The Underwater Ghost Towns of Appalachia
Updated: Aug 13
The hills and hollers of Appalachia are filled with fascinating history. The stories of Appalachia’s people and towns can be found at times in the most unlikely places – including beneath the surfaces of our beautiful mountain lakes.
Yes, y’all, there are more to these lakes than meet the eye. Many lakes in Appalachia are man-made, and when man decides to manipulate the landscape around him, naturally, there are consequences. A few of the consequences have resulted in the form of something rather eerie; submerged ghost towns. To be clear, y’all, this means that there are towns lying at the bottom of some of your favorite lakes.
So let’s explore them, shall we? I recently took a deep dive (literally) on three different underwater ghost towns in Southern Appalachia, and now, I want to tell you about everything that I learned so that the memories of these towns can live on. Let’s get to it!
Town of Proctor, NC and The Road to Nowhere – Lake Fontana
Our first ghost town visit takes us to the remote, western edge of North Carolina to Fontana Lake.
Deep below the clear waters of Fontana Lake lies the ghost town of Proctor. Fontana Lake was created in the 1940’s when the Tennessee Valley Authority built Fontana Dam – a hydroelectric dam that was completed in 1944 after just two years of construction. The dam was built to provide large amounts of needed electricity to power nearby Oak Ridge, a top-secret weapons laboratory that was instrumental in aiding the American war effort during World War II.
However, beyond the impressive structure and utility of the dam and beneath the sparkling waters of Fontana Lake, there is the story of the town of Proctor. The town was named after Moses Proctor, who was the first European settler in the area. Proctor was flooded shortly after the construction of the dam, and the remaining parts of the town are now inside the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today, parts of the town that are not underwater can be accessed via backcountry trails in the park.
Modern Day Fontana Dam
Before Proctor was flooded and the land was seized by the government, residents of the town needed to be relocated so that they, too, didn’t end up underwater. However, this means that they would be leaving important places behind, including family cemeteries where their loved ones were buried. Unfortunately, and very inconveniently, access to these cemeteries were obstructed by the newly-flooded lake and could only be accessed by ferry. Not to worry, though – the displaced residents were promised that a 30-mile road would be constructed along the north rim of the lake so that families could have easier access to their loved ones’ final resting place.
While the gesture was nice, this promise was never fulfilled.
A road was indeed built, however, only 6 miles of it were completed. It offers lovely views of the surrounding mountains, but… it doesn't go anywhere. On a map, this road is known as Lakeview Drive, but locally, it’s known fittingly as The Road To Nowhere – A Broken Promise.
For a more detailed history of The Road to Nowhere, check out this well-researched article on thesmokies.com.
There are a few backcountry campsites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that you can visit that sit in the area where Proctor once flourished. If you choose to visit, make sure you follow the proper procedures, plan ahead, get the proper permits, and treat the area with care.
Town of Andersonville, SC – Lake Hartwell
Another ghost town of Appalachia can be found on the very southern edge of Appalachia’s boundaries in the rolling foothills of South Carolina.
In 1801, the South Carolina General Assembly established the town of Andersonville – a town that was nestled at the fork of the Seneca River and the Tugaloo River before it was submerged by the expansive waters of Lake Hartwell. The town was named for Robert Anderson, a Revolutionary War hero. This once-bustling textile town was prone to flooding, and experienced two large floods in 1840 and 1852 that destroyed the textile mills in the town.
Andersonville relied heavily on river transportation, which did not bode well during an age when railways were becoming increasingly popular. Rail construction bypassed old Andersonville, and residents slowly began to relocate to more economically advantageous areas. By 1893, the Andersonville post office closed, and the town naturally faded from reality to memory. The construction of Lake Hartwell in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s cemented the eventual fate of Andersonville, and much of this old town now lies beneath the surface of the lake.
All that is left of Andersonville is a small island known as, you guessed it, Andersonville Island. This island is located right smack dab in the middle of Lake Hartwell and is only accessible via watercraft. This fascinating blog, Return to Andersonville Island, details an interesting exploration of the island and provides a rare glimpse of what remains of this town that now lives only in the pages of history.
The present day site of Andersonville Island, the last remaining piece of Andersonville, SC.
Town of Loyston, TN – Norris Lake
The final ghost town that we’ll be visiting on this journey is none other than Loyston, Tennessee, which now sits at the bottom of Norris Lake.
Loyston was settled in the 1800’s by the Stookesbury Family and officially took its name in 1894 after John Loy, who established a foundry in the area. Loyston was conveniently located along State Highway 61 and served as a trading center for local farmers. However, in the 1930’s, the Tennessee Valley Authority began making plans to construct Norris Dam, which eventually submerged the town and displaced the residents that lived there. Loyston was completely submerged in 1935.
One notable thing about Loyston that is different from other submerged towns is that it was extensively documented before meeting its ultimate, watery fate. Before the town was covered by Norris Lake, the Tennessee Valley Authority conducted sociological surveys of Loyston’s residents, and the town was documented by Lewis Hine.
Filling station in Loyston, 1933
Tennessee Valley Authority - Tennessee Valley Perspectives, vol. 2, no. 3 (Spring 1972), p. 23.
Sharps Station Methodist Episcopal Church
Photo by Lewis Hines, 1933
Many of Loyston’s displaced residents relocated to other areas in East Tennessee in preparation of the town’s flooding. Loyston currently lies under an area known as the Loyston Sea in Norris Lake near modern day Big Ridge State Park.
Well y’all, I hope that these stories were as enlightening for you to read as they were for me to research. If anything, this proves that there is more to Appalachia than meets the eye, and sometimes, the most interesting stories lie just below the surface. It’s important to keep these stories alive so that these towns stay alive in the spirit of our storytelling, so tell your friends about your new found knowledge so that they can learn a thing or two, too.
For more photos and explorations, be sure to follow The Wandering Appalachian on Instagram and Pinterest! Be sure when you're discovering new places to practice Leave No Trace principles. Take only pictures, and leave only footprints. Happy wandering, y'all
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