The Old Mill | Pigeon Forge, TN

I’m a HUGE fan of US History so I take every opportunity to incorporate a history lesson into our traveling. The Old Mill, a water-powered gristmill, is a Smoky Mountain landmark and chock-full of history- in fact, it’s the only building in Pigeon Forge listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, if you’re anything like me, you’re probably asking yourself “What in the world is a gristmill?” I was surprised to learn that it’s any mill that grinds grain- but historically, it refers to those in small farming communities where the farmers could bring their grain and get back the ground meal/flour minus the “miller’s toll”.

Old Mill Pigeon Forge

A huge thanks to The Old Mill for hosting us on this tour and showing us around Old Mill Square! As always, all opinions are honest and my own.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

We met up with Jimmy here on the front porch of the Old Mill General Store and after a round of introductions, we jumped right into the history of The Old Mill. The original plot of land belonged to the Revolutionary War veteran, Mordecai Lewis, who moved to Tennessee from the Shenandoah Valley (VA). Following his death in 1817, his son-in-law, Isaac Love, constructed an iron forge on the land.

In 1830, the water-powered gristmill was built next to the iron forge by Love’s son, William. The new gristmill allowed local farmers to grind their grain (corn, wheat, rye, and buckwheat), and also served as a gathering spot for those living in the area or just passing through.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge gristmill

As soon as you walk through the front door of the mill, you’re greeted by bags of cornmeal, grits, and all the mixes they make with them, and the millers working away. Just like in the 19th century, the work is done by the resident millers that fill, weigh, and tie each and every bag of stone ground grain.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

Miller Chuck showed us how to tie the bags of grain and then let the kids try their hand at it! The “Miller’s Knot” is not quite as easy as the millers make it look but with some practice, the kids got the hang of it- and they still remembered how to tie it once we were home!!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge gristmill

The millers bag about 1000 pounds of stone ground grain, six days a week!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

We headed into the back with Miller Chuck to see how the pair of one-ton French Buhr millstones grind the corn. The husked and dried corn is dropped by gravity into the feed-shoe and then goes through the central hole and is ground between the runner and bedstone before coming out ground- and the whole thing is powered by water!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge gristmill

The stone ground grits are coarsely ground the old-fashioned way and are the most popular product from The Old Mill; they’re a popular dish at The Old Mill Restaurant, too!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

In addition to corn, The Old Mill also makes wheat flour the old-fashioned way.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

Stamps and labels for many of The Old Mill’s products line the walls. I love that everything is done by hand- nothing is commercially produced here!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge history

The stairs, and really everything in the mill, are covered in a fine, flour-y dust. In 1841, the first Post Office in Pigeon Forge opened, with William Love as the first postmaster, and it stood in the corner where the stairs to the second floor are today. When the Post Office opened, the town was officially named Pigeon Forge after the iron forge located on the bank of the Little Pigeon River (which was named after the pigeons that roosted in the trees along the river on their southern migration).

The door to the mill was used as a notice post and you can still feel the nail holes from all the notices that hung from it over the past (almost!) two hundred years. Births, marriages, Declarations of War, and the lists of those that were called to serve, as well as those that made the ultimate sacrifice, were posted on the door for the whole community to see. That door was really the Facebook of its time!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge waterwheel

The shafts, belts, and pulleys within the mill are still powered by the giant water wheel and at the end of their day, the millers use this iron lever (made by an apprentice in the iron forge) to turn off the wheel.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

After making grits and cornmeal (and supplying the distillery with corn mash), what is left of the corn then goes to farmers to use as feed. Nothing is wasted here!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge history

Tennessee is home to the second most Civil War sites and battlefields in the country (following only Virginia) and though no Civil War battles were actually fought in Pigeon Forge, The Old Mill has a rich Civil War history. Loyalties in the Confederate state of Tennessee were divided with Western and Middle Tennessee supporting secession and Eastern Tennessee remaining pro-Union. Those living in the Smoky Mountain area tried to stay neutral for as long as possible.

While neighboring Gatlinburg was eventually occupied by Confederate troops, The Old Mill helped the Union, thanks to the owner, John Sevier Trotter, an ardent Union supporter. The third floor of the mill (pictured above) was used as a hospital for Union troops and looms were installed on the second floor so that the women in town could make uniforms for the Union.

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

Once we were done exploring inside the mill, we headed outside and down to the river.

Little Pigeon River

The kids had a blast skipping rocks from the riverbanks- in fact, they asked several times during our trip if we could go back for more rock skipping fun!

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

The remnants of the old iron forge are to the far left- it was dismantled and sold in the late 19th century. The Old Mill is one of the most photographed mills in the country and it’s not hard to see why- especially with such cute kids posing on the rocks!

pigeon river pottery

We made our way through Old Mill Square to Pigeon River Pottery and watched Jason work his magic with clay. The potters have been making one-of-a-kind hand-crafted pottery here for over 70 years

the Old Mill Pigeon Forge

It was mesmerizing watching him turn the 4-pound balls of clay into bread bowls.

pigeon river pottery

He did one after another with such speed and skill- he probably completed about ten of them while we chatted and watched. The kids had so many questions about pottery and he patiently answered each and every one- yes he enjoys it, yes it took a lot of practice, and yes the clay feels weird- kind of like cold peanut butter!

old forge distillery moonshine

And finally, we made our way to Old Forge Distillery where the kids learned ALL about how to make moonshine– and received a great chemistry lesson from the Head Distiller. They use freshly-ground grain from The Old Mill to craft their small-batch moonshine.

old forge distillery moonshine

The Tasting Bar at Old Forge Distillery is open daily. The moonshine tastings are free though there is a small charge if you want to try the bourbon, rum or vodka. We’ve done several moonshine tastings in the Smoky Mountains area (moonshine is a way of life here!) and I can say without a doubt that Old Forge Moonshine is the best!

We had a fantastic afternoon touring Old Mill Square and I highly recommend it if you’re in the area! The kids were a bit hesitant at first, especially since we were having so much fun in Gatlinburg, but as soon as the tour started, they were captivated and wanted to know more. I love when they’re full of questions because that engagement leads to understanding and retaining the information.

Do you incorporate educational activities into your vacations? If so, do you have any recommendations for places we should check out??

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4 Comments

  1. May 1, 2019 / 12:14 am

    That looks like such a fun and educational experience. That kind of stuff interests me.

    • Jennifer
      Author
      May 1, 2019 / 11:43 am

      It really was! I love when the kids are learning, but are having so much fun and are so engaged that they don’t realize how educational the whole thing is!

  2. June 4, 2019 / 9:15 am

    Hey!

    I have been searching for information “The old Mill” for awhile now. So, really appreciate you taking the time
    to write about it. Truly was difficult to find, so I wanted to post my first comment out of gratitude. Thank
    you =)

    • Jennifer
      Author
      June 24, 2019 / 7:59 pm

      So glad you found my post! We had a fantastic time checking out The Old Mill- have you been before??

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