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

by Willard Yarbrough

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 fastness.

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 yore 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 Great 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, Cochran, 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, Townsend 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 Little River's East Prong, up River Rd., 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 Co., 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."

Adventurous 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 up 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. Prof. 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 Rd., Knoxville, 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 possesses 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 freight. I sold it for 12 cents. And I delivered newspapers and made 25c 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 fir 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 Farther 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 it's 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-by. 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 1500 campers, among others, looked upon the cottagers as "squatters," 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 victims' 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 5000 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. Informality, 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 gathered). Cars with youngsters passed, headed for the Little River swimming hole.

Up River Rd, 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 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 July1, 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 and agreement with the Department of Interior, which controls national parks. This 20-year pact 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 leaseback 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 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!

Source: The Knoxville News-Sentinel -- Sunday, August 29, 1965 -- Page F

NOTE: The actual picture I was working with was not scannable. I will replace this picture with the photo if I can find it. This document was retyped by April Grant.

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