Elkmont is a popular destination in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. And it has been that way for over a century, long before the park was established! We want to share some of the history of this little mountain town that was once a popular vacation destination and how it became a source of inspiration for our Farragut restaurant.
This little town started out like other towns within the bounds of the Smokies; pioneers settled in the area to make a new life for themselves. Robert Trentham was one of the first people to make a home here, and his land was given to his son, Levi Trentham. Levi eventually sold a huge portion of the area to industrialist W. B. Townsend, who owned the Little River Lumber Company.
After acquiring the land, Townsend turned Elkmont into a commercial logging camp. His workers and their families lived in the area to make it easier for them to commute to work, and his business grew. With this growth, the Little River Railroad was built to make transporting logs easier. To make even more money, the railroad opened an “Elkmont Special,” which was a 2.5 hour scenic tour that took patrons through areas like Maryville, Townsend, and Elkmont.
Logging Camp Turned Vacation Spot
The railroad tours became ever more popular to the point where wealthy customers wanted to stay longer than a day. In 1920, Little River Railroad Company sold 50 acres of land to the Appalachian Club, a group of wealthy Knoxvillians. The Club started as a place where men could get away to hunt and fish, but families started to join in on the vacations, which led to adding a clubhouse and cottages to accommodate everyone.
The exclusivity of the Appalachian Club led to other Knoxvillians purchasing land from the Little River Railroad Company and building the Wonderland Hotel. It became its own club, and the two areas were a hot vacation spot for wealthy families in Knoxville.
Establishment of the National Park
The National Park Movement was gaining momentum around the same time, and in 1926, the Little River Railroad Company made the sale of the remaining land to Tennessee and North Carolina. Once the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established, owners of the cottages in Elkmont sold their properties at half price in exchange for lifetime leases. In 1952, the lifetime leases were converted into 20 year leases that were renewed in 1972 but not in 1992. This is when the last people living in the area had to pack up and leave.
Visiting Elkmont Today
If you happen to stop in the Elkmont area today, specifically in the Elkmont Ghost Town, you’ll see all kinds of remains from the Club era. Old cottages are dotted throughout the woods, and some still contain furniture and old plumbing. Many of the buildings have been restored for preservation so people can learn more about the history of the Smoky Mountains and how people lived in the past. This is a unique area that’s definitely worth seeing in person!
Our Elkmont Inspired Restaurant
We wanted our Farragut restaurant to be a symbol of one of the greatest treasures of our country that’s right in our backyard: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If it weren’t for several influential Knoxvillians that worked relentlessly to raise awareness, create exposure, and provide funds, the national park may not exist today. We hope that our restaurant serves as an homage to the hardworking Knoxville citizens as a place to rest and relax.
With the history of Elkmont fresh in your mind, you should come celebrate its beautiful history with us! Enjoy hand crafted drinks and small plate bites as you look at snippets of Smoky Mountain history carefully placed throughout our building. Have questions about what you’ll experience? Reach out to us to learn more!