Ghost Town

Ghost Town in the Sky was the vision of businessman R.B. Coburn, a Covington, Virginia native who moved to Maggie Valley, North Carolina. Coburn was inspired to create a Western-themed amusement park after visiting several ghost towns in the American West. In 1960, Coburn purchased Buck Mountain at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains for the location of his theme park. Ghost Town was designed by Russell Pearson and constructed at a cost of $1 million.

Ghost Town
When construction began in 1960, over 200 locals were hired to build the 40 replica buildings that comprised the Western Town, which is located at the mountain’s peak.
Ghost Town
The town was completed in May 1961 and consists of about 120,000 square feet of building space. Approximately 300,000 feet of lumber, 200,000 feet of plywood, and 20,000 pounds of nails went into the construction of Ghost Town.
Ghost Town
The park is divided into several towns located at different elevations of the mountain, each with a different theme.
Ghost Town
Each hour a gunfight was staged in the middle of the street with guests lining up to watch on the board sidewalks.
Ghost Town
The heart of the park is the Old West town that includes two saloons, a school, bank, jail, and church.
Ghost Town
The Train was originally set to reopen with the park in May 2007 after the park’s five-year hiatus but was delayed for more than two years. The Train reopened in September 2009 but closed with the rest of the park in 2010.

The park opened on May 1, 1961, and quickly became one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions. It was promoted as “North Carolina’s mile-high theme park.” New rides and attractions were added throughout the years. Ghost Town attracted millions of guests. At its peak in the 1970s, Ghost Town attracted over 400,000 visitors each season. Ghost Town was sold in 1973 to National Services in a stock swap, but Coburn bought it back in 1986 and constructed the park’s famous roller coaster. Under Coburn’s ownership, the park suffered from a lack of maintenance and mismanagement. Ghost Town garnered a reputation for the rides constantly breaking down. The chairlift and incline railway also required constant maintenance and repair. Coburn spent thousands of dollars maintaining both.

A double incline railway was constructed to bring visitors to the top of Buck Mountain. The incline was created with a 25-ton bulldozer attached to a winch secured to another bulldozer, which pulled the bulldozer up the mountain. The railway created an exciting ride up to the top of the mountain with varying slopes ranging from 30 to 77 degrees. Tourists could only reach the mountaintop amusement park by riding the incline railway or the chairlift up to the top.

Ghost Town
In the spring of 1962, a two-seat chairlift was added parallel to the incline railway to take visitors up the mountain.
Ghost Town
The chairlift is the longest in North Carolina and the second-longest in the United States. It moves at a rate of 310 feet per minute and scales 3,370 feet.

On July 16, 2002, the chairlift malfunctioned, leaving passengers stranded for over two hours in the rain. Coburn decided to close Ghost Town a few days after the chairlift failure and put the property up for sale. The park remained closed and unmaintained for the next four years, giving many the impression that nobody would buy the park due to the condition of the rides. Without proper security, the park was subject to vandalism.

Ghost Town
Opening in 1988, the Red Devil roller coaster was later given a new paint job and renamed the Cliffhanger.
Ghost Town
Instead of boarding a train and being towed up the lift hill, its boarding station is at the top of the hill. The train rolled out of the station, around a 90-degree curve then over the main drop into its inverted loop.
Ghost Town
Although attempts to repair the coaster were made, it only opened briefly in 2006 before it was once again deemed a safety hazard.
Ghost Town
At the terminus of the chairlift and the Cliffhanger was the Heritage Town Square, a 2007 addition to the park that included a restaurant.
Ghost Town
A mining-themed shooting gallery located in the Heritage Town Square.
Ghost Town
Ghost Town was sold in 2006 and reopened the following year after $38 million was spent on renovations and improvements.
Ghost Town
The kiddy rides and the Wild West town were operational, but rides that attracted a more adult crowd like the Cliffhanger roller coaster and drop tower failed to pass state inspections.

In 2009, after $11 million had been spent, $6 million of that on the Cliffhanger roller coaster, Ghost Town filed for bankruptcy. The Great Recession of 2008 was blamed for the park’s problems, but owners insisted the park would reopen and would continue to operate. By May 2009, the rides had not been inspected and the owners claimed to need a loan for $330,000 in order to reopen. Failure to secure the loan was expected to mean the loss of 200 jobs and a loss of revenue for local businesses from park visitors. Ghost Town reopened for the 2009 season after an anonymous donor provided the money. The park struggled to make payroll and complaints began that employees were not being paid.

Ghost Town
Ghost Town has not been fully operational since 2002.

In February 2010, a massive mudslide occurred when retaining walls on Ghost Town property gave way. Although there were no injuries, 40 homes had to be evacuated and 3 were damaged. The park itself sustained damage, but to what extent is publicly unknown. It was announced on the local news the park would reopen on Memorial Day weekend but that did not happen. A month later, a judge ruled to proceed with foreclosure on Ghost Town and sell the property at auction. Ghost Town remained closed for the 2010 season.

Ghost Town
Presley hired an armed guard and placed cameras all over the mountain to deter vandalism.

Ghost Town was purchased in February 2012 at public auction by Alaska Presley, a local businesswoman and long-time supporter, for $1.5 million. New laws required millions of dollars to be spent on labor and time lost due to state inspections. The previous owners did not shut off the water after the park closed, so the old pipes were subject to the mountain freeze-and-thaw cycle. Wells for private water were condemned because they were too close to potentially unacceptable objects. Four new wells were drilled and all were failures except one of limited output. The option of city water was decided which meant virtually every part of the old system had to be replaced.

Ghost Town
In 2013, Ghost Town was fined $2,000 by the Labor Department after an actor was injured by shrapnel from a shotgun blast in a staged gunfight. Investigators discovered actors were using real .45-caliber revolvers and a real shotgun loaded with blanks instead of guns capable of only firing blanks.

In 2014, the lower half of the property that includes the Old West town was listed for sale for $3 million. Presley planned to redevelop the upper portion as a “Holy Land replica theme park.” The listing was taken off the market a few months later. In 2015, the park announced the rebranding of the park to Ghost Town Village. The rebranding was due to the park’s inability to reopen any of the former roller coasters and rides due to repair costs. A local newspaper anticipated the park to reopen in 2019. However, due to years of vandalism and neglect, the park remains closed.

Ghost Town
The highest elevation in Ghost Town is about 4,600 feet.
Ghost Town
A view of Maggie Valley from the top of Buck Mountain.

11 Replies to “Ghost Town”

  1. Ghost Town in the Sky is still owned 100% by Lula, LLC, that Alaska Presley owns 100%. There has been publicity claiming it was sold in 2018 but that contract was never consummated. The park is no longer under contract but there is interest from other investors yet no deal has been reached.

    Like

  2. Was there in 1970 at the age of 10, such a great family vacation then. So sad to see it go through so many hands, changes, and failures to re-open.

    Like

  3. We were there in Maggie valley & decided to stop & have a look at ghost town & we noticed some one has started cleaning up the property & there appears to be work going on going on other places there ! We wonder if there is something in the works ?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: