Ghost Town Village: The Abandoned Wild West Amusement Park
Take a 360-degree look around the abandoned Ghost Town Village, aka Ghost Town in the Sky theme park in North Carolina with the virtual tour below.
About the abandoned North Carolina Theme Park
Ghost Town Village, formerly known as “Ghost Town in the Sky at Ghost Mountain Park,” is a captivating, yet abandoned, Wild West-themed amusement park located in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, United States. As of March 2023, this once-thriving attraction finds itself entangled in a legal battle. Perched atop Buck Mountain at an impressive elevation of 4,650 feet (1,420 meters), Ghost Town Village proudly bears the title of “North Carolina’s mile-high theme park.”
History: Ghost Town Village is nestled on a ridge extending from Buck Mountain, an extension of the Cataloochee Divide, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can find its entrance along U.S. Highway 19, the primary artery through the charming town of Maggie Valley. What sets this park apart is its unique location atop a mountain that was originally accessible only via a 3,370-foot-long chairlift or an inclined funicular railway. Efforts to transport visitors to the park by bus proved challenging. (Note: Visiting the closed park was once possible via an abandoned road, but it is private property, and as of October 2019, new owners have increased security and restricted access.) These transport methods began at a parking area beside Jonathan Creek at an elevation of 3,150 feet, ascending to the lower level of the park at 4,400 feet, a climb of 1,250 feet. The reimagined “Ghost Town” sits at 4,600 feet, with the park’s highest elevation reaching about 4,650 feet.
Folklore: Legend has it that the lost sheep of Uncle Dan Carpenter will never be found. The park’s construction in 1960 took place on land purchased from a local landowner named Uncle Dan Carpenter. The story goes that R.B. Coburn had overheard a tale of Uncle Dan Carpenter losing his sheep in a vast cavern atop Buck Mountain. R.B. approached Carpenter with the intention of showing him these caverns. Coburn believed that offering mountain cavern tours, along with his vision of a western town, would be a tourist attraction. They attempted to locate the cavern entrance again, but the land had sealed up, and no cavern entrance was discovered. Since the park’s inception in 1960, this very same land area has experienced periodic collapses between the Indian Village and the main Frontier Town, later named Mountain Town. Starting in 1960, R.B. Coburn initiated efforts to fill in the area between the two entertainment sections and eventually paved it, creating a stable area for rides. Even as recently as 2007, the park faced a minor landslide from this paved area of amusement rides. The existing retaining wall, crucial to supporting this paved area, was meticulously rebuilt by experienced contractors. Then, in 2010, a major landslide and retaining wall collapse occurred. Some dismiss this story as folklore, while others attribute it to the gradual swallowing of landmass by the caverns after heavy rainfall.
Construction: Ghost Town was conceived by R.B. Coburn, a native of Covington, VA, who relocated to Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Initially, the park was planned to be situated between the towns of Waynesville, North Carolina, and Clyde, North Carolina. However, Alaska Presley, a future owner, proposed the mountain-top location. Local investors played a pivotal role in funding the park through debenture bonds, starting in 1959. The park’s name was suggested by one of the investors’ children. Designed by Russell Pearson, Ghost Town was constructed in 1960 for approximately $1 million, inspired by Coburn’s travels in the western United States. Over two hundred local residents contributed to building the 40 replica buildings that constituted Western Town, located at the mountain’s peak. Approximately 120,000 square feet of structures were erected, utilizing 300,000 feet of lumber, 200,000 feet of plywood, and 20,000 pounds of nails.
Opening: Ghost Town Village opened its gates on May 1, 1961, rapidly becoming one of Western North Carolina’s most beloved tourist destinations. It featured a double incline railway that transported park visitors to the summit of Buck Mountain, a journey spanning over 3,300 feet. The park introduced a two-seat chair lift, which, at the time, claimed the title of the longest in North Carolina and the second longest in the USA. In the early 1960s, Ghost Town hosted several stars from TV Westerns, including Laramie and Wagon Trail. Hourly staged gunfights on the main street were also a major crowd-puller.
1960s-1986: At its peak, Ghost Town Village drew an astonishing 620,000 visitors annually. While it eventually settled at an average of around 500,000 visitors per year, the chairlift alone transported 1,200 people per hour. The park played a significant role in the local economy.
The park changed hands in 1973, acquired by National Services through a stock swap. Under this ownership, the park reportedly faced difficulties, as it was a relatively small venture for the company.
In 1982, Ghost Town performers took part in the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. The park also hosted country music stars, including Mel Tillis, Reba McEntire, and the Statler Brothers, in 1983.
In 1984, plans were made for a one-million-dollar roller coaster sponsored by Coors Beer, with the coaster’s name paying homage to the sponsor. Clearing the area for the coaster had already begun.
In 1986, R.B. Coburn repurchased the park and introduced the iconic Red Devil roller coaster.
Decline: During its later years under Coburn’s ownership, the park suffered from mismanagement and a lack of maintenance. Multiple rides, including the Red Devil, Goldrusher, Sea Dragon, Monster, Mountain Town Swings, Undertaker, Dream Catcher, Casino, Round Up, Lil Devil, and Silver Bullet, frequently broke down and were rarely open, leading to negative reviews and discouraging visitors from attending. The chairlift and incline railway also demanded continuous maintenance and repairs, incurring substantial expenses. Coburn invested thousands of dollars in their upkeep.
By 2008, attendance had dwindled to 340,000 visitors.
Closure: On July 16, 2002, the chairlift came to a halt, stranding passengers for over two hours. As fewer people visited Ghost Town due to its deteriorating condition, Coburn closed the park shortly after the chairlift incident and put it up for sale. The park remained closed and neglected for the next four years, fostering doubts that anyone would buy the park in its dilapidated state.
Re-opening: In August 2006, Ghost Town was sold to Ghost Town Partners, LLC and reopened on May 25, 2007, following $38 million in renovations and improvements. Loans totaling $10 million were secured from BB&T. All rides were reopened except the incline railway, train, and Monster. The park’s reopening coincided with the premiere of the motion picture “Dean Teaster’s Ghost Town,” filmed in the western town. While attendance figures were undisclosed, tourism to Haywood County saw a remarkable 22% increase. Plans were unveiled to restore the railway, train, and Monster in the following season.
However, the financial crisis of 2007–2008 adversely affected tourism and attendance at the park.
In 2009, despite over $11 million in investments, including $6 million for the Cliffhanger roller coaster, Ghost Town filed for bankruptcy, attributing its struggles to economic challenges and high gas prices from the previous year. The park aimed to reopen on May 15, with the need for a $330,000 loan, which was requested from the town. Failure to secure the loan would have had severe repercussions, potentially resulting in job losses, a significant payroll reduction, and adverse impacts on local businesses dependent on park visitors. Fortunately, an anonymous investor stepped in to provide the necessary funds, eliminating the need for a town vote. The park did open as planned, albeit with certain rides remaining closed due to inspection issues.
Ghost Town continued to face financial difficulties throughout the 2009 season, eventually closing its doors while owners grappled with bankruptcy issues. Despite the Smokey Mountain Railroad in Bryson City attempting to purchase the property, they were unable to secure financing.
- 2010: A massive mudslide in February posed significant challenges. The park’s future for the 2010 season was uncertain, as retaining walls on the property collapsed. Eventually, a judge ruled in favor of foreclosure, with potential buyers failing to secure financing.
- 2011: The bankruptcy administrator recommended dismissing the case, leading to ongoing foreclosure proceedings.
- 2012: Alaska Presley purchased the park at a public auction for $2.5 million, with plans for a limited opening.
- 2013: Despite being idle for four years and plagued by vandalism and theft, a limited reopening was planned.
- 2014: Ghost Town was listed for sale at an asking price of $3 million, with the lower half of the property available for investors to support the redevelopment of the upper portion into a “Holy Land replica theme park.”
- 2015: Numerous issues, including water pressure problems and chairlift concerns, prevented the park from opening. The park announced a rebranding to “Ghost Town Village” with various attractions but later decided not to open in 2016.
- 2016: The planned reopening faced issues with vendors and staff.
- 2018: Ghost Town Adventures aimed to reopen in the fall of 2018 but encountered funding challenges.
- 2019: A reopening was planned for spring 2019, with a renaming to “Appalachian Village.” However, as of July 2019, the park was again up for sale due to vandalism.
- 2019: New investors entered the scene with an eye toward reopening the park.
- 2020: Work on the site and the property purchase continued.
- 2021: New owners planned a $200 million investment to revitalize the park, along with improvements to the surrounding area to accommodate increased tourism. The COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about tourism’s impact delayed the opening.
- 2022: Following the purchase of the park, future ownership remained uncertain due to various lawsuits.
- 2023: A lawsuit to determine the park’s fate and ownership is scheduled for July 28, 2023.
Features: Ghost Town Village is divided into several “towns” at different elevations on the mountain, each with its own theme. These include the “Indian Village,” “Mountain Town,” and “Mining Town.” The heart of the park is the recreated Old West town, featuring saloons, a schoolhouse, bank, jail, church, and various businesses. Hourly gunfights in the street, can-can dancers at the “Silver Dollar Saloon,” and live country and bluegrass music at the “Red Dog Saloon” were among the attractions. “Indian Village” showcased Indigenous life in the Old West, including deer hunts and frontier settlement raids. “Mining Town” allowed visitors to pan for gold and silver and featured shows about mining settlement life. “Mountain Town” offered performances depicting life in the Smoky Mountains.
At the chairlift and incline railway terminus lies the “Heritage Town Square,” added in 2007. This area includes a museum tracing Ghost Town’s history, a restaurant, the Freefall, the casino, and the Cliffhanger roller coaster.
Ghost Town Village also boasted two roller coasters: the iconic Cliffhanger and the children’s coaster, Tumbleweed. Cliffhanger, initially known as Red Devil, stood out as unique due to its boarding station at the hilltop, offering breathtaking views and an exhilarating ride experience. Tumbleweed, previously Lil Devil, provided younger visitors with a thrilling coaster experience.
Above Ghost Town, additional standard and cliffside zip lines were available, giving visitors unparalleled panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Legal Battles: As of 2023, the future of Ghost Town Village remains uncertain due to ongoing legal battles and disputes over ownership, maintenance, and land use. Multiple parties have expressed interest in reopening the park or redeveloping the property, but these efforts have been hindered by litigation. A lawsuit to determine the park’s fate is scheduled for July 28, 2023.
Conclusion: Ghost Town Village, perched atop Buck Mountain in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, has a rich history that spans over six decades. From its inception as a unique Wild West-themed amusement park to its numerous closures, attempted reopenings, and ongoing legal battles, Ghost Town Village continues to captivate the imagination of those who hear its tale. Its iconic chairlift, roller coasters, themed towns, and scenic beauty make it a remarkable piece of North Carolina’s heritage. As we await the outcome of the legal proceedings, the fate of this once-beloved attraction remains uncertain, leaving us to wonder if Ghost Town Village will ever return to its former glory.
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