Decaying buildings salvaged as history sites
Posted: Monday, February 21, 2011 8:01 pm
GATLINBURG (AP) — As the historic preservation crew foreman for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gary Zbel oversees the construction and upkeep of 97 historic structures scattered throughout the Smokies.
Over the years Zbel and his crew have worked on everything from grist mills to log cabins, but nothing, he says, has been as challenging as rehabilitating the Appalachian Clubhouse.
Built in 1934, the 5,000-square-foot building in the park’s Elkmont district served as headquarters for social gatherings among the community’s summer residents. The building’s siding was Douglas fir, and the tongue-and-groove flooring in the ballroom was oak and maple. The backside and corners of the lodge were damaged by water rot, but workers were able to salvage 80 percent of the original flooring throughout the building.
Because the Appalachian Clubhouse had settled as much as 6 inches over the decades, the crew’s first job last summer was to jack up the entire building and rebuild the rock foundation.
“We tried to retain as much of the historic fabric of the structure as we could,” Zbel said. “A lot of the construction material they used was pretty random – not the kind of stuff you find at Home Depot. This was the biggest and most complex project we’ve ever done in the park.”
Restoration of the Appalachian Clubhouse is 95 percent complete with handicapped facilities still to be added.
Nearby, on the banks of the Little River in the section of Elkmont known as Millionaire’s Row, crews are in the early stages of restoring the Spence Cabin.
The clubhouse and Spence Cabin are among 19 structures the National Park Service has targeted for preservation to create a museum community that tells the story of Elkmont from its early days as a logging camp to its history as a summer resort.
Under the plan, the remaining 50-odd cabins – built mostly during the 1910s and 1920s – will be removed and the area restored to its natural state.
Photographic exhibits and information kiosks will be installed to create a self-guided walking tour of the historic district.
The Appalachian Clubhouse and Spence Cabin are the only Elkmont buildings that will have electricity and plumbing and be made available for public day use. Park officials say the rental fees from the two buildings will help pay for the maintenance of the other cabins as they’re restored.
The clubhouse will be ready for public use this spring, while the Spence Cabin should be ready this summer.
Published in The Messenger 2.21.11