as a playhouse, as well as the Levi Trentham Cabin, a log dwelling constructed in 1820 – now Elkmont’s oldest structure.

Located along the banks of the Little River, Elkmont’s Millionaire’s Row features a number of rambling dwellings, including Spence Lodge, a whimsical pink cottage constructed in 1928 by former Little River Lumber Company owner Colonel William Townsend for his wife Alice. Today, the cabin has been restored by NPS and is a popular venue for weddings, corporate retreats, and family celebrations. Additional cottages, including the Murphy and Cambier cabins also line the Little River. They, along with the neighboring Faust and Young cabins, are scheduled for removal.

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The Spence Lodge was built by the former owner of the Little River Lumber Company in 1928.

Nearby Attractions:
Two popular trailheads, Jakes Creek and Little River, are located near Elkmont and may be accessed near Elkmont’s Appalachian Clubhouse. The Elkmont Campground, once the site of the Elkmont logging camp and the Little River Railroad, adjoins the Elkmont Historic District and offers traditional outdoor camping.

The communities of Gatlinburg and Townsend are located a short drive from Elkmont, offering lodging, rafting trips, restaurants, musical entertainment, and more.

To Reach Elkmont:
From Gatlinburg, take Highway 441 to the Sugar Lands Visitor Center. Turn right and travel 4.5 miles, watching for signs leading to the Elkmont Campground on the left.

Have additional historic travel recommendations in Elkmont Historic District? Tell us in the comments.

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