Settlement in the Elkmont area began in the 19th century when the Ownby and Trentham families farmed along Jakes Creek. Settlers established farms and built cabins. The settlers consisted of homesteaders, hunters, squatters, and small-scale loggers.
Logging became a vital part of life for the settlers of the community. Loggers would traverse the area to harvest ash, poplar, cherry, and hemlock trees. After cutting the tree, logs would be dragged by teams of horses and sent down the Little River to Knoxville for processing.
Large scale logging began in the early 20th century and had a large impact on the Elkmont area – bringing a railroad line and the development of the resort communities of the Appalachian Club and Wonderland Hotel.
Establishment of Elkmont
The town of Elkmont was established around 1907. Within years, the population had grown to become the second-largest town in the county. Elkmont consisted of a post office, schoolhouse, hotel, general store, Baptist church, and several residences.
What Happened to Elkmont’s Residents?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park was officially established in 1934. In order to establish the park, Tennessee and North Carolina acquired more than 1,100 individual properties. Several residents accepted a payment and immediately moved. A few received lifetime leases or two-year leases and eventually moved away.
The government brokered a deal exclusive to Appalachian and Wonderland Club cabin residents which included half of the appraised value of the property. Some of the residents agreed while others sold their cabins outright. These cabins were purchased and demolished by the park.
Life in Elkmont changed drastically when this happened. The hustle and bustle of the once lively resort was no more. This eventually caused the closure of the Appalachian Clubhouse due to the lack of organized activities.
The Wonderland Club Hotel became the social hub of the area. On the weekends, the place was alive with music. Nearby residents and hotel visitors drank and danced at the hotel. The hotel also had a dining room and held private parties. The hotel entertained people until it closed in 1992.
Preservation in Progress
Several of the cabins at Elkmont have been preserved by the National Park Service and are open for visitors to walk through and explore. On our most recent visit to Elkmont in March 2021, there were a still few cabins that are being worked on and are closed to the public.
Levi Trentham Cabin
The Trentham name is prominent in the history of Elkmont. Robert Trentham was one of the first settlers in Elkmont. His cabin, as shown in the picture below, was built in 1845. But the cabin is now known as the Levi Trentham Cabin, Levi being Robert Trentham’s son. Levi Trentham arguably left the biggest mark in Elkmont’s history.
Levi Trentham was known as “the Prophet of the Smokies” and the “Mayor of Elkmont.” Travelers began visiting the area on a frequent basis, so Trentham decided to become a guide. In doing so, he became one of the most popular storytellers in the Smokies.
In the wake of World War I, Elkmont residents decided to show their patriotism by decorating their Smoky Mountain community with American flags. Levi announced his disapproval by proclaiming “[g-word, d-word] Old Glory!”
He was immediately arrested, fined and confined to his property for the remainder of the war. Once the war was over, he was moved to jail.
Take A Tour of The Cabins
If you are interested in seeing other resort cabins that once stood at Elkmont, you can take the Jakes Creek or Little River trail. This will lead you past the stone walls and chimneys that mark the former locations of the other resort cabins that once stood in Elkmont.
Directions to Elkmont
Elkmont is located off Little River Road, which begins at the Sugarlands visitor. From the visitors center, follow Little River Road for 4.9 miles, and turn left onto Elkmont Road. Follow the signs to your destination.