Eugenia Williams House Restoration
Underground Gay Street
New River Scenic Railway Train
Calderwood Baptist Church
Sanitary Laundry Building
Island View School
Tennessee State Prison
Eugenia Williams House
Rule High School
Eastern State Hospital Farm Dorm
Some are the crumbling remains of former boomtowns. Others are the weathered reminders of beloved or infamous community hubs.
Big or small, each place holds a place in Tennessee's history and in the memories of the people who knew them in their heyday.
From hotels to schools to prison and more, explore the historic places in the Volunteer State that have been left behind, learn the stories trapped within their worn walls and find out what the future holds for them.
Reporter’s note: Though many of these buildings are unused and empty, they sit on private property that is still actively used in some cases. Do NOT attempt to unlawfully enter any of these places without permission. Many of them are structurally unsound and pose potential health hazards, like asbestos and lead paint. 10News contacted all owners and obtained permission prior to visiting.
Eugenia Williams House Restoration:
The Eugenia Williams House was built for the daughter of an East Tennessee physician who was one of the first investors in what would become the Coca-Cola Company.
High brown brick walls and tall trees blocked the Regency-style estate and its 24 acres of riverfront property from view and served as a retreat for the reclusive heiress for 50 years.
When she died, Eugenia left the 10,800 square foot house to the University of Tennessee, but years of indecision left it abandoned.
Now in the hands of a Knoxville-based nonprofit, the mysterious mansion could soon rejoin the West Knoxville community for the first time in decades.
When it was first built in 1937, the Millennium Manor was designed to survive a biblical apocalypse and last 1,000 years more.
After its owners died before their predicted Armageddon, the castle-like house’s pink marble walls held strong as a haunted house and then a hub for squatters and mischievous teenagers.
RELATED: Abandoned Places: Millennium Manor
It sat abandoned for years with Mother Nature creeping in until a retired firefighter bought the manor and began fixing it up.
While no one knows when the world is going to end, the Millennium Manor stands sturdy as a labor of love for one Alcoa couple and a roadside oddity for anyone passing by.
Underground Gay Street:
East Tennesseans are very familiar with Gay Street with its shops, restaurants and events. For years, it has been a hub of Downtown Knoxville.
At the turn of the 20th century, the city started devising ways to make the trek up Summit Hill easier on the horses and carts moving goods to and from the railroad to the Tennessee River.
The solution was to raise the 100 block of Gay Street up one story, sealing storefronts and sidewalks underground.
While many stroll along its sidewalks every day, few know about the historic spaces just below their feet that haven’t seen daylight in more than a century.
New River Scenic Railway Train:
The New River Scenic Railway was an idea brought to life by two East Tennesseans who wanted to start a tourism business.
Passengers would wind along a scenic 62-mile trip deep into East Tennessee, and the little local operation’s popularity grew rapidly with its brochures scattered throughout the community.
The beloved trip only lasted from 2008 to 2010 before things began to derail when the line changed hands and disputes about the rights to use the track brought the excursion to a screeching halt.
It was parked in the hills of Anderson County to keep it out of the way where it has remained for more than a decade.
Calderwood Baptist Church:
Cruising down the winding switchbacks of The Dragon (also known as U.S. 129), you will likely never spot the town of Calderwood unless your vehicle is equipped with a flux capacitor.
This former Blount County community hasn’t existed since the 1960s. It was mostly abandoned when work on four nearby dams was completed and the town was razed not long after.
Calderwood Baptist Church is one of the scarce hints that the community existed at all. For more than 20 years, it has been slowly reclaimed by nature, and its future is uncertain at best.
Sitting southwest of the infamous Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary is another historic Morgan County site that isn’t as well-known but is just as significant to the area’s story.
The Stonecipher-Kelly House, the oldest standing settlement house in the county, is nestled at the foot of the Frozen Head Mountains, one of the few surviving relics of East Tennessee’s formative years.
The house, or rather the original one-room cabin, was built by Ezra Stonecipher, the son of a Revolutionary War soldier, who moved his family to the area in 1807. Sitting in the same spot for over 200 years, the house's walls can tell the tales of much of Morgan County's history.
For the past five years, Frozen Head State Park rangers have been working to make sure those walls can still talk.
Originally purchased as a location for a tuberculosis sanatorium to aid ailing union members, the land that would become the Pressmen's Home quickly grew into an idyllic, self-sustaining community.
RELATED: Abandoned Places: Pressmen’s Home
For nearly six decades, it was a place where pressmen and their families could live and learn in luxury. However, the union president's death marked the beginning of the end for this little community. Then union politics won out and moved the headquarters to Washington, D.C.
Now, arson and Mother Nature have done their best to reclaim any trace of the once beautiful valley village in Rogersville.
Sanitary Laundry Building:
From the road, the brown brick building in Knoxville doesn’t exactly turn heads.
However, behind those boarded-up windows, the former Sanitary Laundry Building opens up into 30,000 square feet of dusty concrete, Christmas-colored bricks and rusty relics of its heyday.
Started in 1926, it was once a major employer on the North Broadway corridor. Within those walls, people earned a living and served the community until 1993 when the laundry operation closed for good.
It sat empty for decades, falling prey to nature, break-ins, and squatters. Until 2014, when the city of Knoxville purchased it with plans to fix it up. Now, this boarded-up brown brick building has the chance to rejoin the community after more than 20 years.
For 360 tours of these places and behind-the-scenes content, check out our Abandoned Places YouTube playlist.
The Gilley's Hotel in Bulls Gap, Tennessee once served as a swanky stop for railroad workers and passengers with a barbershop, a large dining room, the post office and other amenities inside.
RELATED: Abandoned Places: Gilley's Hotel
Originally called the Smith House, the hotel was built just after the Civil War for people traveling to and from Rogersville. However, the red brick rest stop hit its heyday in the Roaring '20s when it was expanded and renamed the Gilley's Hotel. When the steam engine industry faded in the 1960s and guests click-clacked down the tracks to bigger stops, the hotel faltered.
It served as apartments for a brief period before being donated to the local railroad museum in hopes that it could be restored. Now, it sits empty just feet away from the tracks, a relic of this little railroad town's steam-powered past.
Started in 1890, the Trew's Store in McMinn County was called the "Walmart of its day" because it had everything the rural community could need from farming equipment to shoes to groceries to medicine.
RELATED: Abandoned Places: Trew's Store
Operated by the son of the original owner and his wife, the little white store was a fixture of the area as people traveled by horse, mule-pulled cart or car to trade for goods or just catch up on the latest gossip. It even had an ice cream cooler and candy counter, but Trew's was most famous for its fresh, hand-sliced bologna and cheese sandwiches.
However, when the owner died in 1996 and his wife could not keep up the business on her own, Trew's closed for good. Now, this little white store's dusty shelves are sparsely stocked with the rodent-chewed remains of its heyday.
Island View School:
Sunshine or snow, Sevier County students used to walk, ride a horse or go by wagon for miles to get to the Island View School.
The little gray schoolhouse was built on two acres of donated land in 1917 when the area’s original school was blown down in a severe storm. In the single-room school, teachers taught eight grades to 35-40 kids under one roof, while also serving as principals and janitors.
RELATED: Abandoned Places: Island View School
Island View was a beloved place to learn, play ball at recess or catch crawdads in the yard after class until 1949 when a larger school was built down the road and the students moved into the bigger classrooms.
The little gray schoolhouse sagged on the side of a Sevier County highway for years until one man, whose family donated the land for the school decades earlier, noticed people parking along the fence line in front of the school to take photos and decided to preserve the building and its memories.
Built in 1878, the Higdon Hotel was originally a home for a family in Reliance, Tennessee. Five years later, the Higdon family bought it and doubled the length, turning it into a boarding house for railroad bosses and supervisors as tracks were laid through the town in 1890.
RELATED: Abandoned Places: Higdon Hotel
The spacious rooms with large windows that look out onto the Hiwassee River were exclusive to the bosses, but the kitchen was open to all, feeding far more people than just the guests under its roof. Once the railroad was completed and passenger trains started rolling through, the boarding house operated as a riverside resort until the 1930s.
However, when the passenger trains stopped running, business started fading, forcing the Higdons to sell the hotel and move on. One Reliance native has been working to restore the riverside resort for decades, but for now, it sits half-hidden by shrubs, vines and trees on a hillside waiting for the day guests fill its rooms again.
Tennessee State Prison:
Opened on Feb. 12, 1898, just outside Nashville, the Tennessee State Prison's 120-year history has been marked by fame and infamy, with A-list celebrities and reviled assassins alike gracing its grounds.
The five-story cell blocks were designed to hold 800 inmates, but the corrections department wasted no time exceeding this limit by incarcerating around 1,200 people on opening day. The six-foot by eight-foot cells, which were designed to house one person, often held at least two inmates. Some even had four crammed inside.
The Tennessee State Prison was forced to close in June 1992 after a federal lawsuit and court ruling found it to be overcrowded and unsanitary. It has been decades since a prisoner sat behind its bars, but it is still the same place that served as both a holding cell for MLK's assassin and the setting of "The Green Mile."
Opening just 10 years after slavery was abolished in 1875, Knoxville College initially offered elementary classes for freed men and women. In 1883, these men and women qualified for a college education, and it became a historically Black liberal arts college.
RELATED: Abandoned Places: Knoxville College
The college and its students would go on to have a significant role in Knoxville's civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the 1960 commencement speaker, inspiring many students to lead the local lunch counter sit-in movements.
Financially hardships plagued the institution, losing its accreditation in 1997 and halting classes altogether in 2015. Arson and break-ins have not helped the crumbling campus, but alumni have not lost hope that this historic college can have students on the sprawling grounds once again.
Eugenia Williams House:
Built in 1940, the Eugenia Williams House belonged to the daughter of an East Tennessee physician who helped fund the Coca-Cola Company.
The 10,800 square foot house on the Tennessee River was designed to cater to Eugenia’s desire for a reclusive life, with tall trees planted between the house and the lake to protect her privacy.
When Eugenia died in 1998, she bequeathed the house to the University of Tennessee. However, disputes over how the property should be used according to Eugenia’s will and a quick succession of UT presidents led to the house sitting abandoned for years.
Rule High School:
Named for a former Union Army captain who went on to be the mayor of Knoxville, Rule High School opened in 1927.
RELATED: Abandoned Places: Rule High School
The hilltop high school in northwest Knoxville was home to the Golden Bears for nearly 70 years until low attendance numbers forced it to shut down in 1991. The former football stadium with a view of Downtown Knoxville was torn down in 2016 and the newest portion of the building was converted into a storage facility for Knox County.
County officials want to see the old school turned into something useful for the area, but for now, the Golden Bears’ former home sits quietly on its hill, waiting for a time when people fill its halls again.
Eastern State Hospital Farm Dorm:
When the creation of Fort Loudoun Reservoir inundated a portion of the Lyons View Mental Health Hospital's farm, also known as Lakeshore Mental Health Facility, in 1943, the Eastern State Hospital Farm Dorm was built on a hilltop next to the Holston River.
Mental health patients were housed in the dormitory and worked on the dairy farm nearby. The facility closed in the late 1960s and was deeded to the University of Tennessee in 1973, with the city of Knoxville using a portion of the property for the Knoxville Community Release Center for prisoners for a period.
Now, the UT East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center Holston Unit operates the property as an outdoor agricultural teaching and research laboratory, but the dorm sits crumbling and empty on the hilltop with farm equipment parked all around it.