It’s been awhile, I’m slow, but I’m so excited to share this site today! Continuing on our theme from last time–it was our unorthodox decision to see if we could creep into abandoned/neglected sites from my childhood when we booked the trip to Tennessee. This site isn’t actually a place I ever spent time, but I wanted to visit anyway.
In the wilderness from whence I come, there used to be two elementary schools. Ducktown and Turtletown (let those sink in.) They’re both now abandoned, but I attended Turtletown school, while the “richer” –I use that term loosely– kids went to the luxurious, two-storied Ducktown Elementary, a former college that was never actually used as a college.
Ducktown Elementary isn’t even on any public road. It has a private driveway, so I never saw the building until I was in high school and went there for a pep rally or some business. I was awestruck by the architecture, because in the Appalachian foothills, a cabin is about as fancy as it gets. This place looked majestic. I remember seeing it as a teenager and getting legit pissed! I got ripped off, I could have been getting my education there?! Additionally, it was on every student’s lips that the place was haunted. Why hadn’t I been allowed in the marble bathrooms and ghost-laden corridors as a kid? Rude.
So I figured now on vacation, since the building is en route to Turtletown, we might as well go up the driveway and see what became of the building. After doing a little research I understood why I appreciated the looks of the place so much–it’s the only building in the Copper Basin area designed by an actual architect! Here’s a pretty cool picture of it in its heyday, note the vintage cars in the lower left of the photo. It was originally built as a junior college, but lack of population caused it to change purposes until it finally shut down in the 00’s. For some reason, that fact spooks me out–lack of students is why my elementary school is closed down. There just weren’t enough kids. I live in a constantly expanding city, so it feels extra isolating to know we were a dying breed back in the day, and that the population kept dropping.
After our unbelievable success at getting into gated, locked Ghost Town, I didn’t have my hopes up for 2 out of 2. My best hope was to show my passengers the impressive structure from the outside. So imagine my confusion when we passed an open gate on the road. What??? I’d done my research and according to the information I had available, the place was abandoned, unsafe, in peril, and nobody could figure out what to do with it. So why was the gate open? We approached the derelict, imposing building and were even more confused when we saw people milling about on the playground. WAS THE SCHOOL OPEN?
I hailed one of the lingering women and asked what was happening and why the doors were open. I distinctly remember that I was actually enunciating my southern accent, trying to fit in and be less “stranger” because she had that Polk County twang. As hard as it is to mute my accent all day long, I can revert back to sounding like I just crawled out of Farner alarmingly easy. It apparently worked, because after initial suspicion, she seemed at east and informed us (me, Allyn, my sister Amanda, and my nephew Robbie) that their church was using the building for rehab classes and she would go ask her preacher (haha, there’s a word I hadn’t heard in years) if we could step in for a look. I could hear some preacherly howling filtering through the open windows, drifting across the spring breeze toward us to corroborate her story. The girl returned, without having interrupted his speech, to give us the green light. I made a note to not question the grim, terrifying location choice for rehab, and couldn’t believe we had scored yet again on gaining entry to places not open to the public.
Once inside, the place was everything that I’d dreamed!! It was like the school in Silent Hill, except real and way, way eerie even without Pyramid head. I have to say, it was unbelievably creepy with full sunlight streaming in. I feel like these places are expected to turn spooky at night. Every school is spooky in the dark, with rows of empty desks. But during the day, it’s like you know the halls are supposed to be filled with kids, with teachers, with noise, with the acrid scent of public school lunch (sorry lunch ladies.) Instead, it was a combination of profound silence and bright sun, and not even Mr. Preacher’s loud anti-devil cries made their way down the long hallways.
The only time we got interrupted was when another church member exited her class to ask again what we were doing there. She seemed a bit more authoritative, and then I realized I knew her; I had grown up with her, she used to babysit me. I informed her who I was. Super awkward, because she didn’t remember me at all, and I remembered her, and here she was in rehab class. I think she wanted us to be there for rehab, but we all gave a hard pass on that, and like any good Southerner she threw in the bit about asking if we were instead joining for church. Another hard no from the four of us, haha, sorry man, but that’s what you get for not remembering me. She begrudgingly told us not to go upstairs because it was dangerous. Dangerous smangerous, that’s where all the supposed ghost stories took place. Oh well. Can’t win them all. I was more than content to walk those once-majestic halls and get a feel of the splendor from back in the day. They just don’t build them like they used to.
Doesn’t this place just scream “drug free and loving the Lord”?
That’s the pretty uneventful story of how we got into a second “empty” building with no resistance. I couldn’t believe our luck and kept saying so. But the real place we wanted to see was the school where both Amanda and I had spent some of our most formative, miserable, terrifying years–good ol’ Turtletown Elementary. Even if we just stuck our noses to the glass I knew I had to see the inside of that prison center of learning. So we packed in the truck and headed for even more isolation. Despite my huge shock at 2 out of 2 “abandoned” areas being occupied and giving us permission to enter, I knew it wouldn’t be so out there in the middle of nowhere.
I’ll be posting about Turtletown Elementary next!