Appalachia

The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge TN

 

Chuck Childers - Miller of The Old Mill

Chuck Childers – Miller of The Old Mill 

Last year was my first time attending Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge TN. The Deer Hunter and I had a fantastic time. I wish I could attend again this year-it starts today May 9 and runs through May 13.

Although my schedule won’t allow me to visit the amazing week this year, there will be at least two Blind Pig readers there as presentations. Eva Nell Wilke and Mark Davidson will both be there-so if you’re able to make it, please look both of them up.

One highlight of last year’s trip for The Deer Hunter and I was getting to tour The Old Mill. The establishment has an amazing history.

Let me share a few of the history placards that can be found as you walk up the stairs to the entrance of the restaurant portion of the establishment.

“How Did Pigeon Forge get its name?

Before Pigeon Forge had a mill or a name this remote Smoky Mountains settlement had thousands of wild passenger pigeons, a handful of pioneer families, and an iron forge. There are no photographs of the forge. But, an illustration of the workings of the forge appeared on the menu of Butler’s Forge Hammer Restaurant.

Historians believe Cherokee Indians named the Little Pigeon River after the huge flocks of passenger pigeons that once gathered here. The forge was built in 1817, as settlers dug into the mountains’ rich stores of iron ore. The first official use of the name “Pigeon Forge” occurred as the community’s U.S. Post Office in 1841, housed in where else? The Old Mill.

R.I.P. The Passenger Pigeon

In Pigeon Forge’s early years, thousands of passenger pigeons lived in beech trees along the river. They ate beech nuts and farmers’ crops. Settlers throughout the young United States destroyed the pigeons’ nesting colonies and shot them without restraint.

As Pigeon Forge grew, the passenger pigeon population fell dramatically throughout the nation. By 1914, this once-abundant species was extinct. The world’s last passenger pigeon died in a Cincinnati zoo.

Forging the Future

The first non-Indians in this region were probably Virginia-born traders following the Great Indian Trail through the mountains to the Cherokee Nation. By the 1790s, settlers began moving in, drawn to this fertile mountain territory governed by Revolutionary War hero John Sevier. One early settler, a schoolteacher named Isaac Love, built the first forge.

In the 1820s, the Little Pigeon River supported three massive, smoking forges and a smelting furnace A waterwheel powered huge hammers that beat the iron into bars. The iron was then shaped into strong, durable frontier goods: heavy machinery, farm tools, door hinges, wagon wheels, kitchen utensils, horse shoes, and more.”

 

the old mill pigeon forge TN

“Farming the Frontier

When The Old Mill opened for business back in 1830, it was the newest addition to the thriving Appalachian community of Pigeon Forge.

Local resident William Love built the mill near the iron forge run by his father Isaac. A grist mill in the town center meant farmers could get their corn and wheat milled only a few miles from home. While the grain was ground, farm families could catch up on the news, do their shopping, take care of business matters, or even take a refreshing swim in the mill pond.

By 1849, a new owner, John Sevier Trotter, bought the mill and forge. He and his son, William, ran both operations. William also served as the town postmaster.

Even as a devastating Civil War divided the nation, Pigeon Forge and Sevier County continued to grow and prosper. Businesses clustered around The Old Mill soon included farm supply stores, general merchandise stores, and a blacksmith shop. A water-powered sawmill replaced the obsolete iron forge. At least one local business a coffin–making shop profited from the inevitable needs of a maturing population.

For most 19th-century Pigeon Forge residents the rough, isolated frontier life in this part of the Appalachians gradually changed to a more comfortable, more connected small-town world. Then as now, The Old Mill was the center of community life.

For years, public notices, handbills, and items for sale were posted on the door of The Old Mill. During the Civil War, townspeople came to view the casualty lists posted there. Today, you can still see the rustic, handmade nail heads. “

 

The Old Mill - Pigeon Forge TN good place to eat

Chuck Childers, the Miller of The Old Mill, gave us a personal tour. As he shared the interesting history of The Old Mill, he also shared his story with us. He said he felt like it was his life’s calling to be a Miller and that he felt very fortunate to have ended up at The Old Mill-how cool is that? Very cool if you ask me.

You can go here to watch a video of Chuck explaining the way the grist mill works and you can go here for more information about Wilderness Wildlife Week-which by the way is FREE and open to the public. If you live close enough to attend I highly encourage you to do so and if you do go-don’t forget to visit Mark , Eva Nell, and The Old Mill I know you’ll be glad you did.

Tipper

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Jimmy Proffitt
    May 9, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    Thank you, Tipper for the great article! I wish you could have made it too. I would have loved to have met you this year. I am The Appalachian Tale, but I also work at the Old Mill. I have been there for 19 years myself. One day I will write how I have really come home, being at the Mill. I have ties going back to the builders of the Mill and possibly even a couple of generations before, but I didn’t know this until a few years ago. There was even a picture of the Mill in my grandmother’s house when I was a teenager, but none of us knew it was The Old Mill and certainly didn’t know that I would end up moving from VA to TN and work there one day. A calling to the Old Mill is something many of us have had.
    I have presented before at Wilderness Wildlife, but this year I am at our booth. If anyone has any questions about the Old Mill history, I will also be happy to answer anything at all. I have been researching it for years. That is how I stumbled upon my own personal connections going back hundreds of years!
    Anytime you get to Pigeon Forge, I will be more than happy to give you and The Deer Hunter a tour of the Mill, Pottery and Distillery!

  • Reply
    Jackie
    May 9, 2017 at 2:57 pm

    I’ve been there several times with my mother. I have ancestors buried in both cemeteries. It’s a peaceful place.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    May 9, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Oh I remember touring that Mill with my husband. Since I eat a lot of cornbread, it was interesting to see how they milled it. We both love history and have been to that area many times. Very much enjoyed Townsend. It was a very hard life for our ancestors. We crossed over the mountain and went down to Cherokee Museum. (absolute fantastic museum and I must say you feel a deep reverence there.} If you haven’t been to that museum, Tipper, you need to take that trip some time. Thanks for the picture.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    May 9, 2017 at 10:09 am

    It seems the advancement in technology makes many long for the simpler life. The smart phone gives access to so much information and instant access to friends and family. But with all this privilege have we lost so much of who we are? I always wish I had learned more and asked more questions growing up. Maybe best I didn’t because my parents grew weary from my endless questions! Apparently one grandfather ground cornmeal for the area, but I have no clue of how this was accomplished.
    Gathering places like the Old Mill, where once folks caught up on the latest news, were not only informative, but they were also a place to communicate with friends and neighbors. Every small community had these, and ours was a country store where old and young gathered each evening. Nothing ever quenched the thirst like a soda pop from one of those old water type coolers. The Old Mill sounds like a great place to visit.

  • Reply
    George PEttie
    May 9, 2017 at 9:00 am

    A fascinating piece of history–emblematic of the early days of frontier settlement. Between every line I read “it was hard work, hard work for everyone.”

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 9, 2017 at 8:39 am

    I would like to have known Pigeon Forge before about 1950. I guess Townsend is kinda an indication of how it once was. I have a lot of sympathy for anybody caught in overwhelming change when they see their way of life disappearing.
    I always like to hear about folks who feel they are where they are meant to be doing what they are meant to do. So few of us are so blessed. Being reminded is a two-edged sword though. On the one hand, it is nice to be reminded it is possible. But on the other, the thought comes unbidden, “Why not me?” And one reason is rapid overwhelming change in which we can never feel at home.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 9, 2017 at 6:36 am

    That really is another time and another life. I’d love to see the old mill in operation. It’s a different time and a different life style. It was a time when everything was ‘hands on’ so to speak. Those of us who still garden and can food have a little taste of that life. Mostly, though, all our food comes from the grocer store sealed in plastic and cardboard boxes a filled with all kinds of extra stuff to keep it from spoiling over a long time on a shelf. That’s a very different picture.

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