Lost Cove Settlement – Erwin, Tennessee - Atlas Obscura

Lost Cove Settlement

Erwin, Tennessee

Railroad came. People came. Railroad left. Town died.  


Lost Cove lies along the Nolichucky River in the Poplar Gorge between Tennessee and North Carolina. For a long time, it was contested territory, and its secluded location lured moonshiners in the early 1900s. When one was brought to jail on accusations of illegal brewing, the judge dismissed the case as outside of his jurisdiction. This ruling encouraged more moonshiners to pursue their tawdry activities in this gorge. With the lumber industry, the railroad came in. A proper wagon road was built in 1912, and the town prospered. Lost Cove produced a sizable logging operation and had accoutrements of an operating town, such a school. The population, at its height, was probably around 100 people.

As the timber ran out, the railroad halted passenger trips to focus on coal, and the town slowly deteriorated. The state of Tennessee considered building a road to the town, but legislation never passed. Lost Cove Settlement’s last family left in 1957.

Now, several intact houses remain, tucked innocuously into the mountains on the Tennessee–North Carolina border. The town cemetery can also be seen, with some graves over a hundred years old.

Know Before You Go

To reach the town, you have to hike in. There are two routes. One starts at a parking lot on Forest Service Rd in North Carolina; don't hike the gravel road, instead find a tiny path off to the right of the parking spot, strait up the mountain. Turn left at the top and walk till you find a sign for Lost Cove. Then walk down for hours. Watch out for bears.

The other route is flatter. From River Road, you hike three miles along the railroad tracks in Unicoi County, Tennessee that hug the Nolichucky River, until you reach a dirt road that you follow one mile up to the town. The GPS location is for the town itself. The tracks are live and to find the ghost town this way you have to walk along the tracks with a cliff strait up one side and a cliff strait down to a raging river on the other side a long way with no where to hide from a train and without being able to see around the corner. The train is slow and you can hear it from a long way away, but the steep hike through the bear sanctuary is probably a lot safer.

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