Ghost Town was the brainchild of R.B. Coburn, a Covington, VA native who moved to Maggie Valley, North Carolina. The park was designed by Russell Pearson and constructed for approximately $1 million in 1960. The park opened on May 1, 1961 and quickly became one of Western North Carolina's most popular tourist attractions. Pearson also opened another Wild West theme park in Florida, Six Gun Territory.
At one point, 620,000 people visited Ghost Town each year. This number declined to 340,000 by 2008.
The park was sold in 1973 to National Services for a stock swap, but Coburn bought it back in 1986 and constructed the park's famous Red Devil roller coaster. In its later years under Coburn's ownership, the park suffered from mismanagement and a lack of maintenance. The Red Devil, Goldrusher, Sea Dragon, Monster, Mountain Town Swings, Undertaker, Dream Catcher, Casino, Round Up, Lil Devil and Silver Bullet rides were regularly breaking down and rarely opened, causing many visitors to tell others not to go. The chairlift and incline railway also required constant maintenance and repair. Coburn spent thousands of dollars maintaining them. On July 16, 2002, the chairlift stopped, stranding passengers for over two hours. With fewer people visiting Ghost Town because of the bad condition of the park, Coburn closed Ghost Town a few days after the chairlift failure and put the park up for sale. The park remained closed and unmaintained for the next four years, leading many to believe that nobody would buy the park because of the bad condition of the rides.
Ghost Town was sold in August 2006 and reopened on May 25, 2007 after $38 million was spent on renovations and improvements. All of the rides were reopened except the incline railway, the train and the Monster.
In 2009, after more than $11 million had been spent, $6 million of that on the Cliffhanger roller coaster, Ghost Town filed for bankruptcy. The economy and high gas prices the previous year were blamed for the park's problems, but managing partner Lynn Sylvester said reopening was planned for May 15 and the park would continue to operate.
By mid-May 2009, the park's rides had not been inspected and Ghost Town claimed to need a $330,000 loan in order to reopen for the summer on May 22. The park asked the town for that money. Failure to secure the loan was expected to mean the loss of 200 jobs and a $2 million payroll, as well as impact local businesses who benefited from park visitors. An anonymous investor provided the money, according to park president Steve Shiver, so a vote by the town on the loan request became unnecessary and the park opened as planned, except for rides that had not been inspected. The park also added a new ride, Geronimo Drop, which had been at Libertyland in Memphis, Tennessee and was bought by Ghost Town in 2007. Shiver said the park had a $27 million plan to improve the park over four to five years, including moving and adding rides and introducing new events.
Ghost Town continued to struggle financially until the end of the 2009 season, when the park closed while the owners dealt with bankruptcy issues amid complaints that employees were not being paid.
On February 5, 2010, a massive mudslide occurred when retaining walls on the Ghost Town property gave way. Although there were no injuries, more than 40 homes had to be evacuated and three homes were damaged around the mountain. The park itself sustained damage, but to what extent is not publicly known. This led to speculation that the park would not open at all for the 2010 season. Shiver announced on a local news program that the park was still slated to open on Memorial Day weekend, but this did not happen. Federal funding was granted to the park in the amount of $1.3 million for the clean-up of its main access road, Rich Cove, which was buried in the slide.
In early March, 2010, a judge ruled in favor of the park's largest creditors, SunTrust and BB&T, to proceed with foreclosure on Ghost Town and sell the property to begin paying off the park's $9 million debt to SunTrust and $5 million debt to BB&T. Ghost Town partners negotiated a separate deal with SunTrust and BB&T which gave them until May 31 to come up with an alternate plan to allow the park to continue operating if funding was obtained. On May 4, a judge approved a takeover bid by American Heritage Family Parks, who pledged to pay SunTrust $7 million of its debt, BB&T its entire $5 million of debt and pay $100,000 in back taxes to Haywood County. The park was said to be allowed to open for the season while details of the sale were worked out. Instead, the park remained closed.
In April 2011, the bankruptcy administrator recommended dismissing the case, citing the failure of Ghost Town partners to submit a sufficient reorganization plan to pay its debts. This allowed foreclosure proceedings to continue as the park was no longer protected under Chapter 11.
In February 2012, the park was purchased at public auction by Alaska Presley for $2.5 million. Presley, a Maggie Valley businesswoman involved with the park since its beginning, hoped to have at least a portion of the park open for the end of the 2012 season.
On June 29, 2012, the park's A-frame entrance opened to the public for the first time in four years for gifts to be sold. The chairlift was also open and tours of the town could be taken.
A limited opening of the park was planned for 2013. During the four years the park was idle and without security, the property was subject to vandalism and theft. New laws required millions of dollars to be spent on labor and time lost due to state inspections. 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 and virtually every piece and part of an old system had to be replaced.
In November 2014, Ghost Town was listed for sale with an asking price of $3 million by Action Creak Realty. The sale of the lower half of the property, which housed the Western theme park, was placed up for sale to attract investors for Presley's redevelopment of the upper portion of the property as a "Holy Land replica theme park." On January 24, 2015 the property was taken off the market, prompted by major progress in the redevelopment of other parts of the property.
On October 22, 2015, the park announced the rebranding of the park to Ghost Town Village with a planned opening on June 1, 2016. The rebranded park was to feature gunfights, the chairlift, gift shops, ziplines, a museum, a paintball course, arcade and horseback riding. According to park management, the rebranding was due to the park's inability to reopen any of its former roller coasters and rides as the repair costs were too high.
On June 2, 2016, park management announced that the park would not open in 2016 and was again being offered for sale.
The park is divided into several "towns" located at different elevations of the mountain, each with a different theme. Among these are the "Indian Village", "Mountain Town" and "Mining Town." The heart of the park is the recreated Old West town, complete with two saloons, a schoolhouse, bank, jail and church and various other businesses. Each hour, a gunfight was staged in the street, with visitors lining up to watch on the board sidewalks. The "Silver Dollar Saloon" featured hourly shows of Old West can-can dancers, while the "Red Dog Saloon" featured live country and bluegrass music performances throughout the day. "Indian Village" featured shows about Indian life in Old West days, including a deer hunt and a raid on a frontier settlement. "Mining Town" had areas where people could pan for gold and silver. It also had shows about life in mining settlements. "Mountain Town" featured shows about life in the Smoky Mountains.
At the terminus of the chairlift and incline railway is the "Heritage Town Square," a 2007 addition to the park. This area featured a museum chronicling the history of "Ghost Town", a restaurant, the Freefall, the casino and the Cliffhanger.
Cliffhanger, originally opened in 1988 as Red Devil, was renamed Cliffhanger in 2007 and given a new paint job. The coaster is unique in that rather than boarding the train and being towed up the lift hill, its boarding station is at the top of the hill. Once riders boarded, the train rolled out of the station, around a 90-degree curve and then over the main drop and into its one inverted loop. The rest of the track extends over the edge of the mountain with great views of the surrounding mountains. Cliffhanger's reopening was pushed back through the 2007 and 2008 seasons because of necessary major repairs.
It opened on June 30, 2009, but was closed less than two days later after a ride operator detected something wrong with one of the train’s seats. State inspectors on site discovered a hairline crack in the seat’s frame next to a bolt that attached the seat to the rest of the car. Rotational Motion, who built the custom cars for Ghost Town, was tasked with finding a solution. The coaster began operating again during the last few weeks of the 2009 season with no reported problems.
During a test run the day before Ghost Town's 2010 season began, there was a problem with one of the train's wheel chassis. Contrary to reports, the train did not derail, but came to an abrupt halt. Shiver said that Cliffhanger would be closed until a new train was purchased.
The other roller coaster operating at Ghost Town is a children's small coaster, Tumbleweed. It was originally named Lil Devil, but received a name change along with Red Devil/Cliffhanger.
Above Ghost Town, a section of the park hosts a variety of standard amusement rides and the "Mountain Top Music Hall" and "Indian Dance Hall." All of the rides are situated at the edge of the mountain, with one ("The Gun Slinger") that swings out over the mountainside.
A new feature in 2009 was "The House of Terror," a haunted house open during the Halloween season.
Rides no longer in use.
In October and November 2006, a movie was filmed at the park. The film, titled Ghost Town: The Movie, was directed by Jeff Kennedy and Dean Teaster and starred Bill McKinney and Herbert Coward, DJ Perry and Princess Lucaj with appearances by Rance Howard and Stella Parton (Dolly's sister). The movie was based on the legend of Harmon Teaster, a Haywood County native, and premiered at the Eaglenest Entertainment Center in Maggie Valley on June 2, 2007.
Two independent films were filmed at the park, Mandie and the Secret Tunnel (2008) and Ringside Rosary (2010).
Ghost Town: The Movie, later titled Dean Teaster's Ghost Town, at the time of release was listed the most rented Western film by "Rentrax" reporting service. This position held for sixteen weeks after its release. The rename was due to Paramount releasing their movie titled "Ghost Town" a month prior to the release of Ghost Town: The Movie. Dean Teaster's Ghost Town is still listed on Xfinity Pay Per View and Netflix. Dean Teaster's Ghost Town was released on the Lionsgate label and brokered by Barnholtz Entertainment of Woodland Hills, CA. The production company, Collective Development, Inc. of Lansing, MI, sought arbitration in 2007 due to lack of revenue returns to the production company.