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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Elkmont: Then and Now

This children's playhouse, known as Adamless Eden, was built in 1921 and is situated on the Addicks Cabin property in the Daisy Town section of Elkmont.

Adamless Eden Child's Cabin in Elkmont

Nineteen of the 74 historic structures in the Elkmont area of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park are slated to be preserved under a final plan issued by the National Park Service in May, 2009. The decision ends a seven-year process during which the agency looked at everything from razing all the structures to preserving them. A former logging camp, Elkmont became a vacation destination in the early 1900s before the park was established. The structures continued to be used until 1992 and some after that. Park personnel state that the final plan "strikes a balance between preserving natural and cultural resources." The remaining 56 buildings will be removed and the sites returned to a natural state.
To read more about this plan, click the links below.

Record of Decision

This Record of Decision includes a statement of the decision made, synopses of other alternatives considered, the basis for the decision, a description of the environmentally preferable alternative, a discussion of impairment of park resources or values, measures to minimize environmental harm, and an overview of public involvement in the decision making process.

Memorandum of Agreement

This Memorandum of Agreement is between the National Park Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Tennessee State Historic Preservation Officer documenting the proposed treament and management of the Elkmont Historic District.

To read all the pertinent documents, click the link below:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Elkmont Historic District General Management Plan Amendment and Environmental Impact Statement

Partner Profile: Documenting Elkmont (NPS-Great Smoky Mountains)

The Spence Cabin is believed to have been built in 1928 as a summer retreat in Elkmont.

Click here to see additional photos of the Spence Cabin as well as other Elkmont homes and structures in our gallery.

The following story was sent to me by Calvin Hill whose relatives lived in Elkmont. Calvin also recalls in his story his good times spent at Elkmont as well. Enjoy..........

Lee Higdon Moves to Tennessee

By: Calvin D. Hill

My grandfather Lee Higdon grew up in North Carolina. One area they lived in became the area where Fontana Lake is located. He told me the story of how he moved to Tennessee. It seems the logging company he worked for in North Carolina wanted him to go to Elkmont, Tennessee to help set up logging camps. They were in the process of building a railroad into Elkmont so they could haul the logs out of the mountains by rail.

I'm not sure of the year but when he traveled to Elkmont it was by hiking as there were no roads between NC and Tennessee in the area. I suspect the year was around but after the turn of the Century (1900}. They walked across the mountains and when they arrived in Elkmont area they build log cabins for office and sleeping quarters for the lumber company crew. He said he had no intentions of moving to Tennessee as he was planning to return to NC as soon as the camp was running smoothly.

I remember him saying, "after being in Elkmont for about two weeks he met my grandmother!" I remember him saying "that was over 50 years ago so I reckon I have stayed! Stayed in Tennessee he did and except for a brief period in the late 1920s to early 1930'S He stayed in his beloved mountains. He married my grandmother, Julia Ownby who was a sister to Lem Ownby they lived on the Jakes creek side of the two streams that join together in Elkmont. Lee and Julia had 3 children, Ollie Mae, Myrtle Faye, & JT

The brief period was around the time the park was beginning to be discussed and it was thought that all the residents would have to move. He moved the family to Granite Station area of Anderson County about 1929 or 1930. By about 1935 all but my Mother Ollie Mae moved back to Elkmont and Lived in a cabin up Jakes Creek from Lem Ownby.

Lee worked for the Park Service for many years and performed many different Jobs for them. Late 1940’s he was on one of the fire towers maintained by the service. He saw and plotted a fire only to realize that it was very close to his house. He went to the fire only to arrive at his place that was totally consumed in flames. He did not know if his family had gotten out of the house but was relieved to meet his family on the path down toward Lem’s place. After the house burned he was able to acquire a life time lease on the cabin in Elkmont which he lived there the last 20 years of his live and Faye and JT continued until forced out when the cabins were closed. Another Job Lee did at one time was run the Chimney camp grounds on 441 hwy between Gatlinburg and Newfound Gap. He ran a commissary type grocery store and post office at one time. It was located on the site of the camp grounds that were eventually built by the park service at Elkmont.

He actually worked on the road crew that built that road including the three tunnels. One story was he was in one tunnel and went outside to get a tool for the crew when a collapse occurred and killed one of the workers.

Another story about Lee involves a farm he bid on but could not agree to the selling price being a few dollars apart on price. This was before Gatlinburg was Gatlinburg and the farm became the property The Greystone Hotel was built on in downtown Gatlinburg, as we all know that farm today.

When Lee’s house burned and He acquired the rights to the cabin in the Appalachian Club area he became the caretaker for all the Cabins in the club. Owners would call and tell him to prepare the cabin for their pending visit. He kept the keys and winterized the cabins when necessary as well as performing routine maintenance. He would make additions to the cabins such as adding bedrooms or remodeling kitchens. Constant plumbing problems were the normal things he handled. It was a family job as Julia, Faye and JT each had their areas of work they handled. The last 20 years of Lee’s life his primary interactions with people were with the cabin owners and their families. These were business owners, lawyers, doctors, college professors, so it always seemed to me that Lee was much better educated than his formal schooling would support. I attributed that to the people he associated with on a regular basis plus he certainly had a stress free life living in the mountains he loved to me he always seemed to be at peace.

Lee was a notoriously bad driver so for the last 15 to 18 years he wasn’t allowed to drive by his family. There was a certain period when he depended on other people for transportation. Faye finally obtained a driver’s license and they bought her a used Chrysler. She was probably in her 40’s before getting that first license. It was a hoot to see her driving that car as she was very short person and even with a pillow she would peer out the windshield by looking through the steering wheel. JT was out of the question as a driver as he was way close to being totally legal blind. Lee’s last vehicle was a beat up pick-up truck, which he beat up more each time he drove it. Up Jakes creek from the Club area the road required you to "ford" the creek on the way to Uncle Lems.

On each side of the fording area was a large rock so it was common for Lee to hit one of the rocks every time he attempted the "fording". In Mother’s words on a two-lane road her father had a hard time "keeping it between the ditches".

Uncle JT was a bit of a party animal as he would hang out with the club members and drink most of them under the table. His favorite expression when a party was about to happen was "Elkmont will shine tonight". Some where in my mementos I have a bumper sticker they produced one year for one of the parties held at the Appalachian club house.

For many years Elkmont was a special place and I certainly have many fond memories of spending a week or two there every year in the summer between school. My absolutely favorite trip to Elkmont was during the Winter when the trees were bare of leaves and you could see the rock cliffs. Of course the Spring when the mountain laurel was in bloom was very hard to beat when going to Elkmont. It’s a shame the Club was closed and the cabins were vacant when I was last there the memories still live.

Another story from Calvin Hill about his grandfather...........

My Grandfather
By: Calvin D. Hill
Lee J Higdon was born in North Carolina on November 19, 1883 & died in Elkmont, Tennessee on April 21, 1969.
In January 1968 I went to New Orleans to the Sugar Bowl and therefore did not make my annual trip to Elkmont for Christmas until sometime in January. When I saw him he said, "I hear you have been to New Orleans" I said "yes sir," He said " I wonder if it's the same as when I was last there". This
absolutely floored me since I had no idea he had ever been out of the Mountains
except to come to Anderson County to live for a short period in the Twenties and to visit us in Clinton a couple to three times a year.
You've been to New Orleans I exclaimed! He said two or three times. What were
you doing in New Orleans? I pressed on. He said we floated logs down the Little
Tennessee River, into the Big Tennessee River, into the Ohio River, into the Mississippi River and terminated the log run in New Orleans. I said how was it when you were last there. He said there wasn't much to it, some houses, warehouses, and not much else. The streets were mud streets and we were always there in the springtime so the streets were knee deep in mud. They had sidewalks on hinges that you folded down to walk on the sidewalks. Im' on the edge of my seat by now. And I ask when were you last there? He rubbed his chin and responded. I'm not sure if it was 1900 or 1901! I told him there has not been a lot of change it's still a different place.
Since that day I can't fly over or drive over one of those rivers without thinking
about my grandfather being part of a crew that floated logs to market down those
rivers. In retrospect I recall how excited he was talking about the "Sputnik" space
flight. That's understandable when you realize his lifetime.

Here's a really nice story by Ina Hughs, "Firefly Spectacular Display Doesn't Mask Elkmont Eyesore" (, about the synchronous fireflies in the Elkmont area but please read the comments below the story. They speak to the good times enjoyed in the Higdon Cabin (number 3 on the map) as recalled by Cindy Hill Springs of her Grandmother, Ollie Higdon Hill, and her aunt and uncle, Faye and J. T. Higdon, followed by other comments, one by her cousin, Lee Hill.

"It's been a few years since I've been to Elkmont and it broke my heart to see the condition it was in. In my world Elkmont wasn't for the elite, it was my heritage. It was a magical place for a child to grow up." (Cindy Hill Springs)

Fred Brown penned a story, 'Idyllic' Elkmont Passing Into The Shadows about Elkmont and the efforts of Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, which in 1994, placed Elkmont on the National Register of Historic Places. Dickinson's family owned Cabin No. 6 (the Creekmore Cabin) on land purchased by her grandfather, Walter Van Gilder, owner of Knoxville Glass Co.

Here's another comment from someone who loved her summers spent in Elkmont: "I was one of the lucky ones - grew up spending my summers in this cabin. Learning to respect and enjoy history and the unique environment. Image - your child being able to run all day without a care - other than if they will run into a bear or skunk! Spending their time reading books in the middle of a stream or creek instead of watching TV or playing video games. Learning to swim, tube, and fish in one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. Yes, I was one of the lucky ones. My great grandfather purchased this cabin in the early 1900's and at least 4 generations of extended family enjoyed this cabin. It was fondly known as Cabin #19, Camp Comfort, the Thomas Cabin and Home!

Elkmont structures include:

Appalachian Clubhouse

Daisy Town (Cabin Nos. 1 through 15)

Society Hill (Cabin Nos. 16 through 41)

Millionaire's Row (Cabin Nos. 42 through 49)

Wonderland Club Hotel, Annex and Servants' Quarters (and Structures 58-1A through 58-9I)

 Elkmont Existing Condition

Figure 2-1 depicts the Existing Condition at Elkmont

Click on either map to enlarge for better perusing.

Figure 2-5 depicts the Site Plan for Alternative C

The following article was written by Willard Yarbrough and published in the "Knoxville News-Sentinel" on Sunday, August 29, 1965.

"Elkmont, Rooted in Smoky Park History, Is Proud of Tradition

Levi Trentham and Ben Parton struck off up Jake's Creek. They carried heavy powder rifles, and long hunting knives for skinning. Their quarry was a Smoky Mountain bear.

Now, the bearded Trentham and his cabin-dwelling neighbor Parton had hunted bear in the Elkmont Country since they were big enough to tote their weapons. They grew up long before the turn of the 20th Century in Elkmont and had heard bear tales about Davy Crockett who had hunted in their mountain.

Trentham and Parton found their cave. Parton elected to flush the bear and crawled on his stomach into the den. The wizened Uncle Levi - who wasn't called the Sage of the Smokies for nothing - waited at the mouth of the cave.

Suddenly from within the cave came a thunderous roar, one that would have drowned out the loudest thunderclap over the highest Smoky peak. Parton had found his bear and the fight was on.

Human screams were louder than those of the beast. Thirty minutes later, a bleeding mountain man inched his way to daylight, dragging his quarry behind him.

Paying scant attention to parton's ripped flesh and tattered clothing, Uncle Levi stroked his beard in contemplation. Then Uncle Levi casually asked his friend, "You-a-gettin' my bear?" Parton fairly screamed his answer: "Yore bear, hell. Go in and get your own damn bear!"

Was It Named For Elks?

The Trenthams, Partons and Ownbys were refreshing mountaineers who inhabited Elkmont Country in the 19th Century, long before the coming of the Elkmonters from Knoxville who founded the Appalachian Club in 1907, erected a rustic clubhouse-hotel and their own log cottages.

Appalachian members and the natives learned to get on famously, and each side has left its legends, deep in Smoky Mountain soil.

How did Elkmont get its name? There are several versions. The most consistent, however, as recalled by Mrs. Maidee Deloach Adams and Earnest Trentham, is that it was named for the Knoxville Elks Club.

Elks Club members hunted and fished in the area around 1900, before the Little River Railroad came.

And as for Jake's Creek, whose babbling waters lull cottagers to sleep, 'tis said it was named for Jake Parton.

Elkmonters, now in their fourth generation, continue to abide in their cabins deep within the Smoky Mountains National Park. Thirty-one of the 47 cottages are occupied either by their "originals" - or by their children and grandchildren who spent the summers of their formative years fishing for trout or swimming in Jake's Creek and the East Prong of Little River, hiking Elkmont trails, and learning about nature and mountain folk simply by living among them.

Real Beginning Was In 1901

This is the story of Elkmont, from the beginning till now, about the people there and the role its Knoxville founders played in realization of their grandest dream: Creation of the Smoky Park itself.

Their names remain prominent today in the business, professional, social and civic life of Knoxville and East Tennessee. Examine the ABCs: Andrews, Anderson, Ashe, Arnett, Baumann, Brandau, Brownlee, Brownlow, Broughton, Burns, Boyd, Briscoe, Byers, Cochram, Cook, Carringer, Deaver, Dulin, Evans, Gaines, Galyon, Gilliland, House, Ijams, Knaffl, Kennerly, Kennedy, Keener, Lindsay, Littlefield, Luttrell, Mann, Matthews, Mebane, Mayo, Murphy, Morton, Newman, Poore, Read, Roehl, Keller Smith, Spence, Swan and Swann, Thomas, Towsend and Young.

The real beginning of the private Appalachian Club and its neighbor, the publicly-open Wonderland Park Hotel and Club nearby, goes back to Knoxville and 1901.

Mrs. Joseph P. Murphy remembers the beginning. Her cottage is on the banks of the Litttle River's East Prong, up River Road, which Elkmonters jokingly call "Millionaire's Row."

"Three Pennsylvanians seeking giant timber growth came South," said Mrs. Murphy. "They were Col. W. B. Townsend and J. W. Wrigley of Clearfield, and F. H. McCormick of Williamsport."

"Col. Townsend knew Joseph Patrick Murphy, who was to become my husband, but then of Pennsylvania, and talked him into joining the enterprise, realizing that most officials were advancing in age."

"There followed the Little River Railroad, with Murphy as superintendent, and the Little River Lumber Company, which acquired some 80,000 acres of land from mountain owners."

Townsend Named For Lumberman

"Headquarters was in Townsend, named for the firms' President. And from Townsend, the company carved out a railroad line that reached 18 miles into Elkmont, and beyond."

Adventurour Knoxvillians caught on quickly. They boarded the Southern Railway's Knoxville and Augusta Railroad affiliate and rode to Walland and Townsend, then transferring to the Little River Railroad's logging train.

At first, these Knoxvillians rode the "dog car" or caboose, got off at Elkmont and the train continued to Jake's Creek to the logging camps. This weekend trip became so popular that the wives became curious. "So in 1907 the wives and husbands hunted and fished together in Elkmont," Mrs. Murphy said. "The first big summer for both was in 1908, when the Appalachian Clubhouse was built. Col. Townsend, who let the club have acreage for its site and for the log cottages, added an observation car on the logging train, later passenger coaches."

Wonderland Club flourished in its day too, being opened and well advertised as the ideal summer resort in the Great Smokies.

Vacationers and excursioners came over the same railroad route - a torturous 2-1/2 to 4 hour trip - from Knoxville. Wonderland Station was a platform, where weekenders and others stepped off the coaches. There were rooms and cabins, and lots were offered for sale for $25.00 up."

Today, Wonderland operates after a fashion. Some of the many Elkmont Campground visitors find dining there to their liking, the surroundings much as those at Appalachian Clubhouse.

The Appalachian Club became perhaps the most exclusive club in East Tennessee. Outsiders, unless one were a popular Southern belle couldn't dine at the clubhouse. Professor R. C. Matthews, an Elkmont veteran of more than 40 years, still winces without smiling when he tells the story.

"I caught the train in Knoxville, transferred at Townsend and came the 18 Little River miles from there on the logging train," the retired UT engineering professor and first UT cheerleader said.

"Man! Was I hungry? My friend was a member of the club, but when I went in to eat lunch I was told that I couldn't dine because I wasn't a member."

So I had to go down to the commissary and forage. I found sardines, cheese and crackers. You know, the club has never apologized for that slight."

Red May Get Apology Yet

That "slight" of 1910 may just get official attention when the Appalachian club Board of Directors sits today at the clubhouse to elect officers and transact annual business to close out the official season. President William S. (Bill) Arnett, an Oak Ridge business executive, who lives at 710 Blows Ferry Road, Knoxvvile, is considering a suggestion that an official apology be extended Red Matthews, now a full-fledged Appalachian member himself.

Mrs. Matthews, even before her marriage to Prof. Matthews, was always welcome at "the club". She was a popular belle then, as now, and her beauty overcomes her years. The peppery Red is 81.

Elkmont's "golden years" have never been officially recorded. The epoch is filled with adventure, romance, difficulties, and yet always encased in close family and friendly ties.

Attorney Forrest Andrews of Knoxville, another original, was found in his log cottage on Jake's Creek, surrounded by wife and family.

Mr. Andrews, who drafted the charter for the eight original members of the Smoky Mountain Conservation Association, recalled an incident connected with creation of the Park.

The backers needed Tennessee state funds to help acquire park land, and it was Mr. Andrews' role to drive part of a 50-member state legislative delegation into the Smokies.

"We were driving back to Knoxville from Townsend in my Franklin touring car in 1927," he said. "We had parked the car at Townsend and taken the train into Elkmont, and back to Townsend the same way.

"Someone in my car warned me about the local sheriff being on the outlook for speeders. Maximum speed was 30 mph. But we were feeling fine and I had a good car, so I passed one up front which someone thought could be the local sheriff. We were a little adventuresome, sure. Some in the car had taken a few drinks.

"When we reached Alcoa, a big fellow came over to the car. He got up real close, and asked this pointed question: "Are you full?"

"I shot back: 'Full? Hell, no, what makes you think we're full?'

" 'Oh, the man replied, "I just thought you might have room to take this fellow here with you to Knoxville, if you're not full.' "

That proved, Mr. Andrews mused, that conscience makes cowards of us all."

More than one person believes he possessess the oldest cottage in Elkmont. Certainly the Andrews, Matthews and Roehl cottages are among the oldest in Elkmont.

However the consensus is that the Mayo and Thomas cottages - set up by Col. Townsend himself - are perhaps the first to be erected.

Deaver Was A Boy Milkman

Lester (Danny) Deaver, a bachelor at 63 and a business leader in East Tennessee and North Carolina, remembers his summer boyhoods in Elkmont as though they were yesterday.

"My father, J. L. (Bud) Deaver, would bring me up for the entire summer. We stayed at the Appalachian Hotel when it had only 10 rooms. More were added as the membership grew, and finally MacEverson Annex was built."

"My first trip as a boy was in 1908. That's when I begin to learn about business. I got a contract with the Elkmont residents to deliver them milk. It cost me 8 cents a quart plus frieght. I sold it for 12 cents. And I delivered newspapers and made 25 cents a week."

Mr. Deaver's lodge is immaculate on the brink of Jake's Creek. He has roofed the old dog run, and has a full larder of home-canned foodstuffs.

The Deaver cottage once was the home of Sherwood Bain, a Knoxville teacher whose bachelorhood provided much time for his inveterate hiking. Many of his library books remain in the cottage even now. Mr. Deaver's kitchen prowess is exceeded only by his hospitality. As his weekend houseguest for this story, even the slightest comfort was not overlooked.

As other present-day Elkmonters, Lester Deaver learned his fishing and hunting, his sense of fair play, and his respect for natural conservation in sylvan setting.

"It was also here that I learned the pros and cons over whether it would be a Great Smoky Park or a Great Smoky Forest," Mr. Deaver said as a country ham simmered on the electric stove."

"Col. David C. Chapman and W. P. Davis of Knoxville favored the park idea. Knoxville Attorney James B. Wright, a natural-born conservationist, wanted it to become a national forest. Mr. Davis has been credited with first advancing the idea of making the Smokies into a national park."

Fishing Father Away Now

"Chapman, who did more than any other man to create the Smoky Park, wanted roads and facilities for all Americans to enjoy. These visitors also would mean money for local businessmen."

"Wright, who had a cabin just down the road wanted the Smoky Park kept uncontaminated by the maddening crowds. He stood for conservation.

"I'm not sure but that Jim Wright wasn't correct. Elkmont cottages would be safe today, rather than facing extinction by the Interior Department in 1972, had the Smokies become a forest instead of a park."

"And fishing would be better too. Years ago I could catch big speckled trout, even big rainbows planted by the Little River Co. Appalachian Club hired mountaineers to bring in trout for club dinners."

"They'd come back with a gunnysack full -- 100 speckled, too big for a creel. Now it's too easy to get to a Smoky stream to fish. Just drive up and start fishing."

"There's no walking far into the forest anymore, and that takes most of the sport out of fishing. The streams are kept clean, because it's a park. But if the Smokies had been turned into a forest, the logs that spilled from logging trains would still be in the streams, and the big trout like the speckled would have a place to escape the muskrat and the weasels. I've seen them do it when the logjams were there."

Deaver is an uncle of Appalachian President Bill Arnett, who lives a few cottages away on Jake's Creek.

Rail-Car Was A Unique Contraption

Ivah Cochran Murphy's life actually began in Elkmont. She met the dashing Joseph Murphy, who came calling on weekends in a car that couldn't have a flat.

Her mother, Mrs. Alva C. Cochran of knoxville, felt fairly safe with this knowledge. Young Murphy had taken a Model T Ford, stripped it of its tires, installed flanged railroad wheels, and set it up on the Little River Railroad track. It would do 30 mph.

The youngsters were taking a ride toward Townsend when they heard something fall from the chassis, but they kept right on going. And when Mr. Murphy tried to start again, he found the crank for the engine was missing. Ivah, named for a Russian princess, never could convince her mother why it took until 2 a.m. to get back to Elkmont.

This rail-car, used by Mr. Murphy to survey the tracks, was the vehicle young Joe and Ivah took off in on their honeymoon, with Elkmonters waving them good-bye. Ford Times carried a story and picture of this unique contraption back in 1911.

Mr. Cochran, president and owner of the old East Tennessee Brewery in Knoxville, built his Elkmont cottage in 1908.

Elkmonters Proud Of Tradition

Tradition is no stranger in Elkmont.

A quick introduction by Bill Arnett at the Byers cottage on Jake's Creek brought a roaring snort from Rufus A. Byers: "You're the character who called me a squatter. Hell, I've been in Elkmont for more than 50 years, and a member of the club that long, too."

The 81-year old retired Army colonel bespoke the sentiment of some other proud Elkmonters who took offense to a paragraph in a News-Sentinel story some weeks ago about the Great Smokies.

The reference was to Elkmont, the cottage owners on one hand and the some 1,500 campers, among other, looked upon the cottagers as "squatterss," living and owning property within a national park.

The conversation led to the first cottagers and formation of the Appalachian Club, whose records were largely destroyed by a fire in 1933 that destroyed the hotel itself. A name was suggested and quickly set aside. "Why, he's only been here 28 years," was the reply.

The present Appalachian Clubhouse offers no meals and no lodging. It is the scene of two main affairs a season, plus social functions by youngsters who dance to jukebox music.

The official Appalachian Club season phases out this weekend, with last night's dance and today's board meeting.

The Appalachian Clubhouse hotel of 50 years ago was quite something, however, Mrs. Eleanor Spence Thomas, daughter of Knoxville's Gen. Cary F. Spence, remembers it well.

"There was a boardwalk stretching for a half mile from the hotel up Jake's Creek," she said. It kept us out of the mud."

"We had taffy pulls, first at the cottages and later at the hotel. Prizes -- cigars for men, sewing baskets for women, and barked baskets made from trees -- were given for the whitest taffy."

"Lem Ownby trapped bears, got up to 30 each year. He'd sell the skins for $7 and sell the meat to the hotel kitchen. We ate trout and wild rabbits. Vegetables were plentiful, coming in from Gatlinburg by wagon pulled by oxen. Ice, packed in sawdust, was hauled in by train from Maryville. Country ham was the staple.

"Uncle Lee Higdon caught trout for the dinner table -- and trout then was like serving lobster today."

Uncle Lee is still on hand. He was an Elkmont resident before coming of the railroad, stayed on as caretaker for the Appalachian Club. Now 81, he continues his job till this day, along with help from his son J. T. and daughter Faye. They live in the caretaker's cottage on Jake's Creek.

Mrs. Thomas' memory of Uncle Lee and club social affairs are most vivid.

"We danced to three-piece orchestras from Knoxville. The cook would play the piano. I remember once, back in 1927, when Doyle King of Knoxville played his saxophone in one combo."

Train Wreck Was Biggest Tragedy

Eleanor Thomas remembers other things too, such as lights going off at the club at 10 p.m. after a 15-minute blinker warning earlier. And those who didn't leave quickly, had to grope along on the boardwalk to find their cottages upstream.

Electricity was precious, being used only two hours each day. A wooden flume back of Jim Wright's cabin the necessary force into the little powerhouse. As the lights came on daily, the women rushed to their ironing but the current would get so low that the irons wouldn't heat.

Elkmonters remember their biggest tragedy. Back in 1909, "Old Three Spot" raced down Jake's Creek, loaded with logs. Daddy Bryson was the train's engineer and Charlie Jenkins was his brakeman.

Others, riding atop the logs and realizing a crash was coming, jumped toward the hillside. Bryson and Jenkins jumped on the creekside, and both were killed. J. P. Murphy carried the sad news to the victim's families.

Husband Sold Land For Park

Mrs. W. B. Townsend, widow of the man who made Elkmont possible, lives in her chateau-styled cottage today on banks of LIttle River. Her husband helped create the Smoky Park by agreeing to sell 76,500 mountain acres to the state, to be given to the government and to give up his lumbering empire.

Just up-road is Lindsay Young's place. The Knoxville attorney long ago tracked the Townsend deed at the Sevierville court house whereby the Appalachian Club became sole owner of the area property, including the swimming pool formed by a dam in Little River.

Up Jake's Creek, Mr. and Mrs. Sam Knaffl relaxed in their cottage. They pointed out ripened apples on trees outside -- the remnants of 5,000 trees planted at the turn of the century by R. S. Hommel, one of the first presidents of Appalachian Club.

Here the clan gathers, particularly on weekends. Informally, in dress and by design, reigns. (Joe Wallen drove up in his Buick, walked barefoot into Andy Morton's cottage where several other Elkmonters had gatered). Cars with youngsters passed, headed for the Little River swimming hole.

Up River Road, the atmosphere was quieter. Here live the Townsends, the Murphys, the Youngs, the Shirley Spences, Paul Parrotts, the Brandaus, and the Loye W. Millers.

The Miller lodge, in the vortex of Elkmont's Y, was built by the Townsends in the design of French chalets with stables on the ground level and living quarters upstairs. The Millers have occupied the lodge since 1947, but remember when it was a Townsend horse stable.

Giant maples, birch, elms and poplars, along with firs, hide most of the cottages, even the clubhouse. Laurel and rhododendron creep in even closer. The Ambrose Gaineses were spotted tossing breadcrumbs to rainbow trout that played just below their patio overhanging Jake's Creek.

Col. and Mrs. Byers' lodge on Jake's Creek once was the property of the colonel's brother-in-law, Col. Chapman, given him by the Department of the Interior in grateful acknowledgement of his untiring work and money that led to the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And nearby is Jim Wright's cottage, now occupied by the Otto Roehls, which he forsook when the Government decided on a national park, instead of a national forest.

Elkmonters' summer season begins June 1 and ends Labor Day. Yet some of the old timers don't come until July 1, at the end of the "black gnat season." The biting varmints penetrate the finest screens and make a person miserable. During other seasons, the Elkmont folk who are retired -- such as the Gaineses, the Floyd Craigs, and the Matthews -- live in Florida."

Most May Lose Property

Today a heavy shadow hangs over the Elkmont resort that began 58 years ago. In 1952 Appalachian Club negotiated an agreement with the Department of Interior, which contols national parks. This 20-year pack ends in 1972. It means that, unless a new understanding is reached, Elkmont as such will be no more and the forest will take over.

This agreement came about after 75% of the Elkmont cottage owners signed a contract with Appalachian Club that they would abandon their property after 1972. Sen. Estes Kefauver helped work out the arrangement.

However, there is a catch. Some 8 to 10 families, including the C. P. (Chuck) Swans, the Mayos, Thomases and Galyons, for example, elected to keep their clear-cut titles. This means they could own their properties until children of the original owners pass on. The estimate is that the youngest will live 50 more years.

Thus these few could stay on after 1972.

The leastback rights to the cottages were given in consideration of the owners accepting much lower prices for their property which the Government acquired for the park. These Elkmonters remember this "patriotic generosity" when they think of 1972. After all, the U. S. Government paid no money for park lands that make up the Smoky Park, and without such generosity on the part of the landowners the park itself might never have been created.

So many Appalachian Clubbers and Elkmont cottage owners of today feel they are on solid ground when they talk about a further extension of their existence there.

Those this reporter interviewed would like to see a new agreement with the Government that would permit Elkmont's survival until all residents leave at the same time.

These Elkmonters have in mind a new departure date, perhaps 2000 A.D. -- or 35 years from now.

There is something to be said in behalf of those who founded Appalachian Club. They largely were the fighters whose vision, patience and efforts led to the creation of the Great Smoky Park itself.

As for myself -- an outsider who doesn't know the entire story or all the persons involved -- there is only one conclusion.

That is: Elkmont forever!"


If you have a story you'd like to share about living in the Elkmont area or visiting kinfolks who had cabins or cottages there, please email it to me. I'd like to post your comments on this page and share it with others.

We have lots of information about how Elkmont came to be from the media and the NPS, but I believe we are lacking in the human interest side of the story. I'd like to hear from individuals who loved the mountains and built and lived in the modest cabins of Elkmont or vacationed there through the years.

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