Located a short drive from Maryville College lies Big Ridge State Park in Maynardville, Tennessee. Heavily forested, the 3,687-acre park is located in the Appalachian Ridge and Valley range, and possesses a beautiful lake with outstanding natural scenery. It is known for its family atmosphere and abundance of activities, including campsites, cabins and more than 15 miles of hiking trails.
What drew me to this park this October was one trail in particular, the locally famed “Ghost House Trail.” The entire park contains early remnants of settlements and a few scattered cemeteries, but this particular trail is an easy 1.2- mile loop that runs beside a cemetery and a rumored haunted house.
The area around the trail is rife with stories of supernatural occurrences. The most commonly told story about this area seems to be the tale of Maston Hutcheson’s daughter Mary, who died of tuberculosis. Some versions of the story say that neighbors of the Hutchesons came across a phantom dog, and other versions say that they heard Mary’s cries coming from her bedroom in the family home after her death.
Reportedly, some park visitors have heard the ghost dog panting and running in the woods. Mary, however, is not buried in the Norton cemetery since she likely died in the 1840s or 1850s, and the Norton cemetery is not that old. Another local legend has it that Maston wanders the woods, forlornly searching for something. Maston is the patriarch of the Hutcheson family and a feature player in many stories of these desolate woods.
Other tales about the cemetery state that in photographs of the cemetery, silhouettes of the occupants can be seen by their graves. There is even a Civil War soldier ghost tale that says some hikers have seen a soldier appear on the trail and then vanish as they approached. All of these seemed like fascinating claims to explore this Halloween season.
So, I set off on my hike with three others, wanting to make sure that if I did see anything along the way I would have witnesses. Our first stop was a little before the actual trail at the Norton Gristmill, built in 1825 and in operation until the 1930s. There is a story that a man hanged his daughter there because he believed her to be a witch. We did see some beautiful sunny views but, unfortunately, no ghosts.
We followed the road to the head of the trail and officially began our journey. At the head of the trail, there is sign designation of both Ghost House and Lake Trails, and each is marked with color-coded plastic making the routes easy to follow. A little less than half a mile down the dense and heavily wooded path, we came to our first “haunted” spot – the Norton Cemetery. This little space includes about a dozen markers ranging from 1907- 1929 with some too worn to even read. It does include a few Nortons, as well as Maston and Martha Hutcheson. There is also a small, eerie stone marked only “Ibby.”
Shortly down the trail, we ran into the famed “Ghost House,” the Hutcheson house. Sadly, the only things left of the home site is a hole that was once a root cellar, a cistern, and a well casing. It is spooky to look at, the skeleton remains of what was once a family home, but sadly no apparitions greeted us upon our arrival. Yet, we did come across dozens of friendly deer and squirrels on the hike.
We made our way back around the loop with no ghosts in sight. We even sidetracked a bit and visited the nearby Snodderly Cemetery along the Lake Trail. This is where many of the area’s early inhabitants are buried. We hoped maybe cemetery was synonymous with ghosts, but no luck here either.
While we didn’t see any ghosts or hear any dogs, the hike is enjoyable for anyone who dares it. The area holds many beautiful trails, including some historic settlement sights and friendly wildlife for anyone wanting to venture into the woods. Perhaps we were there at the wrong time of day, or maybe the ghosts were busy – it is Halloween after all.