May 2, 2016
by Julie Dodd
The news that the Wonderland Hotel Annex in the Elkmont area of the park was destroyed by fire on April 19 (2016) was a reminder of a time before the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established.
Anyone who has been in Elkmont knows it’s like taking a trip back in time to when the area was a logging community and then a location for vacationers.
Elkmont was a logging town with the area owned by the Little River Lumber Company, with the Little River Railroad running to Townsend. Sections of trails now in the Elkmont area, such as the Jakes Creek Trail, were logging trails or railroad beds back in the day.
In 1910, the lumber company began selling land to individuals, and the area became a vacation retreat, especially for those who wanted to hunt and fish.
The Appalachian Clubhouse was built as a lodge, vacation cottages were built, and in 1912, the Wonderland Park Hotel was constructed. Ultimately more than 70 buildings were in the area.
In 1925, Tennessee legislators were hosted in Elkmont to help convince them that the Tennessee legislature and the North Carolina legislature should purchase land in both states to create a national park.
Col. Wilson B. Townsend, the founder of the Little River Lumber Company, made the initial sale to the state of 76,000 acres. The State of Tennessee then transferred the land to the Federal Government. Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in 1934.
Once the decision was made to create a national park, those who lived within the park boundaries were forced to sell their land and move. The Elkmont cottage owners were able to sell their cottages at half price to the National Park Service in exchange for lifetime leases. The last of the Elkmont leases expired in 2001.
In 1994, the Elkmont Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which prevented the buildings from being destroyed.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park initiated a planning process to determine the fate of the buildings. In its 2009 Final Environmental Impact Statement for Elkmont, the National Park Service announced plans to restore the Appalachian Clubhouse and 18 other structures and document and remove the remaining structures as funding becomes available.
The Wonderland Hotel Annex was one of the structures scheduled for removal. The Wonderland Hotel was removed in December 2006, after a selection of historic materials was salvaged for conservation in the park’s museum collection.
Friends of the Smokies has helped in funding some of the restoration of several Elkmont buildings, including the Avent Cabin ($2,000 in 2015), the Spence Cabin, the Appalachian Clubhouse, and other residence cabins ($60,000 in 2012). Rehabilitation of the Elkmont Amphitheater, which attracts more than 3,000 visitors each year to interpretive programs, is on Friends’ Park Support List this year ($10,200). Most of the buildings slated to be renovated are located in what was known as the “Daisy Town” section.
The Spence Cabin (the pink building pictured at the top of this post), located in the Appalachian Club’s Millionaires’ Row section, is restored and may be rented for day use in addition to the Appalachian Clubhouse.
Elkmont is a popular area for camping and hiking. Elkmont also is the location of the Synchronous Firefly event, May 31 – June 7, 2016. The lottery for parking passes at the Sugarlands Visitor Center for the shuttle to the event is open until Monday, May 2, at 8 p.m.