Lost Cove – Ghost Town in the National Forest

Sunlight filters through the mist in Lost Cove.

Sunlight filters through the mist in Lost Cove.

There’s something alluring about a ghost town in the middle of the forest, where stone chimneys and building remnants hearken back to more vibrant days. You can almost imagine that the stones in fallen walls whisper stories about the families who once lived here.

In mid-December 2012, SAHC purchased a 95-acre portion of historic “Lost Cove” in the remote and rugged Nolichucky Gorge, an in-holding in the Pisgah National Forest. Nestled near the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, the secluded Lost Cove is a ghost town with a colorful history of self-sufficient families, railroad crews, timber, and moonshine.

“The opportunity to save this significant part of Lost Cove was very important and welcome to those of us who live in its vicinity, who know personally of its special natural and historical significance and have long hoped it would one day be protected,” said David Ramsey, SAHC Trustee.

Lost cove is one of the most legendary ghost towns in the Eastern United States. The community was most likely founded during the Civil War era, although a few accounts hint that two families from a Daniel Boone expedition originally settled the area. Lost Cove grew into a self-sustaining, thriving agricultural community until the railroad brought timber and railroad jobs around 1910.

Tree on Lost Cove

Jamie Ervin, Americorps Land Protection Associate with SAHC, visits the site of Lost Cove.

Located on the boundary of Yancey & Mitchell Counties in NC, very near Unicoi County in Tennessee, Lost Cove became notorious for moonshining as early as 1898. Its remoteness and location along the state boundary made it difficult for tax collectors to penetrate. However, the cove’s isolation, as well as economic necessity, eventually led to the community’s demise. The last family moved out in 1957.

“ ‘Lost Cove’ is a phrase every Unicoi County kid hears pretty early in his/her life.  It has long fired our imaginations, made us curious about our mountain surroundings and our history and inspired many of us to dig deeper into – and ultimately care more about – our Appalachian heritage,” continued Ramsey. “To me, this effort is one more example of the amazing and extremely important conservation work of the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.”

The property recently purchased by the SAHC fronts on the Nolichucky River, a Significant National Heritage Area. It is visible from this popular rafting river as well as a portion of the Appalachian Trail. Four streams originate on the property and flow into the Nolichucky, and populations of federally endangered plants have been noted on (or near) the property.

“The offering of this property for sale presented a unique opportunity to protect an incredible recreational, environmental, and historical asset,” said Carl Silverstein, SAHC Executive Director.

SAHC purchased the tract with the intent that it will eventually be added to the Pisgah National Forest. We plan to lead guided group hikes to Lost Cove in spring or early summer 2013 – look for more details in the future!

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Categories: Land Protection Updates | 39 Comments

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39 thoughts on “Lost Cove – Ghost Town in the National Forest

  1. Alicia Swaringen

    I joined this group-sent them $20. This is the one that Tim Sweeney is working with on preserving other parcels of land that he bought. THey look REALLLLY cool! love, alicia ps-they sent a really awesome magazine about the mountains–some stuff near you!


  2. Nancy

    Beautiful. I can’t wait for the hike!

  3. Barbara Jernee, granddaughter of John and Hulda Miller

    My mother was raised in Lost Cove. We journeyed up the mountain from Unaka Springs, TN many times to visit the old homestead. My grandparent’s home was ‘mysteriously’ burned down several years ago. I understand that young boys were in there on 4-wheelers and destroyed much of what was still standing. I am so thankful the remainder will be preserved forever.

    • Christy A. Smith

      I would love to interview any of the family members of Lost Cove Residents. JC Bryant/Homer Tipton have great stories about Lost Cove. I wrote my thesis on Lost Cove and still am trying to finish the book. It’s been a long journey but I hope people will let me interview them about their family stories. Thanks too SAHC for preserving this beautiful settlement!

      • It was your thesis Christy that introduced me to the Lost Cove. Thanks! I’ve recently written a science-fiction book that’s set in a combination of the Lost Cove and Bumpas Cove. It’s available on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H1TC8C6). I’d love to get some reviews from local folks. I’m very proud of the area. I’ve hiked in other places and while it’s always fun to be out in nature, I just feel like these local places belong to me, that they are mine.

      • Steph

        Christy I’d love to purchase a copy of your book. I saw it on Google Books but no where to order it. Thanks Steph stephginla@yahoo.com

      • Christy A. Smith

        Steph…Lost Cove is a beautiful place. You can google my thesis about Lost Cove. I am almost finished with the book and hope to publish within the next year. Of course the thesis isn’t half of the material I have now. Thanks!

      • Hi Christy,

        We’re gearing up for our fall hikes and are planning a hike out to Lost Cove. Your thesis on the history of Lost Cove is very interesting and we’d love to talk with you more about your research and the possibility of having you join us on our hike. Lost Cove is a very special and interesting place and we would love to plan a hike to highlight that. If you are interested, please email Kana Miller at kana@appalachian.org or call 828.253.0095 ext 205

        Thank you!

    • Dorothy Jane Peterson Dowlinn

      Hi Barbara, I’m looking for as many realitives, and your Dad must be grandma Jane Miller Bryant’s brother. Please email and let me know for sure, I went to lost cove with my Aunt Noami Morgan. A lot of happy kids playing.
      Looking forward to hearing from you,

  4. Homer Tipton Jr.

    I am so glad someone has stepped in to help preserve this place of important mountain history.My Grandfather Dave Tipton was born in Lost Cove and moved to Erwin TN. when he was 12 years old.I believe this was in the 1920’s.The are so many stories I would love to share to help set the record straight.Will be looking for that first group hike.Good job SAHC!

  5. Shannon Bailey

    Please post when the group hikes are available. I would LOVE to go there! Velmer and Chester Bailey who lived in Lost Cove are my grandfather’s brothers. My father would frequently visit Lost Cove as a child and I would love to see what is left of it.

  6. Carolyn Adams, daughter of Bonnie Cooper Delffs

    My mother visited the Lost Cove several times when she was a little girl. Frank Bryant was her uncle. Emma Bryant Miller, wife of Bob Miller, was her aunt. Her mother was Dora Bryant Cooper. It is sad that so much destruction has been done. Thank you so much for preserving what is left.

  7. Laurie A. Johnson Bryant

    I’m thrilled that this area is being taken care of and preserved. I made numerous hikes up there with my ex husband and his father. I also knew Mr. Dave Tipton that Mr. Homer Tipton Jr. mentioned above and listened to many of his stories about living in Lost Cove. It’s sad to hear that parts of it have been destroyed, but at least now, it will be protected. If you haven’t made the hike and get a chance to do so, I urge you to go. Once you get there, well, just go experience it for yourself.

  8. Roy Lee Guthrie

    Roy Lee Guthrie was born in lost cove 7/2/1941 Frank @ Jane Bryant was my grand parants

    • Chris

      Was Roy Lee Guthrie killed by revenuers in Habersham County Georgia? Maybe he’s not the same one. I just heard a tale while taking a horseback trail ride up here by the house.
      Thanks, Chris

  9. Diane Tipton Combs

    I am also glad to hear that the rest of Lost Cove will be protected. My dad, Dave Tipton lived there and Homer Tipton Jr. is my nephew. We used to go to Lost Cove and spend the night in some of the old houses that were there. They had feather beds and old wood cook stoves. It was quiet an experience when I was younger. The last time we were there, it was just about destroyed. The old wood cook stove had been dragged outside, and the feather beds were no more. All kinds of things carved in the wood on the houses. I understand that the old houses were even burned down. It broke my heart to see everything destroyed. I wish I was able to see it to see it again.

  10. Marcella Bryant

    My dad J.C. Bryant ( Frank and Jane Bryant son ) was raised there. He has took us there many time. He told us a lot of stories. I stay there for a week once with my great uncle John Miller ( and his family). It was great.

    • Roy Lee Guthrie

      Roy Lee Guthrie [Frank @ Jane Bryant grandson – I live in democrat n.c. 828-626-2883

    • Hello,my Grandfather Frank Bryant And Grandmother Jane Bryant was the parents of my mother, Viola who married Burnie Cooper–so I’m told. could you clear that up for me if possible.I’m Burnie and Viola’s fourth child.Thanks so much—oh yes,I have been to Lost Cove, when I was about 21 yrs old.so beautiful up there.

      • Roger Guthrie

        hello Dollie, Frank and Jane Bryant was my great grand parents and their daughter trula was my grandmother,and her son Richard was my father, also Roy Lee Guthrie is my dads brother who was born there in lost cove. I have been to lost cove and the last time i was there, there was only one house left. I have heard a lot of stories and have a very old letter from one of the residents there that was given to my great uncle Charles Guthrie.J.C. Bryant is my great uncle and is very knowledgeably about lost cove. Maybe you could talk with him.

      • Marcella Bryant

        Hi my dad ( J.C. Bryant ) told me that Ann Miller was your grandmother.

      • Hello Roger, could you let me know how to get in touch with JC Bryant please? I truly would like to see if he could help me. Thanks so much. Dollie

  11. I recently published a science-fiction novel, “Flightsuit”, that is based on Lost Cove and Bumpas Cove. I’ve hiked to the Lost Cove many times, and I’m sure we all enjoy and appreciate many of the same elements of this experience. Here’s an excerpt…

    “Sometimes the houses were gone entirely, leaving only smooth brown river stones stacked to form a house’s crude foundations. Each spring daffodils bloomed. They marked boundaries of porch and path between the little houses where mothers and daughters planted them. They’d not realized all their hands went to would be left behind and forgotten. The wood and stones that had sheltered them from freezing cold winters and the deluge downpours of Tennessee summer rains crumbled without human attention, but the most fragile efforts they’d laid their hands to, the flowers, outlasted all. The flowers bloomed every summer, with none to admire them.”

    I hope the book is especially enjoyable for those who have actually been to these places and I welcome local feedback and reviews. It’s available at Amazon.

    Thanks for the excellent website and your preservation of this experience for everyone.

    • Suzi

      I live in Bakersville and discovered this page today while perusing the web. I’m gonna download this eBook tonight (after Midnight when my WildBlue/Exede internet service is free, of course). I’m a fan of the area AND Sci-Fi, and a sometimes writer myself. I used to be friends with Fredrick Pohl’s stepdaughter… Pohl was one of my favorite Sci-Fi writers. Looking forward to reading your book.

  12. The science fiction book I set in the Lost Cove is doing really well. 560 copies sold in January!

    I received permission from the ETSU Archives of Appalachia to use the cool train wreck photograph from Christy’s excellent thesis on the book’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/FlightsuitBook). I can’t wait to take this picture and find the site of the wreck when it gets warmer.

  13. Mike Kelly

    In the early 70’s several members of my family hiked a few miles up the tracks. At the little gravel lot where we parked, a local guy hanging around for no particular reason told us not to go up to the old settlement, because a “mean ol’ man” was living up there who didn’t welcome strangers. Of course, that made us all the more determined to go. We hiked a few miles up the track and made a sharp right turn on an old road up the ridge. There were No Trespassing sighs everywhere, the expensive store-bought kind. Of course, that made us even more determined to see what was up there. Sure enough, we reached the village, and sure enough, there was a mean-looking man standing on the front porch at the very last house in the village. His only words were: “Those No Trespassing signs mean exactly what they say, boys.” For most of us, that was the cue to apologize, say farewell and start back down the mountain. My friend, David, didn’t quite get the message. He asked the old gentleman for a glass of water. That old man turned on his heels, and just as he did so, we saw shotguns or rifles hanging on the porch wall. None of us stuck around to see if the old man was bringing water or buckshot. We ran back down the mountain nearly to the train tracks. We’ll never know whether he was going to shoot us or quench our thirsts, but we’ll never forget those few minutes we spent in that little mountain village. Some of the buildings had been lovingly painted white with dark green trim, as if the lone resident had hunkered down for a spell. I think about that place about once a week and wonder just what that old man was doing back up in that holler.

    Mike Kelly
    Originally from Kingsport, Tennessee and now exiled in northern New York

    • Marcella Bryant

      The old man was a care keeper. Hes not there anymore

      • Hello Marcella,would you happen to know who was the father of Ann Millers baby Viola my mother was. I have been searching forever to find out who my mothers real father and mother was. please help me if you can. I am so excited hearing this much from you. if you would like to call me and talk just let me know, my email address is dollieaspringer@gmail.com

  14. Dalton Walters

    I hike up to Lost Cove periodically to try to keep things “maintained” a bit. A friend and I went this past October to clean up the cemetery some, and plan to go back again soon. Just want to try to do whatever we can to help preserve this nostalgic piece of American history.

  15. Fred

    Since the SAHC purchased part of the area, is it ok to visit the old community site without worry about trespassing?

    • Hi Fred, and thank you for asking!

      Since SAHC acquired a portion of the Lost Cove, we have led several guided hikes into the cove and plan to continue to do so in the future. We did purchase the 95-acre Lost Cove in-holding with the intent to transfer it to the Forest Service, but until that transfer is completed we do ask that you join one of our guided hikes (see upcoming events at http://www.appalachian.org/news/) if you would like to visit the Lost Cove tract. Check back periodically; we are regularly organizing, planning and adding new hikes to our calendar!

      In April, we also organized a clean-up of the tract with 24 volunteers who removed over a half ton of trash which had been left on the tract from illegal use over the years. We may organize a similar clean up in the future, and would be happy to have interested volunteers contact us.

      Also, there are adjoining in-holding tracts that remain privately owned by landowners other than SAHC. We do certainly want to respect the rights of these landowners. The publicly owned, National Forest land in the Lost Cove area ends about 2.5 miles down the Lost Cove trail (TR 196), at the junction with the Devil’s Creek Trail (TR 188).

      SAHC will continue to manage our Lost Cove in-holding until a transfer to the US Forest can be completed. I hope this information helps, and again – thank you for asking!

  16. Tammy Morgan

    I just recently discovered the Lost Cove and can not wait to visit! I have a question! Does anyone know if you can ride horses in/around the lost cove? We are big horse back/trail riding people and I would LOVE to ride in here! Thanks so much,

  17. Carlos

    I’m very interested in doing the lost cove hike. Hopefully the group can schedule one soon

  18. Steph

    I need to plan a trip to Lost Cove! I am a descendent of one the “moonshiners” of the area, John D. Tipton was my 3rd great grandfather. Looks like a beautiful place.

  19. Dorothy Jane Peterson Dowlinn

    I am so happy to see Lost Cove coming alive again. I see so many of my cousin with their
    Remarks. I loved Lost Cove, I visit my grandma Jane Bryant, I knew my Great grandma Cindy. I remember when she passed. This was a sad time.
    I am one of the old cousin Richard was around my age. He was my love so sorry to here of his passing.
    I would love to hear from all of my cousins so fill free to get in touch with me by phone or email.
    Thank you all for making Lost Cove a swell place to visit,because it sure is a beauty,,,,,,

  20. We really appreciate everyone expressing interest in and inquiring about the hiking access to Lost Cove! With that said, we are very excited to announce our next Lost Cove Hike, happening on Saturday November 8, 2014. Christy Smith, who wrote her thesis on the history of the Lost Cove community, will be joining us and sharing stories from the abandoned town. The hike is free for all participants, but we ask that you email or call Kana Miller at kana@appalachian.org or 828-253-0095 ext. 205 to reserve a spot. We welcome all of you to join us!

    Thank you!

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