The Lost Town of Proctor4 min read
The Southern boundary of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, is marked by Fontana Lake, and the area along its north shore, Hazel Creek, is one of the most remote and isolated parts of the park.
Accessible only by boat or after a long hike, this region is also one of the largest stretches of roadless land in the eastern United States.
But it wasn’t always this way.
85% of the national forest was owned by timber companies, and 15 % of the national forest was owned by small landholders.
These were quaint, self-sufficient communities….now ghost towns.
Underneath Fontana Lake lies the lost town of Proctor, a once-booming lumber town on Hazel Creek, a tributary of the Little Tennessee River.
Proctor, along with the other communities of Hazel Creek, was flooded when the Fontana Dam was created in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack to power a nearby aluminum plant—The Aluminum Company of America in Alcoa—for the war effort.
The lake formed by the dam displaced the local residents from their homes and most of the town was submerged by the rising water.
The floodwaters also washed out Highway 288, the only major road leading in or out of Hazel Creek.
Gravesites below the waterline were moved (although not all of them were actually moved, as many Native American gravesites are still there, or if the families couldn’t be reached, graves remained).
On the other hand, gravesites above the waterline were left because the federal government promised the residents who gave up their land for the Fontana Dam that they would soon have a road constructed on the north side of the lake so that they could have access to their family cemeteries. Some families were told by authorities that they’d even be able to return to their land once the road was built so they left sites as if they were coming back, but most of the remaining buildings were burned leaving only the foundations and fireplaces. You can still see many of these if you hike around the area.
In fact, back in 1943, the displaced townspeople were promised as a consolation by the federal government agreed a road to the north shore of the new lake, providing access to the parts of Hazel Creek that remained above the water level, such as the local cemeteries. Only seven miles of the road was ever built, however.
The unfinished road remains in place still today, now known as the Road to Nowhere, and it’s just a creepy tunnel that goes nowhere.
The only time group transportation is available is during the annual Decoration Days event hosted by the Park Service, when visitors are shuttled via pontoon boat to visit the graves at four cemeteries and share a meal together. Otherwise, the Hazel Creek area of the Great Smokies can now only be reached by boat or by hiking around 10 miles from the nearest road.
The town of Proctor was named after the first European settlers of Hazel Creek, Moses and Patience Proctor, the first European-American settler to this area.
In the early 20th century it was a thriving company town that grew up around the local lumber industry, despite by the 1930s had declined with it too.
Today, little is left of the former boomtown, and It remains submerged unless lake levels are very low.
Except for the remains of the old Ritter Lumber Mill, a single house that is now used by the National Park Service, and the cemeteries, located above the water level.
Soon after the dam was built, Proctor and the rest of Hazel Creek became part of the newly established Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and what remained of the village was razed. Today, the former site of Proctor is a serene backcountry campsite in the national park.
Once across the lake, visitors (and former residents) can hike up the quaint trails, through what little remains of Proctor and the other surrounding ghost towns to explore the overgrown cemeteries of the north shore.
Images from web – Google Research