Southern destination: The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge

By NICOLE SMITH
Posted 11/11/18

The Old Mill is a one of a kind experience in Tennessee that has preserved southern traditions for nearly two centuries.Nestled in the heart of Pigeon Forge, The Old Mill celebrates life as it once …

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Southern destination: The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge

Posted

The Old Mill is a one of a kind experience in Tennessee that has preserved southern traditions for nearly two centuries.

Nestled in the heart of Pigeon Forge, The Old Mill celebrates life as it once was, and its over 1 million visitors annually span generations of tourists that come to experience The Old Mill district that was founded in 1830.

In October, Jimmy Proffitt and Donna Huffaker of The Old Mill marketing department, gave the Daily Mountain Eagle a tour of the gristmill (a mill for grinding grain) that started it all.

A man named Mordecai Lewis unknowingly paved the way for the district when he obtained the land where The Old Mill sits in May 1810, through a Tennessee land grant of 151 acres.  

 Unfortunately, Lewis did not see The Old Mill built in his lifetime. 

When he passed away in late 1817, Lewis' eight children inherited his land. It was his daughter, Mary "Polly" Lewis, and her husband, Isaac Love, that created an iron forge in 1820 on the land nestled along Little Pigeon River. Their oldest son, William, then built The Old Mill in 1830, next to the iron forge.  

"That helped name Pigeon Forge, because they named it for his father's iron forge and the pigeons that would roost in the trees here along the river," Proffitt said as he told the mill's history. 

For nearly two centuries, the mill has produced milled corn using flint granite stones weighing 2,000 pounds each. The stones are powered to grind the corn by turbines in the Little Pigeon River, and a water wheel outside The Old Mill is used to operate a grain elevator.

The Old Mill was not only used as a gristmill to benefit local farmers. It was truly a place of community service, and whatever needs arose at the time, The Old Mill was there to provide.

The Pigeon Forge Post Office was once located there, as well as an electric company, and the mill was used during wartime as a general meeting place to learn of family milestones and casualties.

"It was essential. This is where they came to get what they needed for daily living," Huffaker said.

Proffitt added, "It was a means to an end. The farmers needed the miller so they could bring all of their grains in and have them ground."

Still to this day, the mill primarily grinds corn, and whole wheat is also ground on-site.

John Sevier Trotter bought The Old Mill in 1849, and the Civil War started soon after. The mill building was then used to sew uniforms for soldiers, and a temporary hospital for wounded soldiers was also housed in its doors.

After Trotter's passing, J.M. McMahan purchased The Old Mill, and a flour mill was added to the site in 1889.

The Old Mill went through other owners and several name changes, but was officially named The Old Mill in 1952. 

On June 10, 1975, The Old Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The structure of The Old Mill still remains as it did in the 1800s, with massive river rocks supporting the mill building that is constructed of oak, pine and yellow poplar, along with handcrafted nails from the then-iron forge.

The Old Mill is housed in the same building as The Old Mill General Store, where visitors can purchased many items ground at the mill.

The Old Mill district has continued to grow over the years and consists of The Old Mill Restaurant that serves around 800,000 guests southern comfort food annually. The restaurant is best known for its signature corn chowder and corn fritters that are served with every meal, and pecan pie is also a guest favorite.

The Old Mill Pottery House Café and Grille at the district attracts as many as 400,000 diners each year and specializes in fresh-baked breads and desserts.  

The Old Mill Pigeon River Pottery features a large selection of pottery that is handmade by potters in the district, and The Old Mill Farmhouse Kitchen store offers pantry items prepared on-site. 

Sassafras boutique is nestled in the district to offer clothing and accessories, and  The Old Mill Lodging is also a branch of the business.

The Old Mill Creamery, The Old Mill Candy Kitchen and Old Forge Distillery are all located in the district as well.

Huffaker and Proffitt agreed that a large part of The Old Mill's success is their culture of sustainability.

"One thing that's hard to take in is how much we do," Proffitt said. "We've got a mill. We've got our pottery. We make our own ice cream, make our own candy, make our own jams and jellies. We make our own spirits. We're doing so much of it ourselves, and then we sell it or we use it ourselves."

Proffitt added that all corn ground at the mill is used in some form. Even remnants are used at the distillery. 

"We're totally devoted to keeping things the way life used to be," Huffaker said. "With everything we do, we make sure it fits in with who we are."

Tours of The Old Mill can be arranged, and Proffitt said virtual tours for schools and other groups are becoming more popular.

According to Huffaker, The Old Mill is one of the oldest operating gristmills in the country and is the most visited gristmill in the United States. 

"Once you understand who we are, you just want to be a part of it," she said. 

For more information about The Old Mill or to order a wide selection of their products online, visit www.old-mill.com.