Friday, August 19, 2016

Elkmont, revisited: a tale of history and ruin

Last weekend I was able to revisit another of my favorite places, Elkmont, in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Elkmont was a resort town way back and the vacation cabins sit empty there still. Over the years since I first discovered this treasure spot, the Wonderland Hotel burned two times and was finally torn down. The remaining outbuilding was also finally torn down, and this trip was the first time I've been since. It was sad to see the hill where these majestic old buildings sat. The entire area feels empty of their memories.

I also love the old vacation cabins and have taken many photographs of them over the years. This visit I was very disheartened to see a number of them in total shambles. They likely won't be there by the time I get back to Elkmont. 

One of the cabins was such a magical place it figures in and forms, as does Elkmont, a central theme in my Claire Quartet novels. Elkmont represents the dream of what could have been for Bingham Wade, and later on, the place where the dream is realized, though differently than he envisioned it.

This cabin is sadly nearly gone at this point. Since my last visit the roof has fallen in along with several main walls. It was sad to see it but no matter how tattered it is, it still holds magic for me, as does Elkmont as a whole. If you ever end up in the park, make the time to go to Elkmont and walk through all the sections. What I show here is only a small portion of what's there. I've seen nothing else like it, even now that it's really starting to deteriorate.

The front door and porch to my favorite cabin are completely gone now, but the gorgeous stone fireplace still remains inside.

Another view.

The back of the cabin is more intact, and shows what the entire cabin looked like only a few years ago. When I first saw this cabin it was in good enough condition to be restored. This looks back to the Little River that runs behind this particular row of cabins.

And here is the little back area that Bingham imagines taking Claire to. It was in much better condition but although it's run down now it still feels magical to me. The foliage front and center is new - last time I was here the view to the rushing water was clear. 

The view from the other side shows just how much has fallen in.

It really breaks my heart that there hasn't been funding to restore these little gems and preserve this amazing glimpse into the past.

The most intact side:

Next door is another cabin. The path between the cabins still remains - it's clear the people who lived in them visited back and forth regularly. This one too is succumbing to the elements and time and neglect. The front side is the most intact.

I was shocked to walk around to the side and see this:

This room was very compelling. Something about the light and the way it's decaying kept me there for a long time.

I kept taking photos. Almost as if by documenting the state of ruin I could halt it. This looks to the other side of the cabin.

When I got to the back I saw this. The chains hanging down look ominous and spooky but I think they were actually part of an attempt to hold the structure of this cabin together. 

That hanging chain was eerie though.

The entire back of the cabin is open to the elements and the river rushing by.

A shot of the river.

Another cabin.

This gaping hole was also very ominous. These cabins used to make me feel the life that had lived in them; now the energy is darker.

This cabin is on the other side of the old lane, away from the riverfront. There's a creek that runs behind these cabins and a little stone bridge that the owners used to visit one another.

When I walked up on the porch and looked in, a giant rock was lying there, where it had been thrown through, still sitting in the glass it broke. This kind of violence makes me sad. The two windows through that doorway feel like the eye of the cabin to me. Old and sad.

On our way out, I had to find something uplifting after the ruin. This spot felt peaceful and eternal. A tree and a big boulder, both planted in the earth. Hopefully they will stand there a very long time.


Grey Horse Matters said...

It is sad to see the past fall away and succumb to the elements of nature. I'm sure it was a wonderful place to visit and the people who inhabited those cabins most likely had fun and peaceful times. Now the generations that followed most likely have only memories or pictures to record past times. I once read a quote by a Native American "only the rocks last forever" your picture of the boulder reminded me of that observation.

billie said...

I love the Native American quote. I guess it's amazing the cabins have held on this long with no maintenance at all. There was talk off and on about funding renovations but it never happened. The first time I saw them they still had belongings left in them - some clothing, mattresses, etc. All the walls and windows and doors intact and locked up. Gradually people broke into them and I think as the weather was more able to get inside the faster things deteriorated. And I guess over time roofs fail anyway.

Matthew said...

I can almost hear the laughter from the kids of yesteryear playing along the creek and running into those cabins for lunch.

Poignant and touching words and photos!

billie said...

It has seriously deteriorated - I was shocked.