GATLINBURG — Along with the Gatlinburg SkyLift and Space Needle, Christus Gardens was one of the city’s first tourist attractions.
The downtown business, which has operated as Gatlinburg’s Christ Museum and Gardens for the past several years, is permanently closed.
According to the attraction’s website, “We’re saddened to say our museum has closed due to loss of property lease. Thank you for your support.”
Mark Pedro, who served as the museum’s art director and curator under both business names, said on Thursday that the collection has been purchased by Biblical Times Dinner Theater in Pigeon Forge.
The theater’s general manager, Joey Roderick, confirmed the purchase of the museum’s contents.
Plans are to open an exhibit that will be ticketed separately from the dinner show. Roderick says patrons will sit in theater-style chairs that slowly spin around the Biblical artifacts. That part of the attraction will not include dinner; the time spent in the exhibit will likely be about 30 minutes. He hopes to have the exhibit open by this fall.
The Gatlinburg museum was located at 510 River Road, the two-lane downtown road that runs parallel to Parkway.
Sevier County property records list the owner of 510 River Road as Billy Proffitt and indicate that the riverfront tract contains approximately 8.5 acres. The museum was one of the few businesses in downtown Gatlinburg with its own dedicated parking lot.
According to an online property records search, the appraised value of the tract is $3,648,100. Online records do not show what year Proffitt acquired the property or the most recent sales price.
The original Christus Gardens featured approximately 12 galleries containing more than 100 Biblical artifacts, dioramas and pieces of art. It was founded in August 1960 by Ronald Ligon, whose family operated cemeteries and mausoleums in Franklin, Tennessee.
Ligon closed Christus Gardens 13 years ago, citing health reasons in a January 2008 interview with The Mountain Press.
At that time, it was reported that Gatlinburg developer Stan Sorey had an option to purchase the 8.5 acres. The article quoted Sorey as saying that he planned to build a $45-$55 million condominium complex there. Sorey’s initial plans called for three buildings with 192 units and possibly “some memorial to Christus Gardens to show that it was here because it has been a landmark for so long.”
Ligon said in the 2008 interview that he paid $150,000 for the downtown Gatlinburg tract before opening Christus Gardens in 1960.
“Pigeon Forge was nothing but farmland,” Ligon said in 2008. “I’ve often said that I made a mistake in building Christus Gardens. I should have bought (in) Pigeon Forge instead ... People laughed at me then, but those same people today would say I stole the land ... It’s been a wonderful 50 years. I’ve made a lot of good friends out of it ... A lot of my friends have gone on now.”
Ligon was 71 years old at the time of the 2008 interview.
After Sorey’s condominium plans did not materialize, the attraction opened in 2009 as Gatlinburg’s Christ Museum and Gardens. Pedro says that he was one of the new operators, along with Proffitt and Charlie Moore.
The shuttered museum marks the second recent permanent closure of a longtime Gatlinburg business.
On Dec. 31, 2020, Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre hosted its final show after 44 years of operation.
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