It’s not everyday that you get to explore a spectacular abandoned site that was left practically untouched but Tennessee is chocked full of them. Cast aside, forgotten, and lost in time these places that we used to love are now forgotten. Rusted and dreary, many of the abandoned places in Tennessee are not listed on any official tourism map. You have to learn about them from someone who has been there or heard about it from a friend, but these sites are definitely worth the trip.
The state of Tennessee has many fascinating and historically significant abandoned sites including hospitals, a college, a hotel and even an entire town! If you are looking for your next destination for the ultimate urbex adventure look no further than Tennessee. This list includes our top ten abandoned places in Tennessee that are just waiting for you to explore them.
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The Best Abandoned Places in Tennessee
The Standard Coosa Thatcher Mill
Around the turn of the 20th century, the United States was experiencing a boom in industry, and in the South, cotton was leading the way. The yarn industry and cotton mills supported communities throughout the southeastern states. Employing generations of workers, cotton provided a good living to many workers.
In 1916, the Standard, Coosa, and Thatcher companies of Chattanooga, Tennessee, operated directly beside each other as three separate companies. The Standard Processing Company was created for the purpose of mercerizing the cotton yarn from the Coosa Manufacturing Company. The Thatcher spinning plant processed the incoming raw cotton and spin the cotton to yarn, the finished product.
In 1922, Coosa Manufacturing consolidated with Standard Processing and Thatcher Spinning Company to form the Standard-Coosa-Thatcher Company. After this merger, additions were made to the plants, including another mill and a larger warehouse, joining them all together as one large facility. Standard-Coosa-Thatcher Company filled an entire city block in Chattanooga. The mills could produce 100,000 pounds of yarn per week.
Standard-Coosa-Thatcher was an excellent employer with a high percentage of employees working there for five years or more. In 1960, a local newspaper did a study of the mill workers. Most of the employees reported being satisfied with their jobs citing yearly paid weeklong vacations, a retirement plan, and death benefits as a few reasons. Of the 2,200 paid employees, 500 had been employed with the company for greater than 20 years.
The 1980s saw a change in ownership of the company and a decline in the American textile industry which subsequently lead to bankruptcy. Many workers lost their jobs and retirements. The city of Chattanooga lost a major employer. By 2003, the entire mill was vacant and left to ruin. Like many older buildings of its time, the mill was filled with asbestos.
The cost of asbestos removal and other factors kept these huge buildings from being restored. Over the years there have been interested parties vying for city money to do a clean-up of the mills. There are approved plans for an apartment building but nothing has become of it.
In 2005, the 300,000 square foot facility was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. Many urbex adventurers have photographed the enormous rooms once busy with people, now left to ruin. Graffiti artists have filled the walls with colorful images. Hardwood floors littered with cotton and falling paint chips buckle with years of humidity. This once-thriving business now resembles a post-apocalyptic movie set.
An unexplained fire broke out in July 2016 demolishing a section of the old mill and further contributing to the creepy, abandoned atmosphere of the place. Exploring this once-prosperous mill is an adventure in urbex. The Standard-Coosa-Thatcher company is one of the most famous abandoned sites in Tennessee today. Visit this historic site before it becomes an apartment complex.
The Town of Elkmont
If you would love to explore the remains of a long-abandoned ghost town nestled into the Great Smokey Mountains, you must check out the town of Elkmont. What was once a bustling logging community and resort for the wealthy now stands as a unique window into the history of the community. If you would like to visit a unique urbex adventure, we have put together a look into this Smokey Mountain gem.
First known as Little River for its location in the Little River Valley, the area was first settled in the 1840s. In 1901, Colonel Wilson B. Townsend purchased 86,000 acres of land along the river and formed the Little River Lumber Company. To transport his timber to the mill, Colonel Townsend built the Little River RailRoad.
The logging railroad turned the small community into a resort community. Wealthy families from Knoxville would take the train to the Smokies for weekend getaways and to escape the summertime heat. Soon land was bought up and vacation cabins and mansions were built. The resort community called itself Elkmont.
In 1912, the Wonderland Park Hotel was built as an exclusive 50-room resort for hunting and nature enthusiasts. Owned by a group of 10 wealthy Knoxville residents, the resort became home to the ultra-exclusive “Appalachian Club”. Over the next 20 years, the Appalachian Club and the Wonderland Park Hotel evolved Elkmont into an exclusive resort community for the wealthy.
The Great Smoky Mountains became a national park in 1934 and residents of Elkmont were forced to decide whether they would sell their homes to the National Park Service for full value and relocate, or sell at a discounted price and remain in their homes for the rest of their natural lives.
After the leases all expired in 1992, the National Park Service was left with 70 historic homes and no one to maintain them. Without proper maintenance, the abandoned buildings were left to ruin and soon Elkmont became one of the most popular abandoned places in Tennessee for urban exploration.
In 1982 the park service decided the Wonderland Hotel and surrounding cottages would be demolished and allow the rest of the community to return to nature. To save the town, the National Register of Historic Places placed the Elkmont Historic District on its national registry in 1994. This sparked a 15-year debate about the fate of the community.
By 2005, the hotel and surrounding homes had collapsed into serious disrepair, and the National Park Service slated them for demolition. With the corroboration of the Historical Society, the NPS announced plans in 2009 to restore the Appalachian Club and 18 other homes that were considered historically significant.
The Swiss chalet built by Colonel Townsend as his primary residence stands atop a hill overlooking a babbling brook. Surrounded by equally luxurious “cabins” this area became known as Millionaire’s Row, which stood adjacent to Society Hill. Names like these give a hint to the exclusivity of the once prominent resort community.
Now explorers can hike the beautiful nature trails with handmade stone walls and chimneys getting a glimpse into the area’s historic past. Visitors are not allowed to enter the cabins, but the doors are open, and the interiors are easily viewed. The hike from the parking lot to the historic buildings is not long and can be easily enjoyed by all.
Western State Hospital for the Insane
If exploring long-abandoned mental asylums is more your forte, check out Western State Hospital in Bolivar, Tennessee. The last of the Victorian-era asylums built in Tennessee, it was also the least-funded institution.
Suffering from a perpetual lack of funding and overcrowding, patients here ranged from voluntary committals to murderers, pedophiles, and rapists. The youngest patient institutionalized was only 4 years of age.
The Gothic-style asylum officially opened in November 1989. Designed by the McBride Brothers Architectural firm, the facility was constructed in the Kirkbride pattern, an architectural design thought to have curative effects on the patients. The main building housed the least violent patients, and attached wings with dormitories held the “incurable” patients.
The patient population was 156 patients on opening day expanding to over 2,000 in the early 1960s. Patients here received psychiatric treatments such as lobotomies, electric shock, insulin shock, hydrotherapy, and more. Due to understaffing at the hospital, patients were lucky if they saw a psychiatrist for 10 minutes a week. Most patients were merely warehoused for decades.
With the advent of new psychotropic medications and the outlawing of unpaid patient labor, the patient population began to decline. With further de-institutionalization, many patients were released to the community. Today, the facility has about 250 patients and 700 staff.
Pictures posted on the internet show chilling images of long-forgotten luggage, confiscated upon patient arrival, still neatly shelved. Rows of children’s coats still hang on pegs in the children’s dormitory. Wheelchairs, patient beds, and furniture clutter the mold-filled rooms. The patient wings were demolished in the 1980s, leaving the main hospital building to become one of the famous abandoned places in Tennessee for urbex adventures.
If you wish to visit the old asylum, the remaining main building is still housed on the 156-acre campus, home to the new mental health facility. None of the asylum’s admission and death records remain but any patients who died while hospitalized are buried in unmarked graves in the cemetery on site.
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100 North Main, Memphis
At 430 feet, One Hundred North Main is the tallest building in Memphis, Tennessee. It has 37 floors and occupies the city block bordered by Adams Avenue, North Second Street, and North Main. The building currently stands vacant and is falling into disrepair.
Completed in 1965 after two years of construction, the building housed many lawyers, title companies, and courthouse offices. At the top, the revolving rooftop restaurant with the Japanese rock garden was all the rage in the 60s. The bright red UP Bank sign on the rooftop was a symbol of the Memphis skyline for many years.
The Industrial-style office building features marble walls and aluminum windows. At the base of the tower is a multi-story garage parking area with entrances to popular retail stores on many levels. Now the escalator, once busy, stands frozen in time. The clock on the marble lobby walls is still and silent.
The rooftop restaurant sits atop rubber tires which once revolved the restaurant 360 degrees every 90 minutes. With the most astounding views of Memphis and the Mississippi River, the restaurant was once a popular eatery. By the early 2000s, the price of office space in Memphis plummeted to an all-time low. With only 30% of the office space occupied, the building declined in value.
In 2000, the office building was listed for sale at $20 Million. In August of 2013, it sold for only $5 million, valuing the building’s 436,280 square feet of office space at only $11 a square foot. The new owners revealed ambitious plans for renovation and restoration of the building, planning an apartment building and luxury hotel for $100 million. Construction began after the last tenants vacated the building in August 2014. Construction was soon halted due to a lack of funding for the project.
The building stands vacant and condemned by the Shelby County Environmental court when it was discovered that large chunks of the exterior of the building were falling off. A court-ordered barricade was placed around the building blocking the sidewalk. The County cited the owners of the building with 31 citations including inoperable elevators, a lack of fire and safety equipment, and blocking the sidewalks.
The owners managed to have the building added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2015 thinking the designation would help with funding for the restoration project but instead the historical designation brought miles of red tape to further delay the project.
Pictures of the interior of One Hundred North Main were posted on the internet by urbex adventurers showing the remains of a once-thriving restaurant and office building. One of the abandoned places in Tennessee without much mold, decay, or ruin, this building stands ready for further exploration.
US Marine Hospital
Another urbex gem, the U.S. Marine Hospital is over 200 years old. Established on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1884, the hospital was created by an Act of Congress in 1798 to provide care for injured/elderly seamen. The hospital was a precursor to the national Public Health Services and was the only government hospital serving the area until after WWI.
The original campus consisted of six buildings: the stable, two patient wards, the surgeon’s house, an administrative building, and the Nurses’ Quarters. In 1884 the hospital provided care for injured Civil War soldiers and later served as a research station for the control of yellow fever.
During the 1930s, several Works Progress Administration buildings were added to the campus. The old administration building was moved to make way for the new WPA hospital by pulling the building 400 feet away with a team of mules. Constructed in the Georgian style of architecture at a cost of $1 million in 1937, the new red-brick hospital featured a slate roof, limestone columns, and a copper copula.
The hospital was officially closed in 1960. The western wing of the hospital was leased by the city of Memphis to the National Ornamental Metal Museum. The remaining eastern section of the hospital was owned by the federal government and abandoned, left to fall into disrepair. Soon, the Marine Hospital would become one of the abandoned sites in Tennessee regularly appearing on urbex websites.
The four remaining buildings were added to the National Register of Historic sites in 2019. The federal government sold the property in 2003 to a private group of investors who planned to restore the historical building, making it into luxury apartments called The Marine Hospital Residence. To date, the site remains abandoned.
Abandoned Knoxville College
In the years following the abolishment of slavery, many missionaries traveled to the south to begin the enormous task of educating the newly freed men and women. In 1875, the United Presbyterian Church of North America built Knoxville College a historically black liberal arts college. Initially, the college offered elementary and high school classes since most of the freedmen and women were not qualified to go to college.
The 39-acre campus is home to 17 buildings scattered across a hillside famous for being a Confederate battery during the Civil War. Along with classrooms and administration buildings, the campus also includes a performing arts center, a gymnasium, a library, a student center, and a chapel.
The oldest building on campus, McKee Hall opened in 1867, was destroyed by fire and rebuilt by students with student-made bricks, in 1894. Many of the buildings on campus were made by the students using bricks made in the school brickyard. In 1904, students used or sold a total of 1 million bricks.
In 1877, the school received college accreditation. Elementary and high school classes were discontinued. Knoxville College offered teacher training and college courses in theology, the classics, and science. Classes in agriculture, industrial arts, and medicine were also available.
In the 1960s, the school played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement with students leading lunchroom sit-ins to end segregation. The 1960 graduating class featured Martin Luther King as the keynote speaker. By the 1970s the school was experiencing financial difficulties due to declining student enrollment. The final blow was dealt to the college in 1997 when it lost accreditation.
Knoxville College remained open through the early 2000s but student enrollment was only 11. Many of the beautiful buildings began to show signs of neglect. Soon, urban explorers discovered this gem of abandoned sites in Tennessee with videos and pictures of the school posted online. Science buildings still held glassware and equipment. The Library was still full of books. Knoxville College was an urbex adventure.
Attempts to seal the buildings were unsuccessful and vandals looted the place. It was soon discovered that hazardous chemicals had been left in the Science building and were now leaking from their containers. The EPA toured the site in 2014 and declared it a hazardous waste site. After the government clean-up, the college owed $427,000 to the EPA. Already struggling to repay a $4.5 million loan from 2003, the college announced it would be canceling classes in hopes of reorganization.
Despite having eight buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the college continues to fall further into disrepair. The historical brick buildings stand empty and abandoned, a mere ghost of its former glory. Hopes to restore the college have brought about no success but the college is still offering classes online. Visit this glimpse back into time while you still can.
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Ashlar Hall – Prince Mongo’s Castle
Ashlar Hall, aka Prince Mongo’s Castle, is an incredible castle replica set in the heart of Memphis, Tennessee. Built and designed by millionaire Robert Snowden in 1896 as his family estate, his mock castle stands to this day. The 11,000 square foot home has eight bedrooms, a basement, and a large attic with servants’ quarters.
Outside, an irregular shaped swimming pool is set off to the southwest. The total estate property size was over 5,000 acres stretching from Memphis into parts of Mississippi. Final construction cost of the home was about $25,000 the equivalent of $725,000 today.
A Princeton graduate, Robert Snowden was the Memphis version of American royalty. The great-grandson of Col.Robert Brinkley, the owner of the enormously famous Peabody Hotel, Snowden was considered a premier property developer in Memphis. He named his estate Ashlar Hall after the ashlar stone used in its construction. The stones made the mansion strong and it still stands but time has not been gracious to the once fabulous estate.
After Robert Brinkley Snowden died in 1942, the castle was willed to his heirs. Upkeep on the enormous structure was costly and the family petitioned the city for non-residential use of the property. By the 1950s the palatial bedrooms had been transformed into private dining rooms and the mansion began a new life as a popular restaurant. The front lawn was paved over into parking spots in the early 1960s.
In 1990, the mansion was purchased by an eccentric millionaire Robert “Prince Mongo” Hodges. Prince Mongo is infamous in Memphis for running for city mayor every election, and losing, and for his claim of being 333 years old. He also claims to be an alien prince from the planet Zambodia. In 1990, Prince Mongo opened “The Castle” a popular nightclub.
Soon the stunning stained glass windows imported from Italy were being viewed by patrons seeking cold cheap beer and the wet t-shirt contests. The nightclub became infamous for serving underage patrons. Two teenagers died in a drunk driving accident in 1992 after leaving The Castle but Mongo has never been charged with any criminal complaint.
With pressure from neighboring residents, Memphis Fire Marshall changed the building’s occupancy code from 451 to 88. The next day the club was shut down for over-occupancy. The following day, Prince Mongo had 800 tons of sand dumped in front of the castle and continued the party outdoors. After much pressure from the city, The Castle was finally closed.
Vacant for years the property was signed over in a quitclaim deed to Urban Renaissance, a non-profit for veterans in 2013 by Prince Mongo who at that time owed much money to the city for code violations on the property. The new owners hired a contractor to remove the restaurant equipment still owned by Mongo but the contractor instead stole original stonework, copper cornices, and ornate decor from the mansion.
Part of the roof was stolen and the hole was covered by a blue tarp that still hangs off the roof today. A warrant was issued for the contractor but no charges were ever filed and the fate of Prince Mongo’s castle remains shrouded in mystery.
This mansion is an urbex dream! The interior is overly ornate with dome ceilings and stained glass windows, and even a tunnel. Once pictures of Prince Mongo’s Castle appeared on the internet, it quickly became a famous abandoned place in Tennessee. Even with its disrepair, the mansion holds fast to its former glory with room after room surprising the explorer with its grandeur.
Abandoned Gilley’s Hotel
Once a bustling stop for railroad workers and passengers, the now-abandoned hotel still stands next to the tracks. The railroad featured prominently in this bustling small town, population 184. Bulls Gap was a popular stopover spot for travelers and workers on their way to Rogersville.
The original 3-story hotel was built in 1850 by Peter Smith and was called Smith House. That hotel burned to the ground and was rebuilt in the same spot in 1848. Always a busy location, the hotel was filled nightly with passengers and workers of the railroad making Bulls Gap a popular place.
The prosperous hotel was purchased in 1920 by R.H. Gilley. Seeking to build on its popularity, he expanded the hotel adding a large dining hall, a barber shop, and many more amenities for travelers and guests. The newly re-named Gilley’s Hotel was at its peak of popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. People could have lunch, get a haircut, visit the post office, and catch the train all at one stop.
Business kept chugging along until the 1960s when trains made fewer stops at Bulls Gap. The hotel changed hands several times after the death of Mr. Gilley in 1949. A man named Jim Walls continued to rent out rooms in the old hotel until 2003. He passed away and willed the hotel to the Bulls Gap Railroad Museum.
The railroad museum attained the non-profit status and with a grant replaced the roof of the old hotel. However, years of neglect made the restoration financially impossible for the small non-profit. The hotel has been left vacant for years, nature beginning to reclaim its territory. A favorite abandoned place in Tennessee for urbex, Gilley’s Hotel still holds fast to its prosperous past. Plans for future restoration of the hotel are unknown at this time.
Higdon Hotel in Reliance
Built in 1878 as a private residence by Harriet Dodson, the first five years of this hotel’s history are lost but the property was sold in 1883 to the Hidgon family. The hotel sits high atop a bluff on the Hiwassee River in Reliance Tennessee. The hotel is well-known to locals and visitors to the Cherokee National Forest.
The Hidgon family doubled the size of the structure and opened it as a boarding house for railroad workers as tracks were laid through the town in 1890. While the rooms were available to the bosses only, the enormous kitchen served all.
“They fed a lot more people than stayed here,” said Harold Webb, administrator of Webb Bros. Rafting of Reliance. “They had some little tiny rooms that were just big enough for a bed, almost more like a bunk room, and they had a big dining room and a big kitchen and so they apparently fed a lot of the workers that weren’t actually staying here.”
Born and raised in Reliance, Webb has devoted his life to the preservation of the town’s history and his favorite project, hidden away in the thick shrubbery and trees on the high bluff, is Higdon Hotel. Webb has had hoped for the restoration of the hotel for years.
After the railroad finished laying the tracks, Reliance became a favorite stop over for passenger trains and the hotel was reborn as a resort in the 1930s. As passenger trains lost their popularity, the sleepy town of Reliance returned to its natural state and the hotel was sold, and the property once again became a private residence.
In the 1970s, a group of locals formed the Reliance Historic District hoping to have the hotel added to the National Register of Historic Places. With a small grant, the group replaced the aging roof and septic system and began restoration of the hotel. With their work, the hotel remains stable and intact.
Inside, the hardwood floors are littered with broken glass from vandals, nails, chipped paint, and debris left by urbex explorers. Ashes still sit in the massive stone fireplace downstairs. Upstairs, empty rooms sit vacant, awaiting visitors. Restoration has been slowed by curious explorers claiming ornate door knobs and original gingerbread wood trim. Salvaging the original pieces of the hotel has proven challenging.
Restoration costs have mounted as the members of the groups are sidetracked with squabbling among themselves over the project’s direction. They have been at a stalemate for over 20 years now. Webb, who has preserved another historic building in the area, holds hope for the project. He hopes to restore the old hotel and re-open it for tourists to the area.
“We’ve got the rivers, the mountains. We’ve got the attractions. We’ve got the excitement. We’ve got the railroad excursions coming right through here. But we haven’t enough places to stay and eat,” Webb said. In the meantime, pictures of the old hotel have filled the internet along with stories of its haunting past. Visit this hidden gem and one of the best examples of amazing abandoned places in Tennessee soon.
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The Old Tennessee State Prison
The Tennessee State Prison in downtown Nashville, Tennessee is a storied place. Opened in 1898, it operated under the Auburn penitentiary system modeled after the fortress-style structure of the New York State Penitentiary in Auburn, New York. The Auburn system attempted to rehabilitate an inmate by reflection and solitude and “healthy” hard work. Famous for its lock-step marching, it was the first of its type in the South.
“During the day the prisoners, with downcast eyes, labored silently together in workshops, while at night they slept alone in separate cells. Under no circumstances could they communicate with one another, and only when necessity demanded could they receive letters or calls from relatives and friends.”
The prison contained 800 small cells each designed for a solitary prisoner. In addition, an administration building and other small office buildings, warehouses, and factories were built within the twenty-foot high, three-foot thick rock walls. The system also provided for a working farm outside the prison walls and mandated separate facilities for younger offenders. A separate wing was built to house female inmates who worked the farm as well.
In 1863, the Union army took hold of the fortress and used it as a military prison. Under Union army control, the prison population soared and conditions became unlivable. Prisoners were rented out to the state for manual labor to repay their prison debt. Following the Civil War, the population of black inmates soared, from 5% to 62% in 1896.
Physical labor was performed by every convict not only for rehabilitative purposes but also to defray the cost of their incarceration. Inmates toiled up to 16 hours a day for meager food rations, and unheated, unventilated sleeping quarters. The 1840s began the practice of prison labor for profit.
Prisoners were employed in the construction of the new state capitol building in Nashville. Prison labor was so lucrative generating great amounts of revenue for the state, that private factories were built on the prison campus to exploit free convict labor.
In 1870 the state prison reached a deal with Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company establishing the first convict labor leasing program. In protest, free-laborers staged a strike against the company, and the contract was defeated. This was the first of many revolts against the convict leasing system of labor.
This prison had its share of problems. In 1902, seventeen prisoners blew out the end of one prison wing, killing one inmate and allowing two others to escape. The men were never recaptured. Later a group of prisoners seized control of the segregated white housing wing and held it captive for eighteen hours before surrendering to authorities.
In 1907, convicts commandeered a switch engine and used it to take down the prison gates. In 1938, prisoners staged a mass escape. Several serious fires have occurred at the prison, including one that destroyed the dining hall. Serious riots occurred here in 1975 and 1985 both citing overcrowding at the facility.
In 1992, the Tennessee Department of Corrections opened a new penitentiary and this old prison was closed down. As part of a class-action lawsuit, Grubbs v. Bradley (1983), the Federal Court issued a permanent injunction that prohibited inmates from ever being housed at this prison again.
The massive Victorian stone structure was severely damaged by an EF3 tornado in the tornado outbreak of March 2-3, 2020. But not before this incredible example of abandoned places in Tennessee was immortalized in films such as The Green Mile, Framed, Ernest Goes to Jail, Against The Wall, and Walk The Line.
The prison was referred to as Walls Correctional Facility to maintain the location’s privacy. “On The Inside”, a documentary film about the prison itself, was shot using drone footage of the prison preserving the classic Victorian fortress before its destruction by the tornado.
This documentary can be found online if this most famous of abandoned places in Tennessee holds special interest for you. The Tennessee Department of Corrections maintains the property, and although abandoned, it is monitored for trespassers. Anyone caught will be prosecuted according to the department.
Our Final Thoughts on Abandoned Places in Tennessee
There are many abandoned places in Tennessee. These sites are ripe for exploration and historical documentation. While not all have a history of hauntings, all have a rich history to share with anyone who seeks it out. Adventures in Tennessee await you at these abandoned sites.Check each of these places off your bucket list one by one as you explore the great state of Tennessee.
Did we miss a location? Leave us a comment below and let us know your favorite abandoned palace in Tennessee to explore. We’re always looking for suggestions of new sites that we need to visit. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends and check out our other urbex articles next.
Those who are into urban exploration in the Tennessee state area, and wanting to explore abandoned places in Tennessee, should get comfortable with Tennessee trespassing laws. Luckily, in the state of Tennessee, the laws are easy to understand and are pretty cut and dry.
For these cases, you should familiarize yourself with x. For more about obtaining permission to explore abandoned places in Tennessee, check out our guide Explore Abandoned Buildings: How To Get Permission.