Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fading Away.

Carole and I took advantage of the briefly opened Little River Road to drive to Elkmont to see what was left of the old Wonderland Hotel. I covered this place before in my blog. It was once the only active hotel within the borders of the Park. But it had been grandfathered in and the deal had an end date. It had been known for some time that the Park Service wanted to get rid of the Wonderland, and basically I agree with their decision to end the concession and demolish the building. After all, the Park was created to protect mainly the ecosystems there and not to preserve a rickety, poorly engineered hotel.

Still, having stayed in the hotel (we booked a room when we heard they'd lost an extension on their concession and would soon be closing up forever), and having known people who stayed there many times over the years, it was still a sad day when it closed down.

In the intervening years, with no one to repair the place, the elements have had their way with it. There was even a fire that burned down the main building which is no longer there in even a ruined state. Just some stairs and the remnants of the brick chimney.

The part of the hotel that is still standing is the section where Carole and I stayed. That is, it had the bedroom we rented during our trip there. Even though I saw it as it was winding down, I liked the old place. It was old and rickety and the bed in our room was ridiculously soft. But it was really quiet and nice. Quaint is the word that always occurs to me when I need to describe it. It was a part of America that is mainly gone, now. The kind of Park experience that visitors expected during the wild and exploitative days of the National Parks. Sad as it is to see it go, that kind of thing really has no place in our National Parks. You can still witness a form of it in many of our western National Parks (Yellowstone, Yosemite, Crater Lake, etc.).

But the old Wonderland is almost gone, these days. Just a few shaky structures still holding up, ready for the first big windstorm to finish knocking them over.

The stairs that once led up from the road/railroad to the Wonderland.

All that's left of the fireplace in the main lodge.

This was the section that had the bedroom Carole and I used. Ours was on the other side. I remember walking down the hallways, rooms on either side. We were on the ground floor, communal restrooms at the end of the hall.

This building is almost gone. Last time we were there it was in okay shape. Now the roof has completely given way and most of the floor is also gone.

At the rear of the Wonderland. Our room looked out on these woods. Of course there weren't trees growing up to crowd out the building in those days.

This staircase actually led from the main building to a breezeway that went to lodging rooms. I remember exploring that building that is now completely gone, save for those steps and that crumb of a chimney.


Vicki said...

I love the photo of the staircase. Even better the video of you walking up it.

I wonder why they've left it to the elements to do the demolishing...

James Robert Smith said...

There was a movement afoot for some time after the hotel was closed to have it reopened. While there was sniping in the courts to make it so, the Park Service just cordoned off the hotel and let it deteriorate.

It really did not belong in the Park. There are thousands of hotels in the areas around the Park and it just needed to go. The Park Service wanted it gone, and truth be told, so did I. It was quaint and pleasant and it was sad to see it closed down, but I'd rather have my National Parks devoted to wilderness and restoring ecosystems, not preserving hotels.

Often the Park Service will let Mother Nature take down old buildings. You'd be surprised how fast She can do that.