Friday, October 11, 2013

Lost Cove, North Carolina Ghost Town

Just a few days ago I was doing something on the the internet when I came across a website that stated there is a ghost town not too far from where I live in Tennessee. The ghost town is called Lost Cove and it is just across the border in North Carolina, not far from Erwin. From what I had read about the place it sounded interesting, but that it was in danger of not existing soon due to thoughtless vandals. I decided I needed to get there before it was gone.

Noelle gave me permission to go on a solo adventure and so I packed my pack and hit the road towards Erwin. I drove through town to near the Chestoa Picnic Area, but instead of visiting Chestoa I crossed the Nolichucky River, passed by Uncle Johnny's (a hostel I visited when thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2000), and drove through the dying town of Unaka Springs. After passing through town I parked near the Unaka Springs Cemetery. I followed an old road from the cemetery down to the railroad tracks.
Unaka Springs
The tracks would be my trail for this adventure.
Eric on Tracks

The railroad tracks that run parallel to the Nolichucky River traverse some of the most beautiful terrain in the eastern United States.
Tracks and Nolichucky River
The gorge is deep, the river swift, and the changing fall colors added to the ambiance of this hike. I saw just one train while walking the tracks.
Train Passing
Luckily I had detoured down to the river when it passed,
Nolichucky River View
so it was not a problem. You could run into some problems walking the tracks if you happen to encounter a train while on one of the narrow sections of rail bed, but this did not happen to me. There were lots of great views from the rails and before I knew it I was at a graffiti-covered bridge crossing a substantial creek.
Devil's Creek Bridge
Could this be the route into Lost Cove? Sure enough there was a user trail alongside the creek. I followed this trail passing some beautiful cascades.
Devil's Creek Cascades
The trail eventually dead ended at a really pretty double waterfall.
Devil's Creek Falls
I admired the view here and ate a snack, but I was not convinced that this was the way into Lost Cove. It turns out the creek is called Devil's Creek and so, not being able to find any documentation about the falls on the internet, I will call the falls Devil's Creek Falls.

I backtracked on the user trail back to the railroad tracks and made my way further east. Soon enough I found another small creek with another trail running along side it. This looked quite promising. There was a well-used campsite on a bench above the tracks and an old rocky, washed-out road leading uphill. This had to be the road that leads to Lost Cove! I followed this road up higher and higher. At first there was no sign of any abandoned human habitation. Eventually though, I found a rusted frame of some sort and and a rusted loop of barbed wire.
Barbed Wire
This, along with this yellow sign posted to a tree,
Conservation Area Sign
confirmed that I was on the right track.

A little way past the barbed wire the road flattened out a bit. I passed a large rock formation just to the side of the road,
The Welcome Rock
turned the corner and found the first structure of Lost Cove. It was an old log corn crib.
Corn Crib
It was filled with garbage, but still interesting. A trail led past the side of the corn crib and I followed it to the site of one of the two Lost Cove cemeteries. There were a lot of Tiptons buried here, so I'm guessing it is the Tipton family cemetery.
John D. Tipton Grave
I spent a few minuted exploring the old, fenced-in cemetery
Bonnie Miller Grave
before heading back down to the town site. From the corn crib I followed the old overgrown road to the site of an old rusting truck. A photo of the site taken in 1969.
Old Truck
Nearby was the first chimney I found.
Things were starting to get interesting! A photo of the site taken in the 1960s.

From the chimney I followed the road further into Lost Cove. A side trail led to the right and I followed it to the remains of a cabin. There was not much left of it, just some burned timbers, a chimney,
Lost Cove Chimney
and pieces of the metal roof. This must be one of the two structures recently burned by some teenage vandals. Sure enough I even found the fuel that the low-lifes had used to start the blaze.
Gas Can
This illustrates the reason I wanted to get up here. I fear in a few years the rest of the buildings up here will succumb to the same fate.

From the burned building I made my way deeper into Lost Cove. I passed some of the rotting detritus left over from years of human habitation
and also passed one of the largest tulip poplars I have ever seen.
Big Tulip Poplar
Then I walked along an old rock wall
Lost Cove Wall
that I had seen someone had posted some pictures of from 1969 on Flickr. Yes, the area has changed a bit in 50 years. From here the road headed over to the largest structure still standing in Lost Cove.
First View of House
It's an old house, now covered with graffiti and slowly deteriorating into nothing.
Lost Cove House
As I approached I thought I heard a human voice. It turns out that I was alone though. There was a lot of graffiti on the walls and a lost dog notice stapled to the outside.
Lost Dog
I went inside the rotting structure to check things out a bit and then moved on. The road descended and got less distinct. I thought I was outside of Lost Cove and thought about turning around. Then I saw an old set of stairs.
Old Stairs
Supposedly, these are left from the former school/church that once stood here.

Just past the stairs was another still standing structure.
Old House
It appears to be another house. This one is in very poor shape and I guess it will not be standing anymore in a year or two. I did not risk going inside this structure.
Broken Wheel
From this leaning house I found a different road that seemed to head uphill, back to the main section of Lost Cove. I passed many of the structures I had explored earlier and made my way to the road that leads back to the railroad tracks. I saw the first of two praying mantises in a field on my way back.
Praying Mantis
I started to make my way down, when I saw another road that branched off to the right. At this point I felt that Lost Cove still had some secrets to tell. Would her secrets be revealed if I took this road? I decided to find out. I took this road downhill and sure enough passed old foundations an even found an old chimney being reclaimed by nature.
Mouldering Chimney
The road petered out and after a while I found myself back in Lost Cove proper.

It was now getting late. As much as I wanted to explore more, I knew I needed to head back to the car and home. Regretfully, I made my way down the rough road to the railroad tracks.
Looking Toward Big Rock
I still feel there are secrets in Lost Cove waiting to reveal themselves. I hope to return some day to explore some more. Perhaps winter, when the leaves have fallen off the trees, would be a better time to explore. The fall colors and blue sky were brilliant as I walked the railroad tracks back to the car. I found a big rock alongside the Nolichucky River and climbed out onto it for a fantastic view of some rapids on the low river.
River and Mountains
I also saw the remnants of what appeared to be a train wreck
Train Wreck?
and found another praying mantis, this one right on the a railroad tie.
another mantis
Then, before I knew it, I was back at the car for the trip back to Greeneville.   

Update of August 22, 2015: 

Highland Brewing Company out of Asheville has released a summer seasonal ale: Lost Cove American Pale Ale It is a low ABV session ale and is named in honor of the Lost Cove ghost town.
Lost Cove American Pale Ale


luksky said...

Wow, the train track along the river was beautiful. I also love the mystery of the "ghost town".

Jeff said...

Interesting stuff Eric. I've recently made a couple trips to the same general vicinity and hope to do more exploring in the future. The Nolichucky is calling to us.

Ben said...

Very Awesome!

Tom Deaderick said...

Nicely documented. It's cool to see pix of items today and before the fire.

I recently published a science-fiction novel ("Flightsuit") that is based on Lost Cove and Bumpas Cove. I've hiked to the Lost Cove many times, and I'm sure we all enjoy and appreciate many of the same elements of this experience. Here's an excerpt from the book…

"Sometimes the houses were gone entirely, leaving only smooth brown river stones stacked to form a house's crude foundations. Each spring daffodils bloomed. They marked boundaries of porch and path between the little houses where mothers and daughters planted them. They'd not realized all their hands went to would be left behind and forgotten. The wood and stones that had sheltered them from freezing cold winters and the deluge downpours of Tennessee summer rains crumbled without human attention, but the most fragile efforts they'd laid their hands to, the flowers, outlasted all. The flowers bloomed every summer, with none to admire them."

I hope the book is especially enjoyable for those who have actually been to these places and I welcome local feedback and reviews. It's available at Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric,
I just finished reading Christy A. Smith's thesis on Lost cove. I wonder if the suspected train wreck is actually one of the railcar's which was used to house the railmen during Lost Cove's heyday, abandoned as technological progress made the area 'obsolete'.

Worth Weller said...

You all will be glad to know we found Buddy, about three days later. He hikes with us now always on a leash!

Eric and Noelle Grunwald said...

Glad to hear you found Buddy!

Anonymous said...

Great write up with even better pictures! Thank you. I have been wanting to go there for a long time, just haven't gotten to it. How long/hard was the hike in?

Eric and Noelle Grunwald said...

It was a pretty easy hike along the tracks, but there was a pretty good climb to the town site from the RR. Round trip I would estimate the hike's length to be about 8 miles.

Haskel Morrell said...

husband whaniamLooks as if things have change a lot since I went there nearly 40 years ago. I always said I would return, but my knees probably wont let me. Great job and great pics

Dorothy Peterson Dowlin said...

I stayed with my grandma when she lived in lost cove with my Aunt Noami Morgan, a lot of good memories, now at 73 it hurts to see what people have done to those homes, we were proud gardens planted, wild flowers blooming every one went to Church. We believe in hard work and the young worked with the old. Please when you can rub the stones in the Cemetary for me. My great grand parents are there Cindy and arch miller. Rub as many as you can, god bless you ..........
Dorothy Peterson Dowlin
171 Loomis Ave
Coatesville Pa. 19320
Thank you so much -- lovely article..
my grandma name was Jane Miller Bryant.

Anonymous said...

I will be relocating not too far from there in the next few months and hope to make the trek to see this spot. Exciting adventures! Thanks for you photos and story.

Andy Finkle said...

Thanks for sharing. Glad to hear Buddy was found!

Robin Miller Boyd said...

I have always heard about Lost Cove as my great-grandfather, Samuel Miller lived there. I have always wanted to go there. But I was told it was a rough hike on a railroad track. Thank you so much for sharing your story & pics. I feel like I was there a little bit. Our family all live in Jonesborough, TN now.

Anonymous said...

To Robin Miller Boyd and Dorothy Peterson Dowlin only
I have some information you may be interested in and I have a full map done by Chester Bailey himself.

Anonymous said...

I have been to lost cove many times. My uncle was born there. It was a lot nicer in the 50s and 60s. It has suffered a lot vandalism over the years. but still is worth the trip. check out the cemetery on the top of the hill. Family's would leave notes there when they visited.

jigsaw said...

I would love to know where that chimney fall is as I have spent two days in the last two weeks wandering all over lost cove all the way to Poplar.
My e-mail is
I will send you my report when I finish it.

Anonymous said...

If you have a full map I would be very interested in seeing this. Chester was my father's uncle. My grandfather was John Bailey. Please feel free to email me at shann0216@aol.Com

That is a zero after the shann. :) Thanks!!!